For decades, REI Co-op has woven sustainability into the fabric of its business. It’s seen in the co-op’s decision to source 100% renewable energy to power its stores, to implement sustainability standards for all brands it sells and to partner with organizations committed to protecting the planet, among other things.
Today, REI announced its most ambitious commitment to date: to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent by 2030 and offset emissions for its brand and operations starting with 2020.
To meet this goal, the co-op will cut emissions throughout its business—particularly within its supply chain, which contributed more than half of the co-op’s total emissions in 2019—targeting everything from manufacturing to transportation to waste. As the co-op works to shrink its footprint (it emitted more than 1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2019), it will also invest in and advocate for other climate solutions.
“The climate crisis is the greatest threat to the future of life outdoors and to REI’s business. The science is clear about what we, as a society, need to do to change that future,” said REI President and CEO Eric Artz. “The world must halve its greenhouse gasses emissions by 2030, so that’s where REI—and the broader outdoor community—must lead. Going forward, we’re embedding the impact of doing business, and the cost, into our business model.”
The Co-op’s Reduction Commitments
The co-op has dedicated itself to protecting the outdoors for more than eight decades. Its earliest efforts centered on cleaning up trails and donating to environmental groups. In the 1970s, the co-op founded community service and annual giving programs.
As the co-op grew, so did its commitments around climate change and the co-op’s environmental impact. In 1996, the co-op opened its Seattle flagship store with green building features that were later incorporated into LEED certification standards. In 2006, the co-op measured and reported its greenhouse gas emissions for the first time, making it one of the first retailers to do so. That same year, it pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020, which REI is on track to do; the new commitments announced Thursday build upon this work. Since 2013, the co-op has powered its entire operations with 100 percent renewable energy through a combination of on-site solar, utility green tariffs and renewable energy certificates.
But its latest commitment is much bigger, and more challenging. In order to make the changes needed to meet the new goal, the co-op will have to rethink many of the ways it operates, according to Andrew Dempsey, senior sustainability manager at REI.
“We will need to evolve and reimagine existing business models in order to be successful,” he said.
Through its comprehensive greenhouse gas accounting, the co-op knows where carbon emissions reside in its multifaceted business model. The challenge ahead is to tackle reductions, particularly deep in the supply chain, to achieve its goal of 55 percent reduction from a 2019 baseline—the guidance from the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Our supply chain emissions are not under our direct control, which means we will have to work collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders in order to achieve reductions,” Dempsey said.
As an example, one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within REI’s supply chain would be to switch to clean energy to power the factories that produce Co-op Brand products. But it’s not as simple as asking a factory owner to switch to, say, solar energy. This would require investment and perhaps collaboration among other brands who use the same factories as the co-op. National policy and infrastructure that impact factory owners further complicate the situation. For instance, the co-op works with factories in Vietnam that run on electricity powered by carbon-intensive resources such as coal. And a switch to clean energy can come with costs for the factory owner, who may not have the financing to make the change.
“There are a number of variables that have to be solved for, but the good news is there is tremendous enthusiasm and opportunity in this space,” Dempsey said.
Other reductions in the co-op’s supply chain could come in the form of using low-carbon transportation such as electric vehicles when moving product among factories, distribution centers, stores and homes; building stores more sustainably by using low-embodied-carbon building materials; and expanding options for buying back or repairing used gear, among many other things.
Dempsey said hitting the target will be a responsibility for every person who works at the co-op. It’s also a duty among other companies in the retail industry—which contributed 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2018, or about 4 percent of the global total—as well as the outdoor industry.
In the meantime, the co-op will invest in carbon credits to offset the emissions that can’t be reduced, starting with those in 2020. These credits will allow the co-op to fund natural climate solutions, such as reforestation, that remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Beginning with 2020’s emissions, the co-op is also formally joining Climate Neutral and will hold itself financially accountable for each unit of carbon it emits in its own operations. It expects to emit a quarter million tons of carbon in 2020.
In conjunction with its new climate target, REI has also committed to planting at least 1 million trees over the next decade in U.S. national forests as part of the global 1 Trillion Trees initiative. The goal of the initiative, led by the World Economic Forum and American Forests, is to conserve, restore and grow one trillion trees globally by 2030 to help combat climate change. To meet its goal, REI plans to partner with the National Forest Foundation, a conservation nonprofit, and professional foresters annually to select reforestation projects in areas impacted by severe wildfires, pests, disease and other natural disturbances. The co-op is also committed to advocating at the state and federal level on policies that advance the regreening of urban and suburban areas, increase use of natural climate solutions such as reforestation and support low-carbon transportation alternatives.
In a letter to co-op members Thursday, Artz said that what the co-op has accomplished up until now hasn’t been enough to address climate change. Reducing emissions will require a collective effort among its brands and members, and everyone has a role, he said. He also called on members to use their buying power to invest in companies with clear climate commitments.
“We’re setting out to reduce both our own greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions embedded in the products of the more than 1,000 brands we sell, and transparently sharing progress as we go,” Artz said. “No retailer has yet accomplished this, but we know what needs to get done, and most importantly, we believe we can do it.”
Join REI in the fight for the future of the outdoors
While absolute progress on this issue requires government action, it’s also true that businesses and individuals alike need to work together. The co-op is asking its more than 19 million members and the outdoor community to join in collective action to address the climate crisis. Here are some steps the co-op suggests people can take:
- Vote for the future of the outdoors. As our nation faces pressing issues, including the climate crisis, voting is one of the most important ways we can hold our government accountable and influence change. Register to vote, if you haven’t already, and learn more about ways to take action ahead of the election through the co-op’s Gear Up to Vote effort. Ask your family and friends if they’re registered, too.
- Hold REI and other businesses accountable. Shop with your values by purchasing products from companies that prioritize sustainability and have made clear climate commitments. New to buying sustainably? This Expert Advice guide outlines some key sustainability attributes and labels to look for the next time you’re shopping.
- Reduce your personal carbon footprint. The first step to reducing your personal footprint is to understand what areas of your life are contributing the most carbon. Calculate your footprint using an online calculator (we like this one), then pinpoint areas where you can make reductions. For instance, you could start biking or walking more, or begin composting your waste. For additional inspiration, check out the co-op’s Opt to Act plan, which includes weekly challenges to reduce your impact, get active and leave the world better than you found it.
- Set your own ambitious target. Once you’ve made the small steps toward reducing your personal carbon footprint, consider creating a more ambitious goal. Perhaps you decide to only shop with retailers that have clear climate targets, or you commit to an annual donation goal to your preferred environmental organization. Whatever it is, get specific.
- Spread the word. Talk to your community about the ways you’re reducing your carbon footprint, the leaders you support based on their climate platforms or the importance of taking action against climate change. These important conversations are meaningful.