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Product Impact and Circular Commerce

The gear we design, develop, and merchandise represents both our greatest impact on the climate and the planet, and our greatest opportunity for advancing sustainable business practices. In addition to pushing ourselves, our partners and the broader industry to advance responsible production and consumption, we seek to provide our members with great gear that stands the test of time.

 

As we work to minimize the impact of our products on the natural environment, our first step is to understand our biggest areas of impact. Are they immediately visible or deep in the supply chain? Where can we improve the most? Sustainability is a complex challenge, and we're not alone in tackling it. We actively collaborate with other retailers, brands and manufacturers to create common tools and solutions.

We're proud of the products we sell under our own name. REI Co-op brand products and Co-op Cycles are an embodiment of our values and an opportunity to help lead the industry in implementing more sustainable practices. We're also fortunate to carry other leading outdoor brands. While we don't oversee their supply chains, we influence responsible choices through education, engagement and collaboration—and by holding the brands we sell to high standards, just as we do for ourselves. 

Engaging Brand Partners

REI is committed to collaborating on sustainability solutions. We can make a far bigger impact together than alone. Organizations innovate new solutions, and it's through partnerships that those benefits can be applied broadly. Collaboration is also critical for creating standards to measure social and environmental impacts. Together, we can create common understanding about what's important and how we solve challenges. 

REI Product Impact Standards

REI’s Product Impact Standards are designed to help our partner brands create more sustainable and inclusive products. These standards outline our expectations of all brands sold at REI regarding how they manage key environmental and social impacts associated with products. The standards also identify REI’s “preferred attributes” – leading sustainability features that help reduce carbon emissions or support other positive outcomes. We encourage brand partners to use these attributes for their products.  

Each year, REI asks brand partners to share updates on their sustainability performance via an annual questionnaire. We use the data to track our collective progress, guide our assortment decisions and help us understand how we can best support brands in aligning with REI’s standards. We believe that awarding business to brands that have strong sustainability practices is a powerful way to drive change. Brands taking decisive action on sustainability accounted for the following portions of our 2020 sales: 

  • 65% to brands that measure their greenhouse gas footprint and have reduction targets in place

  • 31% to brands that offset some or all of their greenhouse gas emissions

  • 16% to brands that are Climate Neutral certified or committed

  • 68% performed better than average on REI’s Product Impact Questionnaire

  • 73% to brands involved in industry sustainability forums or initiatives

  • 62% to brands that have a supplier sustainability training program in place

Finally, we seek out products that are made using our preferred sustainability attributes. By 2030, 100% of the products we sell will have a preferred attribute, so that every product supports a healthier, cleaner and more equitable planet.  In 2021, approximately 24% of our sales came from products with at least one sustainability attribute. 

This graph displays the percent of brands by revenue that took key actions in sustainability categories, including that 65% of 2020 revenue is from brands that measure their greenhouse gas footprint and have reduction targets in place.

Fig 1Expand Stewardship graph

The Higg Index

The Higg Index is a suite of sustainability tools developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). REI helped found the SAC, which now includes hundreds of companies that have committed to having a positive impact on the people, environment and communities associated with manufacturing their products.

The SAC provides brands and manufacturers with a standardized platform for understanding and managing product sustainability. Each of the Higg Index tools—called “modules”—are used to assess aspects of the product lifecycle, including raw materials, manufacturing, brand practices and product use. The modules provide different lenses for understanding the effects of our business and for setting improvement targets.

As the Higg Index has grown, so too has our use of the modules. We use the tools to assess our own practices and engage strategic brand partners and suppliers for the REI Co-op brand. In addition, in 2020, we began using the Higg Index Material Sustainability Index to assess the environmental impacts associated with the materials we use for our REI Co-op brand products. This enables us to make informed decisions and select materials that have a reduced impact on the climate and environment.

Looking ahead, REI will continue expanding the use of the Higg Index tools across our business and continuously improve our performance by reducing our impacts on the planet.

Materials Sustainability

REI is committed to sourcing more sustainable materials. We align our business practices with our stakeholders’ expectations and industry best practices. It’s not an easy task. We create many complex products that utilize a variety of materials and components. These supply chains are often intricate and dynamic in nature. 

We use our influence to drive positive impact across the industry. In supply chain matters, we work to increase transparency and use of more sustainable materials.

  • Recycled Materials: Recycled materials lessen our need to extract raw materials and typically have a reduced carbon footprint relative to their virgin counterparts. We seek to use certified recycled materials when they are available and meet the performance requirements of our products.

  • Cotton: We prioritize organically grown cotton because organic farmers follow best practices that promote ecological health. We offer a wide assortment of products that contain organically grown cotton.

