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Outside Business Journal

REI Holds Vendors Accountable for Climate and DEI Practices with New Product Standards

REI has updated its Product Impact Standards, setting new climate and inclusion expectations for its 1,000+ vendors


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For the first time since their introduction in 2018, REI’s groundbreaking Product Impact Standards—a series of requirements companies must meet if they wish to stay on the retailer’s shelves—have received an update.

Initially conceived to support ethical production practices and sustainability, the standards have now expanded to cover diversity, equity, and inclusion, raising the bar further for brands currently selling their products at any of REI’s 160+ locations across the country.

“Rather than looking at sustainability only, we’ve re-conceived the standards to include diversity and inclusion,” REI vice president of product Chris Speyer told OBJ today. “This follows a natural timeline. We launched the first standards in 2018, and 2020 was our deadline for our vendors to meet them. Once we completed that step, it was a perfect time to rethink our goals.”

New 2020 REI Product Impact Standards

Though some new climate and sustainability requirements have been added to the 2020 standards, the most notable change is the addition of DEI standards that REI’s vendors are now asked to follow.

To develop the new rules and ensure their feasibility, REI consulted with brands of various sizes and product categories, as well as with more than a dozen DEI nonprofits, advocates, and ambassadors.

“As a co-op, we’ve relied for a long time on collective and cooperative action for meaningful change,” said Nicole Browning, REI’s inclusion marketing manager. “This update is rooted in the belief that everyone should have the chance to feel welcome and affirmed when they step out their door. That’s not the case for most folks, so we’re looking at ways to reduce barriers to belonging that often show up in outdoor products.”

The new standards are listed below exactly as REI has delivered them to vendor companies. This list includes new standards only. Several of the previous standards have been slightly modified as well.

  • REI expects each brand partner to have in place creative controls to prevent cultural appropriation: plagiarism, theft, and/or inappropriate use of designs, patterns, forms, materials, words/names, etc. that are culturally meaningful to and/or originated from Native, Indigenous or other underrepresented communities.
  • REI expects each brand partner to have in place guidelines for marketing assets, photo casting, and production that ensure diverse and inclusive representation across race, age, gender identity/expression, body size, and disability, and expects photography provided to REI reflect the same.
  • REI expects that all wearable products supplied to REI be available in colorways appropriate for a range of skin tones/complexions and that products marketed as “Nude,” including those with embellishments and/or linings intended to give the impression of bare skin or to mimic skin tone, be available in a range of tones.
  • REI expects each brand partner to have in place creative controls to prevent the use of language in naming conventions (as applied to product, collection, color, or design), product information, marketing assets, etc. that negatively impact underrepresented groups (by reinforcing stereotypes, utilizing slurs, co-opting cultural language, etc.).
  • REI expects that all footwear, packs, sleeping bags and tents supplied to REI be free of long-chain PFAS.
  • REI expects that all ski wax products and gear and clothing treatments supplied to REI be free of long-chain and short-chain PFAS.
  • REI expects each brand partner to have established an action plan for measuring their annual carbon footprint and reducing their carbon emissions in alignment with the recommendations of the United Nations (UN) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Each brand’s carbon footprint should be aligned with the GHG Protocol or an equivalent framework and should include emissions from scopes one, two and three.

REI has asked vendors to meet the new standards by the end of 2021, with the exception of the third requirement regarding colorways. The company has set that deadline for 2023 to respect the typical timeline of the product-design process.

Speyer stressed that the goal of the updated standards is not to “kick anyone off the shelves.” Most of REI’s brands were able to meet the first round of standards enacted in 2018, he says, because REI provided resources and assistance to vendors that had trouble changing their practices.

“The idea is not to be punitive. It’s to see progress,” Speyer said. “We’re excited to partner with our vendors to make this happen.”

REI Adds New Preferred Attributes

As part of the refresh, REI has also added two new programs to its list of preferred attributes—a collection of voluntary business certifications that vendor brands are encouraged to pursue.

This year, Climate Neutral and Fair for Life were added to the list, bringing the total number of certifications to 15 across ten preferred attribute categories.

In a release published today, REI pledged that by 2030 “all products on its shelves will have a preferred attribute so that every purchase at REI supports a healthier, cleaner, more equitable planet.” The company reports that, as of today, more than 3,500 of REI’s products can claim one or more of the current preferred attributes.

The updated list of attributes is below.

List of REI's preferred attributes

“The products we carry represent our values and one of our greatest opportunities to support better ways of doing business in our industry,” Speyer wrote in a statement today. “We want our members and customers to shop with confidence, knowing that the products they purchase at REI are helping build a better future for the people and places they love.”

Reactions from the Industry

Mark Galbraith, vice president of product at Osprey, expresses excitement over the new standards, framing them as a challenge to industry players that will accelerate change.

“We are fully committed to evolving our process,” Galbraith said. “By providing a comprehensive framework for base-level brand expectations and aspirational preferred attributes, REI’s sustainability standards have encouraged us, and others who are just as dedicated to elevating sustainability, to step up our efforts.”

Ammi Borenstein, owner of Snaplinc Consulting in Seattle, helped some of REI’s vendors adapt to the standards two years ago. He says that these new goals are ambitious but not unreachable.

“With regard to the new DEI requirements, I think all of these goals are achievable in the timelines laid out,” Borenstein said. “It’s appropriate to give a business a year to rethink creative controls, guidelines, and marketing practices. It’s also appropriate to give more runway where it affects product more directly. REI has taken that into consideration.”

Borenstein says that the new central climate requirement—the establishment of an action plan for measuring and reducing carbon output—is also feasible.

“A year is more than enough time for brands to establish a plan,” he said. “For many, executing that plan within a year would be ambitious. It’s probably important for REI to establish a timeline for execution so that vendors aren’t confused on that point. I will almost certainly be reaching out to clarify that point on behalf of my clients.”

Finally, Borenstein noted that REI leadership was right to craft the standards they way they did—with core requirements as well as optional preferred attributes.

“With any plan like this, it’s important to have a baseline as well as aspirational goals. Nobody is doing this work all at once—it’s too difficult. With this kind of framework, it’s much more accessible.”