REI Co-op: Update on racial equity commitments

Oct 7, 2021

In July 2020, we outlined an initial set of commitments detailing our work to advance racial equity at REI and beyond. We pledged to be transparent about our progress and share regular updates.

Below is a full update of our progress since April 2021. Highlights include launching the REI Cooperative Action Fund, a community-funded public charity to support organizations promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors; establishing a new Diversity and Social Impact Office led by the co-op’s new chief diversity and social impact officer; partnering with Equitably Designed to host in-depth trainings and design hackathons to help REI and partner brands make progress against the Product Impact Standards; and progressing the development of our long-term racial equity vision, strategy and roadmap.

Grounding our approach

As an organization and as individuals, we will account for our own systemic bias and identify areas where education is necessary, so that we can be effective, long-term advocates in the struggle for progress and equality.

  • Our intent is to create cultural competence and shared understanding with everyone. At the leadership level, we are building capabilities to create an inclusive environment – where challenging conversations are productive, and differences become understood and celebrated. In our retail organization, we have rolled out live, virtual education sessions on topics of inclusion and bias in hiring. For employees across the co-op, we are making self-directed resources available via a racial equity, diversity and inclusion education hub.

We will center the voices of the people who are, and have been, doing this work, forming a BIPOC-centered advisory council of outside experts. This will include engaging leaders we work with today as well as inviting new voices to the table.

  • We continue to work closely with our growing BIPOC Advisory Council to support the development and implementation of the co-op’s enterprise-wide REDI strategy by ensuring that it is authentic, supports the vision and needs of BIPOC leaders and communities, and works to create a more inclusive outdoor culture. To date, specific areas of support include:
    • Providing input and guiding the implementation of REI’s racial equity strategy through dedicated strategy development sessions
    • Engaging in compensated consulting opportunities for REI products, campaigns, and programs to ensure authenticity and cultural relevance

We will partner with an external agency with racial equity expertise to work in parallel with our internal racial equity working group to identify concrete action plans within every work group at REI. We’ll look at everything from finances to marketing to real estate to create a long-term, racial-equity working plan.

  • With our enterprise assessment complete, we are continuing to work with external partners to develop our long-term racial equity vision, strategy and roadmap.
  • We have established a new Diversity and Social Impact Office, which will lead and champion the co-op’s racial equity, diversity and inclusion and inclusion work at an enterprise level. This new team will be built and led by Wilma Wallace, who has been promoted to the new role of chief diversity and social impact officer.

Internal REI workforce practices

We will advance our efforts to hire, engage, advance and retain BIPOC employees at all levels.

  • We are continuing to expand our efforts towards diversifying our pipeline of candidates, managing bias throughout the hiring process, and building an inclusive environment for all REI employees. We are making positive progress in our six-month pilot in five key markets, where more dedicated recruiting and training support has been added to make significant gains in increasing Black and African American representation.

We will update our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) reporting practices so we are more fully measuring and publishing the data that will help us understand where we are on workforce diversity—and where we need to go.

  • Our 2020 Impact Report launched in April and included REI workforce demographics broken out by race, ethnicity, and gender, making clear the work we have to do as an organization to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce. We will continue to report detailed REI workforce demographics on an annual basis.

We will continue to prioritize employee education that promotes inclusion and racial equity, ensuring our workplace ecosystem understands individual and systemic bias toward BIPOC people and intentionally works to address it.

  • We have developed a multi-year educational roadmap that provides ongoing dialogue, learning and development to support our commitment to build cultural competency throughout the co-op. This effort has started with leadership teams and will be expanded to all employees later this year.

We will recognize holidays, events, memorials and celebrations that represent the diversity of racial and religious heritages of our employees and community, starting with Juneteenth.

  • Integrating the work of our employee resource groups (ERGs), we are taking a strategic approach to acknowledging and celebrating national observances and commemorative months in culturally relevant ways that educate and uplift our employees, members, partners and community. So far this year, we have celebrated Black History Month, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Juneteenth, and Latin American Heritage Month through a series of guest speakers, panel discussions, book clubs and employee connection spaces.

We have reimagined our “Yay Day” paid day-off program as Co-op Way Days, in honor of our co-op values in action. Employees can use Co-op Way Days to put REI’s values into action in the community and toward the causes and issues they’re most passionate about—things like community service, advocacy, voting, civil participation, outdoor recreation, and stewardship.

We are launching employee resource groups for people of color, LGBTQ+, women and military service.

  • We have continued to grow participation in our ERGs. Today, more than 15% of REI employees have registered as members and allies. ERGs are focused on talent development, building community, and advocating for change. The program is in its inaugural year, and we are developing approaches to better enable ERGs to serve as a strategic enabler for culture transformation at the co-op.

In 2020, the co-op established diversity hiring standards to increase the number of BIPOC people in our interview pools for managers and above. In addition, we will conduct an audit of workforce policies, practices and procedures, including all stages of the talent acquisition process, including job postings, recruiting and interview practices. This audit will inform how best to achieve increased diversity at our leadership levels in a systemic, sustainable and equitable manner.

