REI Set New Sustainability Requirements For Every Brand They Sell

New goals include meeting all work safety conditions in the supply chain and removing harmful chemicals in their products.


Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:39 p.m. ET

Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) is taking an eco-friendly stance on all of their outdoor clothing and gear that they sell in a major way. All suppliers will need to meet new sustainable requirements in order to have their products be sold at their stores. That's right: These rigorous new standards won't be an option, which can give potential buyers concerned about the environment some reassurance that their dollars are going to the right place. 

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The announcement comes as the company is celebrating their 80th year in business. These new sustainable guidelines will affect all brands sold at REI Co-op. For example, every supply chain will have to meet safe working conditions, flame-retardant chemicals will no longer be added on tents, there will be more conservative farming practices for cotton, and animal-derived materials like wool and leather were humanely raised.

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Some of these guidelines will need to be met immediately, and the company plans to help suppliers that don’t have the resources necessary to make a sustainable switch. Products will be designated if they’re made from organic materials, and chemicals like oxybenzone in sunscreen can no longer be used by 2020. A Hawaii hotel chain has already attempted to raise awareness in coral bleaching from this substance, for example.

“We work with more than 1,000 brands, both large and small. Some, like prAna and Patagonia, are on the leading edge in integrating sustainability into their products and supply chains. Others may have a keen interest in sustainability but lack the resources to fully implement a program,” Matthew Thurston, REI’s director of sustainability, said in a press release.

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Patagonia has taken sustainable actions throughout their history thanks to their former CEO, Kristine Tompkins. She and her late husband, Doug Tompkins, donated one million acres of land to the Chilean government so they could preserve it as a national park. The move became official earlier this year.

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Gant, a clothing brand, recently launched a new line of clothing for men and women that used upcycled plastic from the ocean, known as Tech Prep. They teamed up with Seaqual, a company that turns the rescued plastic into fabric that’s used in the shirts. This is similar to what Adidas and Parley did with recently-launched sneakers, which sold over a million units last year alone.

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Adam Siegel, a senior vice president of research, innovation, and sustainability at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, notes that this is the first time a retailer of this magnitude has made strict sustainable standards. While it is an experiment, one advantage he notes is companies will like the benefits of saving money. Becoming more sustainable lowers cost of energy and materials used in the manufacturing process, and waste needing to be moved out.

“By going so broad with requirements for their suppliers and approaching this with such a spirit of collaboration, REI has not only moved their own operations forward, but they’ve raised the bar for the entire industry,” Siegel said in a press release.

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