  • Lyocell and Modal: Protecting our forests is important to REI and our members. We prioritize products that come from responsibly managed forests. For cellulosic fibers made from trees, such as lyocell and modal, we work only with suppliers that formally commit to protecting ancient or endangered forests and supporting long-term forest conservation.

  • Down and Feathers: We source down from birds that are responsibly raised and cared for. This means enabling them to live healthy lives, express innate behaviors and live free from pain, fear or distress. To honor this commitment, we have adopted the Responsible Down Standard for 100% of our virgin down and feathers.

  • Wool: We are committed to sourcing virgin wool from farms where sheep were humanely raised and cared for, and where land was responsibly managed. We prefer wool certified to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a certification that provides additional assurance that farmers follow best practices for animal husbandry and sustainable land management.

  • Leather: We do not endorse cattle farming in the Amazon biome, a region undergoing rapid deforestation. While REI Co-op does not source full-leather hides, when we do use leather, we prioritize suppliers rated by the Leather Working Group, which promotes responsible environmental stewardship practices in tanneries.

  • Materials we don't use: REI Co-op does not use certain materials because of animal welfare concerns, environmental harm, the existence of safer alternatives, or the absence of traceability mechanisms. This includes materials like alpaca wool, angora, bamboo rayon, mohair, exotic leathers and fur. We have also eliminated PVC from all our apparel and camping products. 

Sustainable Chemistry

REI works closely with peer brands, the Outdoor Industry Association and leading academic institutes to research, understand, reduce and eliminate chemicals of concern in the manufacturing of our products.

Our approach begins with input-stream management, which ensures that chemicals are selected with due diligence before entering the manufacturing process. Our program also supports implementation of chemical management best practices for safe chemical storage, handling, use and treatment of waste.

The following key tools serve as the building blocks for our Sustainable Chemistry Program:

  • bluesign® is the world's leading system for managing the environmental and human health impacts of textile manufacturing. Rather than solely focusing on testing finished items, the bluesign® system eliminates or tightly controls hazardous chemicals at each step of the production process. The system also addresses energy efficiency, water use, worker health and safety, and air and water emissions throughout the supply chain.

  • The REI Restricted Substances List (RSL) is based on the bluesign® system and meets or exceeds global regulatory requirements. Chemical testing to the RSL requirements is used to help ensure products, particularly those containing non-bluesign® materials, are safe for our members.

  • In partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association and leading outdoor brands, REI participated in creation of the OIA Chemicals Management Guide & Training for Manufacturers. This guide is a compilation of resources that supports the outdoor industry in aligning around a common set of chemicals management practices and helps our supplier partners adopt robust systems for managing chemicals throughout production.

REI is voluntarily eliminating from our products certain potentially hazardous substances that may be found in outdoor performance products where we believe safer, effective alternatives exist. In instances where alternatives are limited, such as those outlined below, we proceed cautiously while working to identify and develop better options.

  • Antimicrobials, Biocides and Insecticides: The human health and environmental impacts of many antimicrobials, biocides and insecticides are not thoroughly understood. For these reasons, we are selective in our application of these treatments. We select only bluesign®-certified antimicrobials to ensure thorough evaluations for toxicity and efficacy have been conducted.

  • Flame Retardant (FR) Chemicals: For many years, flammability standards have driven the use of flame retardant chemicals in camping tents. Some flame retardant chemicals have been linked to undesirable human and environmental health effects. REI has partnered with our suppliers to identify and avoid certain flame retardants in favor of less hazardous alternatives. REI has also participated in the creation of a new test method for flammability and contributed to the development of updated standards. We expect this will enable the elimination of flame retardant chemicals across a greater portion of the tents that we sell. Now, in our own REI Co-op brand products, we have begun to forego the use of flame retardant chemicals where they are unnecessary to meet flammability requirements. We intend to expand this approach across our tent offerings in the coming years.

  • Durable Water Repellents (DWR): Concerns about the toxicity and environmental persistence of certain durable water repellents is driving a transition in the industry. REI has eliminated long-chain PFAS DWR treatments from the REI Co-op brand. We use short-chain PFAS treatments where viable alternatives do not yet exist, and we continue to expand the use of non-fluorinated options.

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): REI restricts the use of PVC due to human and environmental health risks in manufacturing and use. We have eliminated PVC from all products except certain bicycle subcomponents, where alternatives are being studied for efficacy.

Microfiber Pollution

A growing body of research indicates that every time we wash our clothes, thousands of microscopic fibers are released into the wastewater and can build up in waterways. REI is working to better understand this issue and how we—along with the apparel and textiles industries—can address it. To that end, REI is supporting research led by Ocean Wise, a Canadian nonprofit focused on protecting the world’s oceans. REI is also a member of The Microfibre Consortium, an organization comprised of leading organizations focused on developing practical solutions for addressing microfiber pollution in manufacturing and product use. Our aim is to continue advancing our understanding to design and manufacture products in a way that reduces microfiber shedding.