  • We are continuing to use the results of our completed assessments to inform enterprise-wide workforce REDI strategy development, which includes education plans, the recruiting and training pilot and goal setting. The planning remains on track and is scheduled to be completed by fall of this year.

In our stores and the outdoor industry

We will continue to partner with peers in the industry to work toward an outdoor industry leadership and workforce that reflects the demographics of the participants it serves.

  • This remains a priority as we are helping to foster diverse leadership across the industry, partnering with organizations like Camber Outdoors to advance equity and inclusion in the outdoors.

We will continue to work to evolve the brand and image of “the outdoors” to actively demonstrate inclusion while expanding representation and opportunity.

We will continue to work with our partner brands to help them bring an inclusion lens to their own design processes and will work collaboratively with industry partners to address persistent issues in specific product categories that impact communities of color.

We will continue trainings to help our frontline staff, product buyers and designers reduce instances of negative cultural impacts that may show up in the products, packaging and marketing from REI Co-op Brands and from our partner brands.

  • We are working with partners to support industry progress against the Product Impact Standards for every brand sold at REI, launched last December by convening conversations, offering education and resources, and sharing innovative practices.
  • We have partnered with Equitably Designed to support REI teams and over 1,400 brand partners in anticipation of the end-of-year deadline to implement the standards. Support includes:
    • In-depth training sessions for REI teams and brand partners on topics ranging from Inclusive Design 101 to cultural appropriation, gender segmentation, inclusive sizing, inclusive language and copy, and more.
    • Panel discussions featuring industry and community experts, brand partners, and practitioners bringing these concepts to life. We have continued to engage these experts and others in ongoing paid consultation on inclusive design topics to ensure a community-centered approach.
    • Live Design Hackathons for REI product teams to foster innovation and inclusivity in the design process.
    • Quarterly gatherings with inclusion partners to share practices, hear feedback, and integrate their needs and priorities into our approach, in real time as we approach this work.
  • We are placing signs in our stores with a clear statement of our values. These signs will invite our members and customers to join us on this journey of building a more inclusive outdoors.

We will work with the outdoor community to resolve the longstanding issue of racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic names for the places we gather to pursue our outdoor passions, starting with the names for many climbing routes.

  • Together with the American Alpine Club, we are supporting the Climb United coalition to address derogatory climbing route names and create a safer environment for all climbers. Since the coalition was launched earlier this year, Climb United has engaged the climbing community in the process of reflection, learning and growth in numerous ways, including:
    • Drafting principles and guidelines for naming climbing routes.
    • Working with REI’s guidebook and map vendors to incorporate naming guidance.
    • Hosting public forums, town hall meetings and lunch-and-learns to share stories behind Climb United and the path forward.
    • Spreading awareness of the coalition and the path ahead through a series of engagements with REI customers, partner brands and the broader climbing community.  

We commit to delivering relevant products, services and experiences that reflect the different ways members of BIPOC communities may find meaning in their relationships with nature, and to addressing the unique challenges and institutional barriers to belonging that many people of color at the co-op and outside confront daily.

  • Teams across the co-op are working to address structural and systemic barriers. Some examples include:
    • Building awareness and associated processes around addressing language with roots in systemic racism, including business terms, digital taxonomy, creative and marketing copy, and product information.
    • Working directly with an external consulting team, Sapient, to perform a comprehensive audit of with a focus on racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
    • Through REI Co-op Studios, we are developing and producing films, podcasts, and editorial stories that complement the co-op’s broader climate and racial equity, diversity and inclusion commitments. Some examples include:
      • Partnering with Angela Tucker to release “The Trees Remember,” a film series featuring Black women of different ages growing and thriving in the outdoors and exploring connection through movement, stewardship, and grace.
      • Working with Dustlight Productions and Subaru to debut a new podcast, “Hello Nature,” to highlight stories about access to public lands and the history and work done in the parks by BIPOC individuals. 

We will commit to working with and growing BIPOC suppliers throughout our product and merchandising strategy.

  • Since April, we have conducted a vendor survey, which confirmed that less than 2% of our current vendor base is comprised of BIPOC-owned or led brands. We will have an additional update next month about our efforts to alleviate the underrepresentation of BIPOC suppliers in our product offerings.
  • We soft-launched a new vendor portal called Greenlight, which creates direct access to buyers for smaller brands who may not have developed industry networks or understand how to navigate a retailer the size of REI. The initial pool of applicants through this program are 25% BIPOC-owned or led, confirming the need for new pathways into REI that don’t rely on traditional structures to increase participation from underrepresented groups.

Nonprofit & inclusion partners

We will continue to invest in a broad cohort of local, regional and national nonprofits and other partner organizations who work directly to provide welcoming and affirming spaces for historically underrepresented groups. Some of our long-term inclusion partners include Outdoor Afro, Black Girls RUN!, Latino Outdoors, LatinXHikers, Black Girls Do Bike, GirlTrek and Hispanic Access Foundation.

