Animal Welfare and Outdoor Gear

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backpacking food, running shoe and down jacket

Most of us who love wild places also love wildlife (not to mention their domestic cousins). Which leads us to wonder about the choices we make as creature-conscious consumers of outdoor goods.

Not surprisingly, many companies appeal to people's good intentions by labeling products with words that sound nice, but sometimes lack rigorous criteria and monitoring: "animal friendly," "humanely raised" and "sustainably farmed" are just three examples of popular, yet slightly vague, claims.

If you want to be sure that the outdoor gear and clothing you're buying truly address animal welfare concerns, it makes sense to educate yourself about some key animal welfare standards, what they mean and how to shop for products that employ them. When you shop on, you will often have the option of selecting one of the following animal welfare attributes:

  • Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS)
  • Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
  • Ratings from the Leather Working Group (LWG)

Understanding Animal Welfare Standards

Credible labels typically have the following characteristics:

  • Transparent, rigidly defined and widely agreed upon standards that meet consumer expectations
  • A regulating or certifying entity, which could be a government agency or a recognized third-party authority

The RDS, Global TDS, RWS and LWG certifications are rigorous animal-related standards that have emerged from collaborative efforts across the outdoor industry.

As a lover of both animals and gear, your savvy approach is to look for labels like these—ones that are indeed legit because they meet the above criteria.

Responsible Down Standard (RDS)

The RDS label certifies that the down and feathers in products like sleeping bags and outerwear came from ducks and geese that were treated well. While down is a byproduct of the food industry, this standard bans cruel practices, like live plucking and force feeding.

RDS certification also requires that ducks and geese are cared for according to the five freedoms of animal welfare:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express normal behavior
  • Freedom from fear and distress

For more details, visit Responsible Down Standard.

Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS)

The clothing brand Patagonia, in collaboration with key international partners, helped develop the Global TDS label. Though similar to RDS, Global TDS also requires that "parent farms," where birds are raised to produce eggs, get audited. (RDS considers this optional.) That distinction, plus some additional requirements, makes Global TDS slightly stricter than RDS, though both are considered credible standards. The down industry has announced a plan to eventually merge Global TDS and RDS into a single standard.

For more details, visit Global Traceable Down Standard.

Shop Responsibly Sourced Down Products at REI

Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)

The RWS label certifies that wool comes from sheep that are raised in accordance with the five freedoms of animal welfare (listed above in the Responsible Down Standard section). In addition, RWS certification specifically bans mulesing, a painful practice intended to ward off parasites.

RWS also looks at the land where the sheep are raised, requiring farmers to manage it in a way that promotes ecological health.

For more details, visit Responsible Wool Standard.

ZQ is another certification relating to responsible wool production. It adheres to comparable standards as RWS certification, so brands can (legitimately) market ZQ-designated wool as "RWS Certified." Brands must, of course, confirm they meet all requirements of the RWS before doing so.

Shop RWS Products at REI

Recycled Down and Wool

Increasingly, brands are using recycled down and wool in their products, reducing the industry's reliance on virgin sources of those materials to make gear and apparel. That not only reduces impacts on animals, but also reduces climate impacts as well because animal husbandry can often be carbon-intensive.

Leather Working Group (LWG) Standard

The LWG rating evaluates the leather supplier's environmental stewardship practices and promotes traceability of leather hides. Traceability is important because hides originating from certain regions—such as the Amazon—can contribute to deforestation when forestland is cleared to graze cattle. Suppliers are rated as "Gold," "Silver," "Bronze," or "Pass," based on their score following an audit.

Note: LWG ratings apply only to the leather component of a product, not the entire product. In addition, auditors don't examine how animals that provide leather are treated, so you shouldn't look to it for guidance about humane animal welfare practices.

For more details, visit Leather Working Group.

Shop LWG Products at REI

Vegetarian and Vegan Products

At REI, these well-established labels apply to backpacking and camping food. You can select these attributes on when you shop for food products. You can also look for it to be noted in product descriptions and on packaging. In addition, you can search for footwear products that are "vegan" because they contain no animal products (no leather), nor glues that contain animal products.

Finding Products that Meet Animal Welfare Standards

Transitioning to gear that meets these standards takes time, and companies are still fine-tuning how to share with their customers which products meet which standards. The most reliable way to know whether a product has the certification you want is to look for official logos and product descriptions that mention it. Those indicators should be on hangtags on products in stores and in product descriptions online and in catalogs and flyers.

REI Co-op Brand Products

  • RDS certification: As of the fall 2015 product line, 100% of the down insulation used in REI Co-op brand products like jackets and sleeping bags met this standard. Items made prior to this date may not have RDS-certified down.
  • RWS certification: Found primarily in REI Co-op brand wool socks and base layers, where a significant percentage of wool products meet this standard.
  • LWG certification: Because REI doesn't make footwear or other leather-intensive products, this doesn't apply to current REI Co-op brand gear.

Products from Other Outdoor Brands

REI is encouraging the adoption of these standards by the brands we select to offer to our members. In addition, many brands we carry were key partners in developing these standards. So, while you need to look for telltale logos and details in gear and clothing descriptions, you will find it on an ever-increasing number of products online and in stores.

REI Product Impact Standards

REI has established the REI Product Impact Standards, which apply to all brands and products sold at the co-op. These standards outline our expectations of all brands sold at REI regarding how key environmental, social and animal welfare impacts are managed. The standards also identify preferred attributes—the most credible, relevant and impactful features that support positive impacts across our product offering. We encourage brand partners to use for their products, including standards covered in this article. Look for products with these features while shopping at REI to help support better ways of making gear.

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To learn about all of REI Co-op's sustainability initiatives, read our online Product Sustainability report.