REI on Monday released product sustainability standards for the more than 1,000 brands that the company sells, according to a press release emailed to Retail Dive. The standards consist of "baseline expectations," which are required by all brands, and "preferred attributes," which are meant to help advance sustainability efforts.
Some requirements take effect immediately, such as establishing a manufacturing code of conduct for supply chains, but others may take years. The outdoors retailer will require all brands sold at its stores to adhere to the standards by 2020, and has been working with its vendors on the development and implementation of them for the past two years, according to the company.
The REI Product Sustainability Standards are open to any retailer that wishes to use them, per the company, and environmentally-conscious shoppers of the co-op will now also be able to shop by "sustainability attribute," such as organic or fair trade products.
REI's sustainability standards come as the outdoor retailer celebrates its 80th year in business — a year in which the company hit a record $2.62 billion in sales and reinvested 70% of profits into outdoor communities, according to a press release.
Sustainability practices are nothing new for REI — or, in fact, for outdoor retailers in general. REI has been going strong with the annual #OptOutside Black Friday campaign for three years, urging retailers to enjoy their surroundings rather than storefronts, and has also partnered with companies like United by Blue, which schedules water cleanups and holds its own alternative shopping event: "Blue Friday."
Patagonia has also been active in the environmentalist space, launching the company's first ever TV ad back in August, which targeted the Trump administration, and changing its website homepage in December to claim that President Donald Trump "stole your land." The outdoors retailer in February launched an Action Works campaign aimed at connecting customers to grassroots environmentalist causes.
Still, it's one thing for individual companies to support environmentalist causes and another for REI to require sustainability standards from all the brands it works with, which — if successful — could encourage other companies looking to stay in the public's favor to adopt more sustainable practices.
"This effort to advance sustainability across an entire vendor base is among the most comprehensive in the U.S. retail industry," Adam Siegel, senior vice president of research, innovation and sustainability for RILA, said in the release, adding that, "[R]EI has not only moved their own operations forward, but they've raised the bar for the entire industry."
In addition to improving sustainability (food waste, in particular, has plagued retailers for years), REI's efforts also align with current consumer sentiment, as customers not only prefer to shop at retailers that stand for something, but also increasingly like to see them take sides on important political issues. Indeed, foot traffic at the retailer increased by 3.6x as a result of the #OptOutside effort in 2017, and the company also saw great response to its female-focused Force of Nature campaign earlier that year.
At a time when the youngest — and soon-to-be most influential — consumers prefer to shop at eco-friendly and socially-conscious brands, REI's efforts not only do much to advance sustainability, but they also make a convincing play for customer loyalty.