All wool that goes into the making of products retailed at REI must be sourced from humanely treated sheep. It's one of several new standards for the co-op's suppliers. Tutye / iStock
By Katie O'Reilly
Those who love to recreate outdoors make for staunch environmental advocates. Last week, consumer co-op REI announced plans that should make it easier for its adventurer members to find products that support their values. By the fall of 2020, REI will sever its business relationships with any of its 1,000-plus suppliers that don't meet stringent new requirements in areas including environmental impact, chemical usage, animal welfare, and labor safety and fairness.
The move is among the most comprehensive efforts to advance sustainability in the retail sector. The outdoors-equipment retailer has already supplied to its vendors a 12-page document detailing the new sustainability standards. Some go into effect immediately, while others are more ambitious and aspirational and won't be mandatory for a couple of years.
The new sustainability standards are almost encyclopedic in their range. By the end of 2020, wool products sold at REI must be sourced from humanely treated sheep. Sunscreens won't contain coral-reef-bleaching components. The making of down products must never involve the live-plucking or force-feeding of animals. REI will retail only those jackets that haven't been treated with long-chain fluorocarbons. And REI will expect each brand that it sells to have a manufacturing code of conduct that formally guarantees fair, non-discriminatory labor practices.
"The goal is to establish better ways of doing business and help raise the bar across the entire industry," said Matt Thurston, REI's director of sustainability. It's also to render the consumer shopping experience more straightforward, and streamline the glut of labels that consumers encounter while trying to shop conscientiously. Thurston said REI's new standards clearly outline preferred third-party certifications and favor some, such as Blue Sign, Fair Trade USA and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), over others. "When you end up with so many labels and stickers on all these different brands, we call it the 'Nascar effect,'" Thurston said. "Everyone's tracking toward progress, but it can just make things more challenging for the consumer. If consumers learn to look for the best certifications, those labels become that much more powerful."
REI is training its employees to be able to plainly explain the sustainability labels to customers, and a new consumer landing page details the ways in which the new supplier standards stand to affect the shopping process. Already, REI customers shopping online can filter their search by sustainability attributes. For example, one can search the REI ecosystem for "women's down sleeping bags" and then filter results using "responsibly sourced down" or seek out children's apparel made from "organically grown cotton" or men's outerwear that is "fair trade."
REI has spent the better part of the past two years collaborating behind the scenes with more than 60 brand partners, of various sizes and product categories, to co-develop the standards. Thurston said, "We wanted to learn which practices would be most impactful on the ground, the most credible vehicles for advancing them, and figure out what would most effectively drive positive change."
Theresa Conn, supply chain and sustainability coordinator for New Hampshire's NEMO Equipment, works for one of the brands that helped REI develop its new rules. "These standards weren't pulled out of thin air," she said. "It's a gathering of best practices from the outdoor industry. It's a great guiding light, whether you're a big brand wondering what actions will have the most meaningful immediate impact in your supply chain, or a smaller brand that maybe has lots of energy and excitement but doesn't know where to start." According to Conn, the new REI standards have already spurred NEMO to change the chemistry of the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) used in its sleeping bags.
This isn't just a PR ploy—it turns out there's more than idealized thinking behind REI's new standards. "Our findings have confirmed that the products with the most sustainability attributes are the ones that tend to perform best once out in the world," Thurston said. "They have the best sales, most recommendations, and are purchased by the most loyal REI customers. So we want to give all our partners access to the resources, best practices, and guidance to creating more sustainable products—because it's more impactful if you can bring others along for the journey."
REI executives are also well aware that, based on the changes today's consumers are seeing in the broader socio-political landscape, shoppers are placing ever-greater value on corporate social responsibility. "We're definitely seeing a swing toward these values, particularly among younger, American customers," Thurston said, adding that he hopes the co-op's new standards inspire retailers beyond the outdoor sphere to take a stance in environmental stewardship. "While our approach won't necessarily be appropriate for every sector, the model is quite universal."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
BY Connor McGuigan
REI will once again shutter its doors on Black Friday as part of its #OptOutside campaign, which encourages people to forgo bargain-hunting and spend America's busiest shopping day outside. The outdoor retailer will also suspend online sales and provide all 12,000 employees with a paid day off to enjoy the outdoors.
