- REI is closing on Black Friday for the fifth year in a row, and it's encouraging shoppers and employees to sign up for a 52-week action plan of "small steps" to curb carbon emissions and live more energy-efficient lives.
- "The next generation of people who love the outdoors may not have an outdoors to love in the same way," Ben Steele, REI's chief customer officer, told Business Insider. "That's absolutely an existential risk for our business, but more than that, it's an existential risk for our purpose and our passion."
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Five years ago, REI's chief customer officer Ben Steele joined colleagues at a table, spitballing around Black Friday campaign ideas, when a novel idea arose: What if they just closed up shop altogether?
"It's easy to lose sight of now, but going back five years, it was a big risk," Steel told Business Insider. "People thought we were crazy and retailers were saying, 'Why the hell would you give up one of the busiest shopping days of the year?' To be really transparent, we didn't know if it would work. We really focused on our employees."
Ultimately the risk paid off, and the REI team found that much to their surprise, the massive anti-shopping effort seemed to resonate for both consumers and retail workers who had grown weary of Black Friday. What had initially been intended as a "galvanizing moment" for REI employees had evolved into a larger cultural movement, Steele said.
This year, the outdoor retailer is once again staying closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, bringing back its #OptOutside campaign for the fifth year in a row. However, for the first time REI is adding a clear call to action — or what the company is calling the "opt to the act" — by encouraging consumers and employees to follow a 52-week strategy to curb emissions in response to an escalating global climate crisis.
"The next generation of people who love the outdoors may not have an outdoors to love in the same way," Steele said. "That's absolutely an existential risk for our business, but more than that, it's an existential risk for our purpose and our passion."
'We need to do more than just sell stuff'
As part of "opt to act," REI is asking shoppers and employees to sign up for a 52-week plan of "small steps" to reduce their respective carbon footprints. Steele said part of this year's campaign was inspired by the rise of discourse insinuating the climate crisis is outside of the hands of individuals, leaving them to feel powerless to change.
"I think we have to be careful about telling people that their actions don't matter," he said. "It creates apathy and it misses the mark on empowered consumers creating the marketplace — both politically and in a business context — for real, meaningful change."
The 52-week plan was introduced in the form of a letter written by REI CEO Eric Artz to co-op members at the end of October.
"My job is to steward the co-op, and the outdoors, on your behalf — and on behalf of the generations who follow us. Today, that future is at risk," Artz wrote. "We are in the throes of an environmental crisis that threatens not only the next 81 years of the co-op, but the incredible outdoor places that we love."
Additionally, REI will continue to promote existing eco-conscious programs, including one that sells used gear and another that rents out equipment as part of its sustainability push.
"What we've seen in the retail space is more and more organizations saying, 'What does it mean to lead with our purpose? What does it mean to lead with our values?'" Steele said. "We're understanding the power of that and the evolving consumer expectation that organizations need to do more than just sell stuff. [#OptOutside] became a demonstration of that philosophy and that belief."