Photo Credit: APRecreational Equipment Inc., the outdoor retailer and the country’s largest consumer cooperative, plans to open its first distribution center on the East Coast–in Bedford, Pa.–at the end of November. REI President and Chief Executive Sally Jewell recently spoke with Forbes.com about the company’s environmental policy, her early career working for Big Oil and why environmentally friendly REI is staying out of the debate in Congress over climate change. (In 2005, Forbes profiled Jewell–see “Uphill Battle.” )
Forbes.com: REI has a multi-pronged environmental strategy–you buy clean power, build green buildings and use green packaging, just to name a few examples. Environmentally speaking, what is the company most focused on right now?
Sally Jewell: We like to say that the best electron is the one you don’t use. One of the key things that we are working on very extensively is reducing energy consumption. We have in our plans, our 2008 budget, to convert between 15 and 20 stores to solar. That won’t take 100% of the energy needs of those stores, but it will be 15% to 30% depending on the market.
Many businesses are investing in carbon-offset projects in developing countries, but REI buys renewable energy credits, sometimes called “green tags,” to promote the use of clean energy here in the U.S. Why?
We consider the use of carbon offsets, or green tags, to be kind of the last resort, where we don’t have an opportunity to directly influence the emissions of carbon. [ The company’s adventure-travel division, REI Adventures, uses green tags to offset carbon emissions.] We offset about 30% of our greenhouse gas footprint by actually buying [renewable] power. That’s better and more direct than buying green tags.
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