#OptOutside began in 2015 when REI executives began questioning their corporation's involvement in the annual bargain bacchanal. Each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans generate one million extra tons of waste, a good portion of which can be attributed to Black Friday shopping.
REI decided to offer a different narrative for Black Friday—one that runs counter to consumerism and the environmental harms it generates. "We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season," said president and CEO Jerry Stritzke in the letter first announcing #OptOutside in 2015.
During that first #OptOutside campaign, REI partnered with 170 organizations to help get the word out and arranged for 1,000 state and local parks to waive entrance fees that day. #OptOutside resonated widely—more than 1.4 million people posted on social media with the #OptOutside tag. Ad Age called the campaign the "future of marketing."
After another successful campaign in 2016, REI has sought to widen the reach of #OptOutside this year with an "experiential search engine" designed to make it even easier for people to get outside. The search engine compiles thousands of photos depicting outdoor adventures that people have posted on Instagram with the hashtag #OptOutside. You can scroll through photos organized by activity, or search for outings in a particular area. If you find a photo that piques your interest—say a landscape in your area that you've never seen—you can click on the photo to find more information, including the name and location as well as the difficulty level of trails.
CEO Jerry Stritzke believes the search engine unites outdoor enthusiasts in an unprecedented fashion. "We have captured the experiences of the outdoor community and organized them in a way that no one has done before," he said in a press release announcing the #OptOutside 2017 campaign and search engine. "Right now, I think people are looking for a moment to take a breath, reground themselves, and come together."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
U.S. companies are taking a stand in these politically chaotic times.
So far, 127 technology firms are firing back at President Donald Trump's travel ban affecting immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Facebook, Apple and Google are leading the fight against Trump's immigration ban https://t.co/6lcwkRfP2a https://t.co/MoNxOmRmLP— Forbes (@Forbes)1486394161.0
The movement was led by nearly 100 Silicon Valley companies who filed a legal brief on Sunday to oppose the highly controversial executive order, arguing that it is unconstitutional and "inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth." Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber, Reddit, Netflix and Dropbox were among the 97 companies that initially signed on to support Washington state's lawsuit against Trump's order.
That list got substantially larger late Monday afternoon, when Tesla, SpaceX and 29 other tech firms joined the brief.
Tesla and SpaceX were notably absent on the original list of signatories. CEO Elon Musk, who happens to sit on Trump's business advisory council, previously said he would use his position to "express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration."
Regarding the meeting at the White House: https://t.co/8b1XH4oW6h— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk)1486085958.0
But as a Tesla spokesperson told the Verge, "as soon as we saw the brief this morning, we insisted on being added."
The suit is being heard in the ninth circuit federal court in San Francisco, California and has already succeeded in temporarily halting the enforcement of the executive order.
Many other companies are making real efforts to be socially responsible. The outdoor industry as a whole has taken a stand against Utah state's and the federal government's proposals to shed public lands.
In an open letter to Trump and Congress, more than 100 outdoor industry leaders led by REI have called upon elected officials to protect public lands and the integrity of the outdoor recreation industry, which powers $646 billion in gross national product.
Outdoor clothing big-hitter Patagonia also announced on Tuesday it will not participate in Utah's Outdoor Retailer shows after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution on Friday urging the Trump administration to repeal the newly named Bears Ears National Monument.
The most anticipated outdoor recreation event of the year just finished in Salt Lake City, Utah, where hundreds of outdoor brands from small business outfitters to industry pioneers like Patagonia and Black Diamond Equipment gathered to witness the cutting-edge in outdoor gear.
