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This past Wednesday evening, the group met on the University of Washington campus to attend a presentation about REI and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Aside from going to the flagship store with my community partner to buy a head light for a co-worker departing for Uganda, I had no knowledge of the retail store. In brief, Recreation Equipment Inc. started from necessity. In 1938, Lloyd and his wife, Mary, along with other climbing enthusiasts in the Seattle area, created a co-op to provide dependable outdoor tools and gear at affordable prices. A co-op like REI is owned by its members and is operated democratically. Each of the company’s millions of members have equal say in voting for policies and the company’s financials are mostly transparent to the member community. In addition, the outdoor gear retailer pays an annual dividend to its members of 10% of what they spent that prior calendar year. It was interesting to hear about the story of REI and its values. The talk changed gears as Kirk, a corporate social responsibility manager, spoke about his role at REI. He and his team try to create sustainable business practices through limiting the negative impact REI has on the planet. Some would argue that adopting eco-friendly policies pull down company profits; however, CSR at REI is making cost-saving innovations that also help save the planet. For example, REI reduced its consumption on paper by becoming more efficient in its direct mail and catalogs strategy. Also, one of its stores (Tustin) is planning to be energy neutral. In fact, it is projected to produce more electricity (through many solar panels) than it will consume per year. Not only are these policies environmentally friendly, but also on the business side, with increasing electricity prices, REI can limit its exposure to these rising costs. I really enjoyed how REI is trying to cut costs with these eco-friendly ideas.
The weekend was filled with fun excursions, including the Ballard Locks and a tour of Theo Chocolate. To see the process of how the Ballard Locks moves boats between Puget Sound and Ship Canal was something new for me. And downstairs, individuals were able to view the fish ladder, a structure that allows salmon to move from salt to freshwater.
After taking some time at the locks, we moved on take a tour of Theo Chocolate. In the tour, we learned about how chocolate was made, how each of the various machines in the facility is used in the process to create the final product, and why the price of their chocolate is so high. Turns out that Theo Chocolate agrees to pay living wages to their cocoa bean suppliers in the chocolate belt. There are many difficulties associated with being a cocoa bean distributor, and with the increased wages, farmers can afford to do more things, such as send their children to school. The tour concluded at the chocolate shop, so we were able to experience several of their products by free samples, which of course was great for all of us chocolate enthusiasts.
On Sunday, we went through the Seattle Aquarium. Before meeting for the tour, I went to Pike Place Chowder House and had a delicious bowl of salmon chowder for lunch. The aquarium itself was rather small, but its galleries and exhibits were interesting. Luckily for us, we were able to see the aquarium staff feed the seals and sea otters, which was a rare and pleasant experience.
As an update, in later posts, I do plan on addressing my workplace and what work I’ve done and hope to accomplish by the program’s end.