Since 2015, the outdoor gear giant REI has gone the opposite direction of most retailers on Black Friday. Instead of slashing prices and advertising sales on the biggest shopping day of the year, REI has closed its doors, shuttered its online sales, and encouraged would-be shoppers to go outside instead. Employees are still paid as if it were a work day.
For the past four years, the #OptOutside campaign has taken people from crowds and consumerism to the simple joys of nature. But this year, they're taking the idea one step further. Through more than 100 organized clean-up events, REI is asking people to "Opt to Act" for the environment.
"Leading up to and on Black Friday, we're hosting events with different organization to clean parks, beaches and riverbanks nationwide," the company wrote on its website. "Let's leave the world better than we found it."
A short video shared on REI's Twitter page points out how our reliance on convenience and consumables that make life "easy," has resulted in the demise of the natural world. Images of garbage piles and rubbish washing ashore in the oceans serve as a reminder that our choices have environmental consequences. So it makes sense that a company dedicated to helping people explore the natural world would reject the mad dash to buy more stuff the day after giving thanks for what we have, and ask people to express gratitude for our planet through action instead.
The Opt to Act events Thanksgiving week are just the beginning. REI is offering a 52-week "action plan," with "weekly challenges to reduce your impact, get active and leave the world better than you found it." For example, in December, the challenges include using reusable bags, opting out of junk mail, and choosing sustainable alternatives to traditional wrapping paper. You can even download a printable version of the 52-week action plan or sign up for weekly calendar notifications.
And REI itself is taking on its own action challenges. The company already sources 100 percent green energy for all of their operations, has been advancing toward a zero-waste goal for years, and abides by a high bar of product sustainability standards. But REI President and CEO Eric Artz says "it's not enough."
In a message to co-op members, Artz wrote:
"As we ask you to steward the outdoor places you love this Black Friday, we're also announcing a series of our own commitments. We're rethinking the future of retail and finding ways for every REI member to take part in the circular economy with more used and rental gear choices. We're tackling waste in our own operations and in communities across the country. And we're redoubling our efforts to eliminate unnecessary packaging in our industry. You can read more about these commitments here, and we'll share even more in the coming months about the ongoing ways we'll be stepping up the fight for life outdoors.
As a single company, our impact is limited, but as a community, we can drive change that powers meaningful action beyond our walls. As a co-op, we know that many people taking many small steps together can add up to big changes. Collective intention will drive collective impact.
Because when the next generation asks us what we did when the outdoors and the world needed us most, I want to be able to say, 'we did our best.'"
So great to see a company putting its money where it's mouth is. Ironically, forgoing the potential profits of Black Friday to create a movement for change and environmental action will probably push many people toward supporting REI with our dollars. Businesses can be profitable and responsible at the same time, and it would be great to see more of them follow REI's lead.