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REI's latest initiative elevates sustainability standards

The cooperative debuted product sustainability standards for more than 1,000 brands, some taking effect immediately and some expected by 2020.

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REI is holding brands accountable to sustainable practices.

On Monday, the cooperative debuted Product Sustainability Standards that will soon apply to more than 1,000 small and large brands sold by the outdoor retailer.

“Some, like prAna and Patagonia, are on the leading edge in integrating sustainability into their products and supply chains,” said Matthew Thurston, REI’s director of sustainability. “Others may have a keen interest in sustainability but lack the resources to fully implement a program. We’re in a unique position to unite our brand partners around a common goal, by sharing best practices and resources that we’ve learned from both our own work and that of the brands we work with.”

The announcement came the same day REI reported record sales of $2.62 billion in 2017—up 2.3 percent from $2.56 billion in 2016—and welcomed nearly 1 million new members. This past year, the co-op demonstrated its commitment to advancing better ways of doing business through multiple other initiatives, such as the Force of Nature and Used Gear Beta, as well as sourcing 100 percent renewable power for all operations.

For two years, REI worked on the requirements and implemented them within the brand before rolling out to external vendors, according to a news release.

The new measures include establishing a manufacturing code of conduct immediately, and other standards that will be expected by 2020, such as humane animal treatment in wool and down farming, improved factory conditions, and elimination of sunscreens made with oxybenzone—a chemical known to exacerbate bleaching in coral reefs.

NEMO Equipment first heard about the standards more than a year ago, when REI reached out to select partners with a draft. Kate Paine, NEMO’s vice president of marketing, said the company is currently in compliance, Responsible Down Standard-certified, and was one of the first small hardgoods brands to complete the Higg Index (a self-assessment standard for assessing sustainability), but is looking to use the new requirements as a guide to go above and beyond alongside their own sustainability goals.

“Yes, it does require that brands pay attention to their supply chains,” Paine said in an email. “Luckily we were already focusing on this, so nothing came as a surprise. The standards largely encompass those set forth by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the OIA, so nothing here is a curveball.”

“However,” she continued, “if brands are not currently evaluating or working to understand their supply chain, it will encourage them to do so, and will also provide an easy guide for doing so. We appreciate that it helps brands take their supply chains more seriously, but does so in a way that is helpful in bringing brands along. It’s clear the end goal is the betterment of all.”

Customers can now shop online by sustainable keywords, such as “organic cotton” to find clothing made with resource-conserving farming practices or “fair trade,” which promotes safe, healthy working conditions and sustainable livelihoods as products are created and sold.

“No single brand can move the needle on sustainability alone, but by working together we have the potential to make a big impact,” said Thurston.