REI Celebrates Sustainable Design: The Root Award

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REI began as a community of climbers in search of quality outdoor gear. To this day, we keep the outdoors and its future health and accessibility at the heart of our co-op. With that end in mind, we are unveiling the Root Award.

The Root Award highlights the most innovative, responsibly designed new product of the year. It’s our way of celebrating that gritty, below-the-surface stage of innovation: the hours, commitment and resilience that culminate in a sustainable, industry-leading product.

The Root Award

Our members want high-quality, high-performance products that are environmentally sound. This award embodies that desire. We all know there are better ways to make gear, and we seek to spotlight the great work of our brand partners as they address key sustainability challenges. We hope this award becomes an industry-wide guidepost, inspiring others to place sustainability at the forefront of the design process.

The Root Award celebrates the unheralded seed stage of innovation. Fundamental change starts small—with just a kernel of an idea. We want to give a giant high five to the passion that goes into creating a product that has the ability to start a revolution. We want to highlight the seed of an idea that starts small, sends out shoots and grows—hopefully into a whole forest.

The Award Process

We called upon our merchandise managers, trusted employees and brand partners to nominate their top products for this award. The 37 products nominated came from a broad range of categories: apparel, ski, snowboard, camping equipment, climbing equipment, packs and more.

Once the nominations came in, our product sustainability team evaluated each product against four criteria:

1. Degree of sustainable innovation: How game-changing was the solution?
2. Contribution to solving an industry-wide sustainability challenge: Did the product help move the industry in the right direction?
3. Alignment with REI’s Better Materials and Gear that Lasts focus areas for product sustainability: Does the product use more sustainable materials that create a durable product?
4. Product scalability: Will the product resonate with customers and is the product accessible to a large audience?

In the end, the team picked the product that offered high performance and enhanced sustainability, all while helping address an industry-wide challenge.

The REI Root Award

We are proud to announce our winner: the Columbia OutDry™ Extreme Eco Jacket.

This innovative rain jacket in both women’s and men’s models addresses the use of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finishes, a challenge the outdoor industry has attempted to tackle for years. Conventional rain jackets repel water by using these synthetic compounds, which transform permeable materials into the breathable, waterproof jackets we all use. However, these compounds don’t break down in the environment and can accumulate in humans and wildlife. Until now, there hasn’t been a durable, high-performance alternative.

We spoke with Greg Gausewitz, our product sustainability manager, who says that PFC use in DWR finishes is one of the top sustainability challenges that the industry faces today. He said, “Our members want high-quality products that align with their values. This jacket embodies that. It’s a high-performance jacket that also represents a significant step forward in sustainability. It could be the future of waterproof outerwear construction.”

This jacket doesn’t just move the industry forward in terms of PFCs; it also incorporates many other sustainability attributes. Columbia applied scientific life cycle assessment methods to understand and address the jacket’s environmental impacts. Certified to the bluesign® product standard, the main jacket fabric, labels, toggles, zipper pulls, thread and eyelets are all made from 100% recycled materials. It is also undyed (in fact, it’s pure white), saving about 13 gallons of water per jacket, and does not need to have a DWR reapplied, like other jackets. Lastly, Columbia has a ReThreads program, which allows the jacket to be processed for a second life.

It’s a huge step forward in the right direction. Congratulations to Columbia!

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