REI Opens Distribution Center That Prioritizes Employee Experience and Sustainability

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman
REI Co-op opens state-of-the-art distribution center in Lebanon, Tennessee that prioritizes the employee experience while setting a new standard in fighting the climate crisis (Image credit: Al. Neyer)

Specialty outdoor retailer REI Co-op has started fulfillment from its new distribution center in Lebanon, TN, supporting growth in the Midwest and Southeast. The new distribution center’s design and operations prioritize the employee experience while setting a new standard to fight the climate crisis, the retailer said. The facility will serve more than 60 stores and 5.6 million REI members in the area.

"We believe the climate crisis is the greatest threat to our business and the future of our planet. REI is leveraging its values and cooperative model to minimize our environmental footprint while serving the outdoor community," says Sylvia Wilks, REI chief supply chain officer. "Our new Lebanon distribution center allows us to improve our delivery speed to customers and stores, increase our throughput capacity and agility, and lower costs all while achieving new sustainable building standards."

Employee Experience
The new facility aims to provide a productive and healthy environment for employees through design features that support work, rest, and a connection to nature. Highlights include ample daylight through 90 skylights over regularly occupied spaces, floor-to-ceiling windows, exceptional air quality, ergonomic workspaces, and a gym.

The design focuses on enhancing the employee connection to nature with "trails" worn into the concrete floors for wayfinding, wood siding from a decommissioned barn installed in the atrium and furniture, and handrails repurposed from trees removed from the property prior to construction. The co-op is completing a habitat restoration project across the 41-acre property, which will feature a trail for walking and biking.

REI's Lebanon distribution center employs more than 230 part- and full-time staff. Since joining the co-op in mid-summer, the Lebanon team has volunteered alongside Tennessee State Parks for trail maintenance and more. As the co-op's business grows, staff may increase to 350 employees, the retailer said.

Carbon life cycle
The distribution center addresses carbon impacts by using 100% renewable, 100% electric energy through an onsite solar array and renewable energy from a soon-to-be-built solar array in eastern Tennessee as part of REI's partnership with Clearloop, a leading carbon solutions provider. Electric forklifts transport goods in the 400,000 square-foot facility while electric chargers are available for staff vehicles. Concrete and steel building materials have upwards of 30% less embodied carbon than typical material specifications.

The building will use 30% less energy than required by code, primarily due to energy efficient lighting and HVAC building systems. This focus on energy savings extends to all building systems. For example, there is widespread use of conveyor belt sensors that pause when product is not moving that also supports acoustic comfort for employees.

REI Lebanon diverted over 90% of its construction waste from landfill and produces almost no waste by diverting over 90% of operational waste from landfill, which the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) defines as "zero-waste." The facility also participates in an enterprise-wide partnership with Trex to recycle all thin-film plastic into durable, plastic decking. The co-op will pursue zero-waste certification after a year of operation though the USGBC TRUE zero waste certification program, joining its fleet of distribution centers as certified facilities.

The facility is also highly water efficient, designed to use 50% less water in its operations and landscaping than required by industry baseline. A cistern captures rainwater for non-potable uses within the building while efficient fixtures reduce overall demand. Native and drought-tolerant landscaping further reduce the site's water needs.

REI is targeting a platinum certification via USGBC's LEED v4 BD+C (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Building Design and Construction) rating system. The LEED v4 rating system is widely regarded as the international standard for high-performance structures that account for measurable results in a facility's lifecycle.

The Lebanon facility complements REI's three existing distribution centers in Bedford, PennsylvaniaGoodyear, Arizona; and Sumner, Washington to serve 185 stores in 42 states as well as online order fulfillment for customers across the country and globe. REI's Bedford and Goodyear locations are recognized by the USGBC's green building certification. 

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