REI Seattle flagship store interior

Weeding out eco-friendly products while shopping can be unnerving. It’s difficult to determine if advertisements tell the whole green truth. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) is combating this greenwashing with transparency to make eco-friendly shopping easier.

More than one thousand outdoor brands are sold at REI Co-op stores nationwide. As of April 2018, all REI suppliers are expected to meet — and encouraged to exceed — five sustainability standards.

Fair and Safe Supply Chains

Respecting workers is REI’s priority. Rather than overseeing individual supply chains, the company provides essential education, engagement, and collaboration opportunities to brands with which they work.

REI partners with organizations like Better Work and Fair Trade USA to ensure worker well-being and fair pay. Brands that want to be represented in their stores must create a supply-chain code of conduct, outlining social and environmental standards based on internationally accepted fair labor principles.

Fair trade certification is always encouraged.

Deepali Das, garment worker
REI partners with organizations that help ensure that workers are treated and paid fairly. Image:

Chemicals Management

Irresponsible chemical use threatens the safety of customers, workers, communities, and the planet. To minimize this risk, REI set specific expectations. The company provides all brand partners with a list of unsafe substances that it will not accept in products. If the provider’s products contain any of these restricted substances, REI will not sell the product and may terminate the business relationship.

For example, REI does not accept any products that contain Bisphenal A (BPA) if that product is meant to come into contact with food or drink (such as food and water storage containers). BPA has been used to make plastics since the 1960s and exposure to the chemical is linked to a variety of human health risks.

REI also bans flame retardants in camping shelters, toxic chemicals in apparel, and environmentally damaging sunscreen ingredients.

Land Stewardship

Overharvesting and poor land management always lead to environmental degradation. REI wants the raw materials in the products they sell to be well managed, aiming for long-term environmental, social, and economic health.

Brand partners are directed to use the Forest Stewardship Council certification to ensure wood products came from sustainable forests.

Forest view looking towards sky
Image: Forest Stewardship Council

Food and cotton products should be organically certified to avoid synthetic pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer use while promoting water quality, energy conservation, biodiversity, and healthy soil.

Animal Welfare

Down, wool, and leather are animal-derived materials often used in outdoor products. REI ensures that they come from animals given their Five Freedoms. Specific sustainability standards hold brands that use down, wool, animal fur, and leather accountable for humane animal treatment.

REI down jacket
REI ensures that products containing animal-derived materials, like the down in this jacket, come from animals that have been treated humanely. Photo: REI

Environmental Management

REI’s objective is to minimize the environmental impact of a product through its entire life cycle. This standard is meant to be an overarching one, supporting responsible environmental management practices every step of the way.

Apparel and footwear brands use the Higg Index Brand Module to assess their sustainability annually, sharing results with REI. They’re encouraged to use recycled materials in manufacturing products to reduce their environmental impact.

A Team Effort

REI knows sustainability is a team sport. As a founding member of the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group, REI demonstrates a commitment to collaboratively grow with more than 300 outdoor industry brands, suppliers, and manufacturers towards a green future.

In a world where fair trade and sustainability are often put on the back burner, REI is challenging retailers to move towards social and environmental change.

Feature image provided by REI

What is your favorite eco-friendly store?

By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.