OMG! Land Grab Congressman Now Wants #Trump to Abolish National Monuments https://t.co/ZdmAJo7HsN @CenterForBioDiv @sierraclub @Wilderness— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480262373.0
Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee are launching a vicious campaign to dispose of the very public lands that the convention celebrates.
The anti-conservation agenda of these politicians includes: a reversal of the newly appointed Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; stripping the Antiquities Act, an invaluable conservation tool that enables the president to designate national monuments; and selling off our public lands for oil and gas, mining and other development.
Their relentless assault on wildlands is a sharp sting of betrayal that has been felt across the outdoor recreation industry.
This week, outdoor industry leaders have said "enough is enough."
In an open letter to President-elect Trump and Congress, more than 100 outdoor industry leaders led by REI have called upon elected officials to protect public lands and the integrity of the outdoor recreation industry, which powers $646 billion in gross national product.
The letter, signed by Patagonia among other big-hitters like Osprey, Clif Bar & Company and Chaco states:
It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands.
Yet as the 115th Congress begins, efforts are underway that threaten to undermine over one hundred years of public investment, stewardship and enjoyment of our national public lands. Stated simply, these efforts would be bad for the American people. They include the potential of national public lands being privatized or given to states who might sell them to the highest bidder. This would unravel courageous efforts by leaders from across the political spectrum up to the present day, including Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.
This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue that affects our shared freedoms. Public lands should remain in public hands.
More Outdoor Leaders Speak Out Against the Assault on Our Wild
The outdoor industry letter comes on the heels of a scathing op-ed in the Salt Lake City Tribune from Peter Metcalf, founder and former CEO for Black Diamond Equipment. In that Jan. 10 op-ed, Metcalf demanded that Utah's political leadership stop its assault on public lands. If they don't, Outdoor Retailer, which pours $50 million into the state of Utah, should find a new home to host its biannual convention, he wrote. Metcalf relocated Black Diamond to Utah in 1991 for the state's impressive public lands, but said that Outdoor Retailer should "leave the state in disgust."
"The Utah delegation has wasted no time in the first days of 2017 to enact their destructive agenda and now the outdoor industry, too, must respond boldly and unified while we are here in Salt Lake," Metcalf wrote.
A day later, Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard joined Metcalf by issuing a press release stating:
"Every January and August, Patagonia and hundreds of other companies spend gobs of money to show our latest products at the Outdoor Retailer show. The whole thing is a cash cow for Salt Lake City. You'd think politicians in Utah would bend over backward to make us feel welcome. But instead, Gov. Gary Herbert and his buddies have spent years denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder. He's created a hostile environment that puts our industry at risk."
No doubt that many neighboring western states would be happy to pick up the recreation business that Utah's politicians are taking for granted.
"New Mexico is open for business," state Sen. Martin Heinrich tweeted.
These industry leaders are making it rightfully clear that if politicians continue to attack our wildlands, there will be consequences.
The Outdoor Industry Loves Utah ... But Does Utah Love the Outdoor Industry? https://t.co/KkikoEpuuv @ecoliving @GoGreenBook— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484172608.0
With powerhouse brands like REI, Patagonia and Black Diamond at the helm, members of the outdoor industry are welcome partners in safeguarding Our Wild and are a strong frontline of defense against the growing assault on public lands.
We praise them for taking a stand and encourage other outdoor retailers to join the movement to defend Our Wild from development.
Facts and Figures:
- $12 Billion: Money generated each year, in consumer spending, by outdoor recreation in Utah alone.
- 122,000: Number of jobs generated in the outdoor recreation sector in Utah.
- 91 percent: Percentage of Utah voters who say they do at least one outdoor recreation activity regularly.
- 84 percent: Percentage of Utahns say that living near and enjoying outdoor recreation on public lands is a factor in choosing to live in the West.
- 66 percent: Percentage of voters in Utah who support presidential authority to designate monuments.
- 60 percent: Percentage of Utah voters who view national public lands as belonging more to all Americans than to people in Utah specifically.
Learn more about the Our Wild movement to protect our lands from development.