Circular Commerce

Most traditional businesses that create and sell products use linear supply chain models that take, make, use, and dispose of materials. The circular economy is a model that disrupts that process by extending the lifecycle of products through increased use and recapture of finite resources.

This way of doing business has far-reaching implications that are beginning to influence the outdoor industry. By investing in our circular commerce businesses, we help reduce waste and increase efficiency in how we use our planet’s resources while lowering the price barrier to getting outside for our members. We believe our circular businesses have a critical role to play in helping REI achieve our 2030 climate objectives—and it helps keep outdoor gear on the trail, where it belongs.

The co-op provides several services to extend the life of our products. Some of these are long-running programs that are core to our role as a co-op. Others are relatively new services that we are focused on growing.

Advancing Product and Supply Chain Sustainability 

REI scours the world to bring the best outdoor gear and apparel to our members. In the context of those global supply chains, the co-op is relatively small. But through strategic partnerships with leading organizations, we’re able to create positive impacts far beyond our size. REI has been a driving force behind some of the most impactful multi-stakeholder initiatives, bringing together both global retailers and small specialty brands to help address the most challenging social and environmental issues in the supply chains and communities we all share.

The Outdoor Industry Association Climate Action Corps

REI is a founding member of this industry-leading forum composed of almost 100 outdoor industry brands, suppliers, manufacturers and other stakeholders. The Climate Action Corps is a forum where companies report greenhouse gas emissions, establish reduction plans, and collaborate to tackle shared challenges in the supply chain. The forum serves as a source of best practices for the REI Co-op & Co-op Cycles brands and as a key platform for sharing experiences with other brands retailed by REI. Learn more about REI's reduction plans.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition

REI has been a member of the nonprofit Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) since its incorporation, helping evolve tools created in the outdoor industry and scale them across the global footwear and apparel markets. The centerpiece of the SAC is the Higg Index, a suite of groundbreaking assessment tools that empower brands, retailers and manufacturers to measure their environmental and social impacts at each stage of the value chain. REI uses the Higg Index with our own brands and products, and we’re encouraging its adoption across our leading brand partners. Learn more about our sustainable product practices.

Textile Exchange 

This nonprofit organization was founded to inspire and equip people to accelerate more sustainable practices in the textile value chain. Originally focused on organic cotton, Textile Exchange (TE) has become one of the industry's leading sources of material sustainability knowledge and traceability standards. REI has worked with TE to better understand and reduce the environmental impact of our supply chains. We have also partnered to create, pilot and launch material traceability standards that now serve as the foundation for many of the most common consumer-facing labels. Learn more about REI's standards. 

Re/Supply

Members can now participate in a more circular economy by buying or trading in their gear and apparel through our Re/Supply programs. Re/Supply invites our members to reimagine the lifecycle of their outdoor products and brings us back to the heart of what it means to be a co-op: sharing amongst members to enable more accessible and sustainable ways to get outside. 

We sell more than 1 million used items each year through the Re/Supply sections of our retail stores, and through our Re/Supply e-commerce site. In 2021, we grew the number of used units sold by 30% vs. 2019, making progress towards our goal of de-coupling business growth from carbon impact. Buying used instead of new typically avoids carbon emissions of 50% or more. This is based on REI Co-op’s estimate of preparing used gear for sale versus making new gear.  

Through 2021, we expanded our Re/Supply business by bringing our member trade-in program to select stores. By mid-year 2022, we are planning to have our trade-in service live in all our retail stores.  

We also continue to pilot new retail concepts specific to used gear in California and Pennsylvania, and will continue to iterate on this concept moving forward. 

With all our Re/Supply offerings, we are working to create the largest marketplace for high-quality used outdoor gear and apparel while innovating within our business model to achieve our 2030 climate goals.

Rentals

Our gear rentals in select stores give members and customers an affordable way to try out a new activity or use a pay-as-you-play model whenever they get the urge to go outside. We offer everything from snowshoes and cross-country skis to fully equipped camping and backpacking kits. Through 2021, we helped nearly one-hundred thousand customers get outside through our rental programs—some for the very first time.

Expert Advice Articles and Videos

REI is the leading source for expert outdoor knowledge our members and customers can trust. We help people learn new skills, choose great gear, prepare for trips and have amazing adventures. We have expanded on our extensive library of gear care and repair guidance to help maximize the lifetime of our high-quality products and minimize environmental impacts. We now have over 70 articles and videos covering everything from repairing a tent to replacing bike chainrings.

Shop Services & Product Repairs

For some product repairs, it’s better to have an expert fix it. REI offers in-house maintenance and repair services for skis, snowboards, and bikes. We’ve also partnered with several third-party organizations to provide high-quality repair services for common product categories, including apparel, footwear, and tent poles. Customers can find more information about how to get products repaired.