Earth Day shopping all year? REI aims to make sustainable buying easier

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Outdoor retailer REI has rolled out a new website feature that allows consumers to shop based on causes they're passionate about, including animal rights, working conditions and environmental impact. (REI)

Around this time every year, consumers give a little extra thought to how their purchases impact the environment, taking advantage of Earth Day promotions from companies like Target, Best Buy and Staples. At least one major retailer, though, is hoping to make environmentally friendly shopping a year-round event.

Jerry Stritzke, the CEO of REI, said he believes that one day sustainable shopping will be as commonplace as recycling.

"[Recycling] started off as a small thing and now it is the way of life everywhere, and I think this [sustainable shopping] will be the same," he told ABC.

"Sustainable shopping" is a pretty all-encompassing term. It can refer to a product's environmental impact in both manufacturing and consumption, its ethical treatment of animals or its conditions for workers.

No matter which of these you're passionate about, it can be tricky to ensure you're buying products that support the cause.

"I think one of the challenges here is it's a really complex landscape to navigate as a consumer," said Matt Thurston, REI's director of sustainability.

REI believes that one way to change that is to give consumers more information about what they're buying. They recently rolled out an iniative that makes it easier to shop online with these values in mind.

On REI.com, alongside features like clothing size and price range, customers can now sort by sustainability attributes, such as "fair trade" and "organic cotton."

"The goal here is to make it easier for our customers to find more sustainable brands and products," Thurston said.

Another way to give customers more sustainable product choices is by requiring suppliers to follow certain business practices in order to sell through REI. In addition to the new features for consumers, the company rolled out new expectations for businesses they work with, which can be found here.

The outdoor retailer said it hopes this initiative will influence the way other businesses think about sustainability, too.

"It's hard work. Businesses that have values and are intent on being socially responsible are doing that hard work and are delivering responsibly sourced product. And then there are companies that are just doing what's easy," Stritzke said. "Our aim is to raise the bar on responsible business practices across the outdoor industry."

But businesses aren't the only ones trying to create change. Consumers, especially millennials, are demanding higher standards, and Stritzke said this is leading to a tipping point.

"The combination of that pressure of millennials that do want to live their values and vote their values with their dollars and then companies that have a concern about how their products are impacting our environment, our surroundings, I think has gotten us to this point where this is easier to do and you see a lot more of it available," he said.

While an individual's decisions to shop sustainably might feel like a small gesture, when a lot of people do it, it adds up, Thurston said. Stritzke agreed.

"I think if people understand that their behavior can change everything, that they can actually make an impact on the environment by being aware of this, they'll choose to make that impact," Stritzke said.

Learn more about the sustainability filters on REI's website.
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