REI's #OptOutside effort pushes environmental message

The brand plans to close its stores on Black Friday once again, but the stakes are higher this time.

REI CMO Ben Steele
REI CMO Ben Steele

REI is once again urging its customers to #OptOutside on Black Friday, but this time the retailer is also encouraging people to save the environment. 

On Black Friday in 2015, REI shut down all of its stores, halted online orders and gave its 13,000 workers a paid day off.

Despite Black Friday being one of the top 10 days for annual sales at the retail co-op, its decision to close that day made such an impact that the organization has continued its #OptOutside campaign. 

This has resulted in other retail companies following suit, with many at least closing on Thanksgiving, even if they are open on Black Friday. 

Originally meant to be a five-year movement, REI chief customer officer and chief creative officer Ben Steele foresees the #OptOutside campaign lasting well into the future. 

"We don’t think about it in terms of a five-year plan. We think about how we best use the #OptOutside campaign to entice people to join us in a fight for the future," he said. 

REI is planning to close its stores on Black Friday again this year, but the stakes are higher this time.

In a letter to the co-op’s 18 million members, CEO Eric Artz explained that REI and the world are facing an existential crisis, one that the outdoor-focused brand is uniquely poised to tackle. 

"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," he wrote. 

As a result, in addition to this year’s #OptOutside campaign, the chain is introducing its "opt to act" campaign: a nationwide clean-up effort this November, in which employees and members are encouraged to leave the outdoors better than they found it when they #OptOutside on Black Friday.

They will be able to sign up for an employee-sourced, 52-week action plan to take small steps throughout the year to reduce their environmental footprint. REI staffers have collected more than 3.4 tons of trash in clean-up efforts around the country.

"We’re looking for ways to extend our impact and scale our commitment to the outdoors and the environment in general," Steele said. 

And REI’s employees are a big part of that. 

"#OptOutside demonstrated that we wanted our employees' experience to be about what they care for the most. We wanted it to be more than a day of sales and chasing profits," he said.

"As we look to pivot towards the fight for the environment, which is even more important than challenging one day of consumption, it’s important that our employees are standing with us," Steele added. 

This story first appeared on 

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