  • We are continuing to deepen our existing partnerships with BIPOC-led inclusion partners and adding new partnerships with leaders like Adina Crawford and James Beard award-winning chef Maria Hines. We continue to develop relationships nationally and locally throughout the year. Since April we have:
    • Supported the Outdoor Journal Tour’s first campout, “The Rooted Woman” BIPOC Campout and Healing Retreat.
    • Featured Mikah Meyer on our social platforms to support his “Across Series” to promote his Outside Safe Space program.
    • Sponsored a collaboration between The Venture Out Project and Jenny Bruso of Unlikely Hikers for two inclusive sizing backpacking trips for queer people.
  • We are using a private hub in our Conversations digital community to convene inclusion partners quarterly to share feedback, foster connection, collaborate on programming and learn how the co-op can best evolve our support for their transformational work.
  • We have completed our grantmaking to local nonprofit partners including support for organizations that are led by and serve BIPOC and other underrepresented communities. This includes two-year funding commitments to organizations including Adaptive Sports Connection, Blackpackers, Vamos Outdoors Project, Outdoor Asian and more.

We will continue to evolve our Race + Place initiative. For the past two years, we have led an initiative exploring the ways communities of color are reclaiming and redefining the outdoors, as well as broader themes of racial justice in U.S. outdoor recreation. This work is informed by a dedicated BIPOC advisory council.

  • Our Race + Place initiative remains a priority. However, given the current challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic and in-person gatherings, we are working to adapt our Race + Place initiative and reevaluate the timing of events for the fall.

We are investing $100,000 each in the National Urban League and to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, historic civil rights and advocacy organizations that work to fight injustice and inequality, and will continue to partner with and support our BIPOC partner organizations through this current national moment and beyond.

We will elevate and advocate for issues relevant to the intersection of race and the outdoors, including public land use, environmental racism, climate justice and more.

  • We launched the REI Cooperative Action Fund, a community-supported 501(c)(3) organization to support organizations and community leaders who are promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors. The Fund aims to harness the collective impact of the co-op community to scale its investment in the outdoors by giving REI members, employees and the general public the opportunity to contribute. As part of its inaugural grants, the REI Cooperative Action Fund is investing $1 million in 19 organizations that are connecting people outside, creating space outside and centering health outside.
  • The REI Cooperative Action Fund will focus on three specific grantmaking initiatives:
    • Connecting people outside: The Fund will support outdoor-focused organizations led by and serving Black communities, Indigenous peoples, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with physical disabilities, and women.
    • Creating space outside: The Fund will support efforts to increase equitable access to the outdoors, with specific emphasis on community-led carbon reduction projects that bring environmental benefits closer to home for marginalized communities.
    • Centering health outside: The Fund will support efforts to strengthen and amplify scientific research, and support Traditional Ecological Knowledge to demonstrate that time outside improves mental, physical and emotional health and well-being.

We will continue to offer the broad reach of our social and editorial channels to our BIPOC-led For All partners and grantees to tell the stories they see as most important right now.

Government affairs and public policy

We will be vocal advocates for voter registration, mail-in voting and voting early nationwide. As the recent events in Wisconsin and Georgia have demonstrated, the pandemic could create significant challenges in some parts of the country to the American right to vote—which likely would have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In the coming months, we will seek to activate our employees and members to help reduce barriers to voting.

We will continue our commitment to the Time to Vote coalition, a national organization aligned on the importance of creating the time and flexibility for every employee to exercise their right to vote.

  • This year, we have witnessed a wave of voter suppression legislation in several states across the country that would create barriers to access the polls beyond the current pandemic. We continue to advocate for voting rights for all Americans, most recently supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. We have invited the co-op community to join us in taking action and urging their Senators to pass the bill through REI’s Cooperative Action Network.

While we continue to make progress against these commitments, we know that systemic change takes time and may not be a linear process. We remain humble and deeply committed to this journey, as we work to make the co-op a place where everyone can feel safe and welcome to be themselves.

As we advance this work, we will continue to share updates and evolve these commitments, while bringing our members, employees, partners and community along the way.

About the REI Co-op

REI is a specialty outdoor retailer, headquartered near Seattle. The nation’s largest consumer co-op, REI is a growing community of 23 million members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. REI has 184 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. If you can’t visit a store, you can shop at REI.comREI Outlet or the REI shopping app. REI isn’t just about gear. Adventurers can take the trip of a lifetime with REI’s active adventure travel company that runs more than 100 itineraries across the country. In many communities where REI has a presence, professionally trained instructors share their expertise by hosting beginner-to advanced-level classes and workshops about a wide range of activities. To build on the infrastructure that makes life outside possible, REI invests millions annually in hundreds of local and national nonprofits that create access to—and steward—the outdoor places that inspire us all.