Today REI Co-op, America's largest consumer cooperative and outdoor gear emporium announced an initiative to help their customers, and 2.8 million co-op members, find garments made of Eco-Sensitive materials, whether shopping in person at their some 90 stores across the US, or their two on-line stores. And it's simple really. Garments made from the likes of bamboo, organic cotton, hemp, post-industrial recycled polyester, recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, polylactic acid (PLA), or organic wool will wear a little hang tag, such you see pictured above. On their website is a link which rounds up all the apparel made from such fabrics. Today it found 25, but by mid next month that should be 40. In the media release, Lee Fromson, vice president of REI Gear & Apparel observed "While we previously offered REI brand clothing that contained environmentally sensitive fibers, we are moving from a grassroots approach to a formalized commitment to environmental performance in our products." We asked Kevin Hagen, Manager of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) at REI whether the impetus for formalisation had come from within or from their customer base. His reply: "Very much customer and employee driven. There have been a lot of questions about the "green" factor in products and with "eco-sensitive" we hope to offer solid information and education." And that's education, not merely marketing. Go to the eco-sensitive web page and you'll find the Cons, as well as the Pros for each cloth. We think this is very mature and transparent of REI—we're all for a well informed customer around here. As Kevin sees it, "we think it's about helping members/customers have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities to make better choices..." The tags themselves are post-consumer recycled content, which is a good move, because by REI's own estimates their own brand packaging used about 370 tons of paper last year. But wait, there's more.
REI are working with 40 other stakeholders from the Outdoor Industry Association's (OIA) Eco-Working Group to develop a 'common framework' to measure, report and ultimately improve on the environmental impact of outdoor gear and clothing. "A clear goal of the working group is to have an easy to understand, customer facing means of sorting out product environmental attributes. Last week was the second meeting, w[h]ere we've locked down the mission and vision, lots of work left to do," said Kevin, who also went on to explain where he sees REI itself going on these issues.
"We're committed to raising the bar on the attributes necessary to call a product 'eco-sensitive'. Long term we're looking beyond fabrics to include the rest of the ingredients (secondary materials, chemical ingredients), production processing, packaging, transportation, end-of-life strategy (recycle, compost or landfill) . [W]e're working with vendors and suppliers to move the conversation ultimately, we think that working with other brands to send a common signal to the supply chain will be an important part of progress."
Which seems very much an extension of their aspirations for the Eco-Sensitive labelling effort. "We see a double opportunity. On the one hand, inform and inspire members/customers. On the other hand, over time, inspire innovation in the supply chain to design and deliver more and more environmentally improved components, materials, processes, products," noted Kevin, reminding us that their mission statement is 'We inspire, educate and outfit for a life time of outdoor adventure and stewardship.' Go the stewardship word.
And REI have some runs on the board already, to indicate they might be able to pull this off. Not long after TreeHugger had begun to find its feet, we reported that the co-op's Portland store was the country's first retail building to attain the coveted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold rating. We've also made mention of their Sustainability reporting and collaboration with Keen footwear's eco-shoebox.
See also our guide for How to Go Green: Outdoor Sports for other companies doing their bit to develop a greener industry.