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Five years ago, the outdoor gear retailer REI made headlines by announcing that it would be closing all its stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally has been the biggest day of the year for retailers. In explaining its decision, the retailer cited its concern for its employees, who deserved to spend the holiday weekend with their families, as well as its devotion to the value of getting outside and enjoying nature, rather than spending time in a store. The tradition has persisted, but REI also is determined to embrace and embody its social responsibility commitment even further.

In discussions of this year’s initiative, it asked employees not just to take a paid day off and get outside but also to think about how they could commit to improving their environmental practices and minimize any negative impacts. Then it encouraged customers to join the effort as well, asking them to sign up for year-long action plans that would specify which behaviors they would adopt to reduce their environmental footprint. The shift in emphasis is subtle but relevant: Rather than just staying out of stores or going for a hike, REI is asking consumers to commit to 52 weeks of salient, specific action.

To justify its right to do so, REI also notes the actions it has taken and continues to take to be environmentally responsible. For example, it continues to develop rental options that would allow consumers to borrow a tent and other camping gear for a week at a time, then return them to be reused by the next camper who has reserved the gear. It also accepts used gear, in return for store credit, which it rehabs and sells as used, extending each product’s lifecycle.

In this sense, REI not only talks the talk, but it also walks the walk of environmental responsibility. Can it convince its customers to do the same?

Discussion Questions:

  1. According to REI, making consumers aware of their environmental impact is part of its corporate social responsibility. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  2. Do companies have to walk the walk before they can talk the talk when it comes to environmental efforts, or is any attempt to be more responsible worthwhile?

Source: Cara Salpini, “In Fifth Year of #OptOutside, REI Urges Members to ‘Opt to Act’,” Marketing Dive, October 23, 2019