REI has just announced a new set of rigorous standards for all of its suppliers to meet. The new standards relate to their new green agenda where they will require every supplier to meet them in order to sell products in their stores. Some of the standards will take effect immediately while others will have to be in place by 2020. REI is a part of the outdoor sporting and clothing industry and has set qualifications that restrict more damage to the environment. By 2020 they will no longer sell sunscreens that contain oxybenzone which bleach coral reefs and all clothes and tents will be free of harmful flame-retardant chemicals.
The outdoor-equipment industry has been trying with mixed results to match its environmental impact with the values of many of its customers so this is a large step forward. “This is the first time I have seen a retailer create standards like this for all of their suppliers,” said Adam Siegel, the senior vice president of research, innovation and sustainability at RILA. REI Chief Executive Jerry Stritzke calls the standards “maybe one of the most transformative things” the 80 year-old co-op has done.
In 2017 the consumer-owned co-op reported $2.62 billion in sales. With these sales figures it follows that a lot of companies would want to maintain positive relationships with REI and keep their products on their shelves. According to Andrew Winston, an advisor for a number of multinational companies on sustainability practices, REI’s standards are uncommonly clear. These new standards are so explicit because REI believes that’s what consumers want to see. There are a number of companies that release statements of sustainability that are very vague in their goals or what new standards they want but REI has chosen to be explicit in order to guarantee change.
REI has decided to set two tiers of standards. The first being those that are mandatory and the second being those that are “preferred attributes” including a number of rigorous certifications, business practices and material choices. REI plans to promote products that meet these attributes, giving suppliers extra incentive to comply with them.
As consumers are becoming more aware of certain certifications and are valuing more and more certain fair trade and sustainable products REI wants to meet these expectations. This will help improve REI’s image and by default the image of the products supplied to REI. As a result it should be in the best interest for suppliers to comply with these new standards regardless. That being said, there is a chance REI’s strong stance could cause it to lose some of its suppliers. Those that are incapable or unwilling to meet the standards will no longer do business with REI. The question becomes how much power does REI have over its suppliers. Large companies like Walmart are often able to dictate needs to suppliers and receive compliance so if REI is making immediate changes and strict standards they clearly feel that they can effect change in their own suppliers.
How do you think suppliers feel about these standards? Do you think REI could receive new suppliers from this as some new sustainable suppliers can make their way onto REI’s shelves?