Eric Artz: The Fight at the Intersection of People and Planet

As an organization, and as people, we have never faced a year quite like 2020. This has been one of the most difficult years in the co-op’s history, but throughout it we’ve seen people turn to the outdoors for solace and for recreation like never before. Despite the many challenges of 2020, I believe the co-op community will come through it all, stronger than ever.

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To do so, we must also address what is more clearly than ever the greatest existential threat to the future of life outdoors, and the co-op: the climate crisis. As a community of people who have built our lives around the outdoors, we see the very real impacts of climate change all around us—most recently with the wildfires impacting much of the western United States and hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast. We also see how climate change disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other underrepresented communities.

For 82 years, we’ve been fighting for life outdoors, prioritizing environmental stewardship, in an attempt to be part of the solution. We’ve actively worked to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions since 2006, when Sally Jewell declared that the co-op would be climate neutral in its operations by 2020. We were one of the first retailers to measure and report our greenhouse gas emissions, and over the years have prioritized projects like green building certifications, generated our own energy through solar arrays, launched industry-wide sustainability standards for all products sold, and invested more than $100 million into stewarding outdoor spaces that support recreation but also can provide critical carbon sequestration.

But none of that has been enough.

We’ve long challenged ourselves to be leaders in the sustainability space, and it’s time once again to step up and lead. Going forward, we’re embedding the environmental impact of doing business, and the cost, into our business model.

That’s why we’re committing to an ambitious new plan: to be carbon neutral in our operations starting in 2020 and more than halve our carbon footprint over the next decade.

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. No retailer has yet accomplished this, but we know what needs to get done, and most importantly, we believe we can do it.

As we work toward this goal, we’ll invest in carbon credits to responsibly offset what we can’t yet draw down on our own. Beginning with 2020’s emissions, we are formally joining Climate Neutral. This is how we’ll hold ourselves accountable. A promise to be carbon neutral means the co-op will effectively pay for each metric ton of carbon we emit from our own brands and operations. We will account for at least a quarter million tons of greenhouse gases emitted in our operations in 2020 alone.

Going forward, running a healthy business will require us to continue reducing our carbon footprint.

We’ll continue to advocate for solutions that help us—and the planet—accelerate our progress. We’ve committed to planting 1 million trees by 2030 as part of the global 1 Trillion Trees initiative, which aims to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees around the world over the next decade; and will advocate for policies that support cleaner transportation infrastructure, clean energy solutions and carbon sequestration projects.

And we must do it all while recognizing the intersection of this effort with our racial equity work, as our success or failure in each area will have the biggest impact on already marginalized communities.

In many ways, the events of 2020 have given us clarity and focus on our path forward. We were forced to rethink every part of our business, and our existence–and we move forward with a renewed focus on what we owe to future generations.

Halving our carbon footprint is an audacious goal that will require all of us to buy in. Everyone has a role. And we’ll be following up with ways all of us can get involved. As individuals and as a member-owned co-op, we can, and must, collectively make a difference in the long-term health of the planet.

We must act now, for the generations that follow.

Eric Artz

REI Co-op President and CEO