Five years ago, REI took a bold stand against the hyper-consumerism that reaches its zenith every year on the Friday following the US holiday of Thanksgiving aka Black Friday. As with previous years, REI will close its stores, cease processing online payments, and pay its 13,000 employees to ‘Opt Outside’ for for the day. Only this year, the brand now says it, and its members, need to do more.
Of course, this is in line with a growing trend where consumers are expecting brands to do more. And of all the brands out there, those which play in the environmental spaces (like Patagonia, North Face, L.L. Bean) have it a little easier when it comes to giving because 1) The vast majority of these brand’s products are designed to be enjoyed in the environment and 2) it is difficult to politicize nature – it’s something everyone can get behind.
REI CEO Eric Artz wrote in the Co-op Journal, “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. This year, we want to take #OptOutside a step further — both in the ask we’re making of you, our members, and the commitments we’re making ourselves.”
There are over 100 clean up events taking place nationwide during the weekend. But these are just the beginning of a 52-week “action plan,” encouraging shoppers to cut down on waste and consider environmental impact all year. December’s plan includes opting out of junk mail, forgoing traditional wrapping paper, and carrying reusable shopping bags.
As Gear Junkie reports, “REI announced new commitments to reduce its environmental impact. And it’s asking members to pledge to follow the 52-week Opt to Act plan for the year to come.” The reason, Artz said, is to “fight for life outdoors — and life on this planet.” To compliment this call-to-action, the brand has announced a series of innovations they will be rolling out including:
- Circular economy: Used gear and rentals is being piloted with a select group of members where “gently used” gear will be accepted in exchange for a gift card, and then sold in a used marketplace. Note that Patagonia is doing the same thing with used clothing.
- Zero-waste by 2020: If they are successful in obtaining third-party certification as TRUE Zero Waste facility, REI will have a success story to share with the entire retail industry.
- Substantial decrease in Poly Packaging: Plastic bags account for 20% of their current waste. While they aren’t committing to 100% reduction, they are partnering with Subaru to help members recycle other hard-to-recycle waste like snack wrappers, bike tires/tubes, yoga mats, and tents.
While it may seem like this is a strategy best suited for bigger brands with big causes to champion, there are lessons to be learned that every brand could implement.
The first is establishing a tradition. I’ve seen small, professional services firms make phenomenal local impact with ‘days of caring’ or seasonally themed events like a ‘back-to-school drive’ or ‘toys for tots’ programs. Of course, any kind of giving or charity is to be commended, but if you can brand your event and create a tradition, it will be easier to repeat and grow your movement.
The second is to associate with causes that compliment your brand. We see technology brands that want to help bring skills and capabilities to rural areas. We also see smaller brands partnering locally with causes like The United Way because they recognize they take something out of the community and want to give back.
Thirdly, there’s no substitute for leaders with passion. When REI’s CEO makes an impassioned plea to employees and customers, it’s genuine and authentic. Movements don’t just need a cause, they need charismatic leadership. And by inviting customers (or clients) to share in the experience, only works to further strengthen the relationship.
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