REI’s Sally Jewell at Net Impact

Sally Jewell – 2011 Net Impact Conference from Net Impact on Vimeo.

Sally Jewell, the chief executive of REI,  is the most unpretentious big-company CEO I know. When we first met a couple of years ago for dinner in Washington, she arrived in toting an REI backpack (made from recycled material). She’s plain-spoken, direct and a good interview.Her company, as you might expect,  is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint. (Without  a healthy planet, there’s no business for REI.)

So I was delighted when Sally agreed to a keynote interview at the 2011 Net Impact conference last week in Portland. We talked about how REI has lowered its energy and GHG emissions while adding stores, about the (unfair) competition from Amazon and about how ideas percolate up, down and around the retailer.

Some 2,600 people attended the New Impact confab which, as always, was a great event. I’m only slightly biased, as a board member of Net Impact; the organization’s mission is to inspire and equip young people to use the power of business to make a more just, sustainable world. You can hear more about Net Impact on the video below from Liz Maw, Net Impact’s executive director.. The interview with Sally is nearly an hour long, but I’ve posted it here, figuring that at the least REI employees may want to watch.

And, if you are one of those people who plans ahead, please mark your calendar for the 2012 Net Impact conference on Oct. 26-27, in Baltimore, MD.

How “green” are those hiking boots?

In a world where it’s so hot or dry that no one wants to hike, bike, run or climb, outdoorsy companies like Nike, Patagonia, REI and Timberland will be in deep trouble.

So it makes sense—and it’s certainly about time—for the companies that sell outdoor apparel and equipment to come up with common standards to measure the environmental impact of their products.

This week, an industry group called the Outdoor Industry Alliance announced that its members have spent several years doing just that. The companies unveiled “a ground breaking environmental assessment tool” that they call an Eco Index, saying:

It provides companies throughout the supply chain a way to benchmark and measure their environmental footprint, allowing them to identify areas for improvement and make informed sourcing and product life cycle decisions.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? The trouble is, the group says it will take a long time for the industry to develop and agree on standards that are simple, reliable and meaningful enough to present them to consumers. In fact, there’s no commitment to turn the index into a shopper-friendly tool, the industry says:

The current focus of the index is to be an internal/supply chain facing tool and not a consumer-facing label. This focus could be revisited in future years.

That’s disappointing. It’s particularly disappointing because one company—Timberland—has demonstrated that it’s possible to measure and report on the impact of its products. As it happens, Timberland today (Aug. 3) convened a conference call to talk about its own Green Index and how it fits into the new industry-wide initiative.

Jeffrey SwartzJeff Swartz, the CEO of Timberland and a leader of the corporate-responsibility movement, said he wants to play nicely with competitors and other retailers, as the industry tries to settle on common metrics. “We can’t afford a Betamax-VHS debate,” he said. “Harmonization is an imperative.”

At the same time, Swartz made clear that he’s frustrated by the slow pace of the industry initiative.

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Shop with your (gay-friendly) values

67838081_e8084e86acWith the (yuk) holiday shopping season upon us, this weekend seems like a good time to devote a series of blogposts to the idea of shopping with your values. But before I get to today’s topic–the Buying for Equality guide published by the Human Rights Campaign–let me first humbly suggest that one way to express your values this season, if you care about leaving a more sustainable planet to our children, is not to shop at all, or to shop less.

Over-consumption is a problem. If all of the 6.8 billion people on the planet lived like Americans we’d be in trouble. Today, Black Friday, the busiest day of the year is also known as Buy Nothing Day. This year the organizers are saying:

We want you to not only stop buying for 24 hours, but to shut off your lights, televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day.

This is a nonstarter for me. I’m not parking my car, turning off my phone or shutting down my laptop (obviously). No way, no how. Indeed, I worry that a call to action like that turns off more people than it inspires. I much prefer the holiday messaging from the Center for a New American Dream, which exhorts people to simplify the holidays, by planning a holiday with more fun and less stuff. But most of us still want at least some stuff. Today, and over the next couple of days, I’ll try to suggest some ways we can acquire stuff that aligns with our values. [click to continue...]

Brainstorm Green: the sequel

Brainstorm Green, FORTUNE’s conference on business and the environment, will be back next spring. I’ll be back, too, as co-chair with FORTUNE environmental editor and international editor Brian Dumaine (who edited my very first FORTUNE story back in 1996). We’ll return to the spectacular Ritz Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, California, from April 12 to 14.header-2010

The theme, once again, will be: How can business profitably help solve the world’s biggest environmental problems?

Last year’s Brainstorm Green was a hit, by all accounts. We brought together corporate executives, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, investors, government officials and thinkers. Too many to list here, but they included Bill Clinton, Bill Ford, Paul Hawken, Van Jones, Fisk Johnson, Jim Rogers, David Crane, Mike Morris, Fred Krupp, Peter Darbee, Janine Benyus, Ray Anderson and Bill Gross, as well as  senior execs from Wal-Mart, GE, Microsoft, Dell and HP. Really a diverse group, and a well-informed and lively audience that woke up early and stayed out late to get to know one another and talk about important stuff. The one-and-only Chuck Leavell, keyboardist (with the Rolling Stones!), award-winning tree farmer and entrepreneur, entertained us, and we ate fabulous organic food. [click to continue...]