Senior Manager of Sustainability
Please tell us your job responsibilities and day-to-day activities.
I am a longtime REI employee and sustainable business leader who focuses on answering the question, “What should be better as REI grows and thrives?” My work zeroes in on REI’s carbon footprint, energy use, waste, sustainable forestry, water and green building–our core practices across everything we do day-to-day. I have been spending a lot of time on renewables, energy sourcing, energy systems, store sustainability design, energy retrofits, new business models, climate advocacy, and public policy around sustainability. I also lead reporting and transparency for REI.
What is your biggest environmental/sustainability challenge in 2017 and how are you addressing it?
REI, as well known as we are, is still a relatively small company. Our brand is bigger than our footprint–as evidenced by the fact that our entire annual electricity usage is about 65,000 mWh–it sounds like a lot, but is actually the equivalent of just 8100 average US households. If 1/20th of one percent of our Co-op’s 16 million members signed up for green power from their home utility, it would be equivalent to us having shifted our sourcing to 100% renewable. To quote Archimedes–“Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough and I can move the earth.” If we want to positively impact the health of the outdoors at a global level, we have to use our internal work (that buys us a credible “place to stand”) to rally and influence our members to take action. I wrote up a blog post that follows this theme and am happy to share more about this approach, even when we’re just at the beginning.
Long story short, engagement beyond one’s four walls (with customers and stakeholders) and with employees is still a challenge. I metaphorically talk about “breaking the fourth wall” – meaning that companies have an opportunity to look straight at the camera and talk directly to their customers to activate them.
Is there a specific recent project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share? Any tips you can share that would help colleagues at other companies who are contemplating similar projects?
Last summer, we opened the largest LEED Platinum Net-Zero Energy building in the world–our Goodyear, Arizona distribution center. It also has won the NAIOP Award for Top Industrial Development. We were able to make this happen by taking the right approach (integrated design) and by having the right clarity of goals from the very beginning. Our leadership (COO and VP Logistics and Board) set the right expectations, and we were able to deliver an optimized building that deeply considered all of its impacts, opportunities, and total-cost-of-ownership. Nicely, our partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and their Water Restoration Certificates helped USGBC formally allow WRCs for all LEED projects.
Please tell us what you see in the market in the next few years. What will be the biggest challenges the industry will face?
Especially for consumer facing brands, none of us can do enough “less bad” to have a global impact at scale. We have to continue to focus on “less bad,” but also on “more good” – how we connect with people’s hearts, connect them to their heads, and then educate and activate them to take action. We all – especially mission based brands and organizations – need to be focused on creating Loraxes, to quote the venerable Dr. Suess. We need millions to care about the trees enough to speak up for them.
Tell us about a favorite hobby, passion, or book you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you.
I can most often be found outdoors exploring the Pacific Northwest with my wife and two young sons – that’s my focus and center right now. I will shamelessly plug the emergence of Forest Preschools here in the northwest – my boys spend at least half of their days outside, playing with others, in the woods. Let’s not forget the next generation – we’re unfortunately putting a lot on their shoulders. That said, I love Andy Hoffman’s “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate” for a good systems thinking read about what’s happening more broadly in our political discourse, and I’m deeply thinking today about an article I read over the weekend.
“One day my ashes will be scattered in the eroding mountains, and our civilization, like that of Ozymandias, crumble, and the Earth be swallowed by our dying red star. This is no cause for despair; it is a reminder to be meaningful, to be makers instead of takers, to be of service to something — beauty, justice, loved ones, strangers, lilacs, worms.”