The gear we design, develop and merchandise represents both our greatest impact on the planet and our greatest opportunity for advancing sustainable business practices. We push ourselves, our partners and the broader industry to advance responsible production and consumption.
As we work to minimize the impact of our products on the natural environment, our first step is to objectively measure our products' footprint. Where are the biggest areas of impact, whether immediately visible or deep in the supply chain? Where can we improve the most? This is an enormously 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 and Co-op Cycles products are an embodiment of the co-op's values. We're also fortunate to retail 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, as we know we can have a far bigger impact together than we could ever have 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 Sustainability Standards
In 2018, we codified years of effort supporting our partner brands in creating more sustainable products. REI launched Product Sustainability Standards, which apply to all brands and products sold at REI. The standards provide clear expectations of brand partners, encourage them to integrate leading sustainability features into products and provide a platform from which REI can offer support and guidance. This model enables us to greatly expand our positive impact.
The Higg Index
The Higg Index is a suite of sustainability tools developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). It provides brands and manufacturers with a standardized platform for understanding product sustainability, particularly apparel and footwear. Each of the Higg Index tools – called “modules” – are used to assess aspects of product supply chains. The modules provide different lenses for understanding the effects of our business and for setting improvement targets.
REI played a founding role when this work began under the auspices of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). We were then one of the early members of the SAC, an organization that brought global scale to this endeavor. The SAC now includes hundreds of companies in the apparel and footwear industries that have committed to having a positive impact on the people, environment and communities associated with manufacturing their products.
As the Higg Index has grown, so too has our use of the modules. What started as an initiative within the REI Co-op brand is now expanding to the other brands retailed at REI. We will use the Higg Index to engage strategic brand partners in apparel and footwear. We intend to continuously expand the adoption of these tools across our product portfolio, with the goal of operating more efficiently and with less impact on the planet.
REI Co-op and Co-op Cycles
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 and, in 2019, we used almost 500 fabrics, and over 800 components (trims and gear parts) and over 800 bicycle parts. 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, this means continuous improvement toward a desired end goal. As REI is only one part in a large supply chain ecosystem, we also believe in using collaboration to increase visibility and use of more sustainable materials.
- Recycled Materials: Recycled materials lessen our need to extract raw materials and typically have a reduced environmental 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 variety of products that contain organically grown cotton.
- Lyocell and Modal: Protecting our forests is important to REI and our members. We prioritize forest 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 managed responsibly. We prefer wool certified to the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a certification that provides additional assurance that farmers follow best practices for responsible 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 angora, bamboo rayon, mohair, exotic leathers and fur. We have also eliminated PVC from all of our apparel and camping products.
REI works closely with peer brands, the Outdoor Industry Association and leading academic institutes to research, understand, reduce and eliminate chemicals of concern used 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. In 2008, REI became one of the first North American brand partners to this Swiss-based organization. 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: Flammability standards drive the use of FR chemicals in camping tents. Some FR chemicals have been linked to undesirable human and environmental health effects, so we carefully track the use of FR chemicals, test materials to ensure compliance with the REI Restricted Substances List, and work with our suppliers to promote use of the best alternatives. In addition, we have begun pursuing new test methods for flammability to begin to eliminate flame retardants wherever possible.
- Durable Water Repellents (DWR): Concerns about the toxicity and environmental persistence of certain durable water repellents (DWR) is driving a transition in the industry. As of 2019 product lines, REI has eliminated DWR treatments that contain long-chain PFAS from our supply chain. Use of short-chain PFAS alternatives is a positive stepping stone while we explore non-fluorinated alternatives, which we believe will eventually provide the best balance of performance and environmental stewardship.
- 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.
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 and the apparel and textiles industries can address it. To that end, REI and a handful of leading outdoor brands are supporting research led by Ocean Wise, a Canadian nonprofit focused on protecting the world’s oceans. We will use our findings to identify opportunities to design products in a way that reduces microfiber shedding.