On Black Friday, REI marks its fifth annual “Opt Outside” initiative, a tradition marked by the closing of all its stores and its e-commerce business on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, without docking employee pay.
But this year, the outdoor recreation company is doing something different: Under the leadership of new CEO Eric Artz, REI is asking its 13,000 workers across the country as well as its 18 million members to join a nationwide cleanup effort in November. Locations will be posted on the retailer’s website.
In an open letter this week, Artz wrote, “My job is to steward the co-op and the outdoors on your behalf — and on behalf of the generations who follow us. Today, that future is at risk. We are in the throes of an environmental crisis that threatens not only the next 81 years of the co-op, but the incredible outdoor places that we love.”
By 2020, the Seattle-based firm had hoped to achieve zero-waste operations. It announced in the spring the expansion of its rental and used gear businesses. It invited 5,000 members to pilot a used-gear buy-back program, offering gift cards in exchange for gently used outdoor items for resale. It has also increased its recycling rate to 76% across its headquarters, distribution centers and stores.
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However, challenges like “changing recycling markets and variable infrastructure from city to city” mean REI will not meet its 2020 goal in every store.
As such, Artz has made a plea for its staff and members to sign up for an employee-sourced, 52-week action plan to take steps throughout the year that would help reduce their environmental footprint. At the same time, REI is aligning its core business model toward more mindful consumption as well as eliminating unnecessary packaging in the outdoor industry.
“As a single company, our impact is limited, but as a community, we can drive change that powers meaningful action beyond our walls,” Artz wrote. “As a co-op, we know that many people taking many small steps together can add up to big changes. Collective intention will drive collective impact.”
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