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REI chief: Challenge is connecting people with nature

Associated Press – October 03, 2007

The president of national outdoor equipment retailer REI says the company's major competition doesn't come from other outdoor stores, it's with the video screen.

American children spend much more time in front of a screen of some sort -- watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video games -- than they spend outside.

"That's our competition. That's what we're up against," said Sally Jewell, president and chief executive officer of REI. She was at the University of Montana on Monday to talk about sustainable business at the Harold and Priscilla Gilkey Lecture Series.

If you sell outdoor gear, you need people to go outside.

"We need to find a way to bring people to a connection with the outdoors, a way to breed an ethic in regards to nature," Jewell said.

That, she said, is good not just for business but for communities and countries.

"As a society, we need a way to bridge the disconnect between people and nature, between children and nature," she said.

In the past year, Recreational Equipment Inc. has given back 3 percent of its operating income in grants -- a total of $4 million -- in 91 communities where it does business, for outdoor recreation and conservation projects.

"We're really trying to create healthy communities," Jewell said.

It's not just money. REI also had 169,000 people involved in volunteer projects, doing more than 570,000 hours of service.

REI is also working to reduce the amount of resources and energy the company uses to get its products into customers' hands.

"We're working to be carbon neutral by 2020," Jewell said.

The company is also working to bring more products made of recyclable materials into its stores, to have the stores themselves be examples of green building techniques and to make better use of paper for its catalogs.

If REI is going to bill itself as a company that brings people and nature together, it's got to do something other than just sell things, Jewell said. "We have to be a planet-neutral company."

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