REI Moves Towards Sustainability and Comes Back for Another Fellow

Guest blog by Kirk Myers, REI Corporate Social Responsibility Manager

As a member-owned co-operative, REI has had stewardship built into our DNA since our founding in 1938. And as a national retailer of high quality outdoor gear and apparel, we seek to operate our business in ways that allow us to be sustainable and successful in connecting people with nature.  The REI team is focused on formalizing the measurement and management of our environmental impacts and finding innovative solutions that combine our business minds with our passion for our mission.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with Sarah Will, an EDF Climate Corps fellow who brought her keen sustainable business analysis skills to an ongoing area of work for REI: energy efficiency. Before the start of her fellowship, Sarah had acquired three days of intense training from EDF on energy efficiency analysis, a strong peer-group for support and counsel, and a fresh MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Even with several years of successful green building experience under our belts, we here at REI still knew that we had lots of efficiency opportunities left to tackle.  Using energy wisely is an essential tool in helping us meet our goals to reduce our climate impact and lower energy costs.  Our facilities managers have been analyzing the opportunities for their buildings, but what we did not know was how these projects stacked up across our entire organization, and what other sustainable business solutions were out there.  And frankly, it takes time to vet projects for their cost, their environmental impact and financial return.

We often also find that establishing metrics for our business opportunities can prove our intuition wrong.  Sarah’s main suggestions included fairly straightforward recommendations, such as lighting sensors, but also less obvious solutions such as retrocommissioning.  In addition, some of Sarah’s best work was helping REI identify the systemic barriers that had kept us from tackling these projects.

As a result of Sarah’s interviews, facility tours, and research into utility rebates and incentives, she was able to uncover potential savings of more than 6.5 million kWh, or more than 2,700 metric tons of carbon, equaling nearly $900,000 per year.  That’s impressive.  We’re working to implement as many of her suggestions as we can.

For us energy efficiency “wonks,” we know how much opportunity is still out there, and how much potential for impact this represents.  Sarah published a blog about lighting efficiency on REI’s Facebook page, and received over 130 “likes” and comments from REI friends—among the most popular posts ever on REI’s page.  I guess that energy efficiency not only makes sense, but it is now also cool!

Even with Sarah’s great work, she still didn’t have enough time to analyze all of our opportunities in just 10 weeks.  We are excited to build on Sarah’s 2010 work with another Climate Corps fellow this summer, who will help move us closer to our greenhouse gas reduction goal.

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