Fist Bump: Kayaks, Fleece, and Market Forces

REI raises the bar with their sustainable purchasing standards – and hikes up the incentive for lower-impact products in the outdoor industry and beyond.


Editor’s note: We’re introducing a new recurring feature to salute exceptional corporate efforts and actions to drive deep change. If you know of a company that you feel deserves a Future 500 Fist Bump, please let us know via

Bump to: REI, the outdoor-equipment retailer active in 154 locations across the United States. The co-op logged a record $2.62 billion in sales in 2017, and returned over $196 million to its family of 17 million members in the form of annuad rebates.

Bump for: The co-op’s Product Sustainability Standards that will apply to the 1,000+ brands sold by the outdoor retailer and be phased in by the fall of 2020.

The scoop: The Standards outline the co-op’s expectations for how the companies it distributes manage a range of environmental, social, and animal-welfare impacts throughout their supply chains. As of fall 2020, brands seeking shelf space in REI’s stores and website will need to demonstrate compliance with a specific set of requirements, that run the gamut from labor conditions to restricted substances to responsible land stewardship. For example, the co-op will require suppliers of all sun-protection products to ditch the oxybenzone, a known contributor to coral bleaching.

What makes it bumpworthy: With some notable exceptions, social and environmental impacts in the retail sector overwhelmingly unfold upstream – in their supply chains. In one of the best examples of "Regulation by Retail" we've seen to date, the Standards tackle this head-on. And because the products sold at REI are also sold by many other retailers, the co-op’s policy will inevitably cascade across the sector – raising the bar for the entire outdoor industry.

Bonus: Improving product sustainability only matters if consumers buy those products. REI’s new Standards offer a carrot to suppliers in the form of "preferred attributes." The co-op will spotlight products that meet specific criteria. For example, will now allow its customers to filter search results by sustainability attribute. This improved online and real-world shelf placement helps nudge brands to reduce the impact of their products.

Looking ahead: If you make outdoor equipment, you want your products at REI. This place is an adventure-gear sales powerhouse. Expect the entire outdoor industry to quickly start prioritizing products and policies that align with REI's expectations. Watch for retailers in other sectors – consumer goods, cosmetics, electronics, food and beverage – to begin implementing similar supplier standards. And as millennials drive demand for responsibly manufactured goods, e-commerce giants like Amazon will begin adopting similar filtering options – ƒallowing shoppers to quickly identify products that support their values.


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