Who Gets The Last Laugh On The Sally Jewell Nomination?

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The last time we caught up with Sally Jewell, the CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (better known as REI), she was being interviewed on stage to kick off the 2011 Net Impact conference, where she shared her insights into such things as using energy conservation to boost profits, and how to monitor global supply chain impacts.

Well, a lot has happened since then. Under Jewell’s leadership, REI has stepped up its sustainability profile while boasting a healthy bottom line, and as for Jewell herself, just yesterday President Obama nominated her to be his new Secretary of the Interior.

That’s touched off quite a bit of speculation as to the future direction of the Department of the Interior, especially as pressure mounts from the fossil fuel industry to allow more drilling on public lands. So, let’s take a look and see where things are heading.

Obama nominates REI CEO Sally Jewell for DOI

REI and Stewardship

REI began life as a buying co-op in the 1930’s, when a group of Pacific Northwest outdoor enthusiasts combined their purchasing power to lay their hands on hard-to-find, high quality gear.

That combination of love for outdoor adventure with commercial smarts is REI’s guiding principle to this day, as described in the company’s website:

“…together we can prepare the next generation of environmental stewards and protect nature’s legacy of trails, rivers and wild lands for years to come. By combining the highest quality outdoor products and staff expertise in a welcoming environment with meaningful programs that encourage outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship, we will be successful in helping to inspire, educate and outfit our members and other customers—from novice to the highly accomplished—for a lifetime of outdoor adventures.”

REI and Sustainability

Customer education is just one element in REI’s sustainability track record. Volunteer conservation projects also play an important role, and the company’s greenhouse gas emissions goals include achieving “climate-neutral” operations by 2020.

Green buildings, sustainable forestry and energy conservation are also key parts of the picture.

Since the economic crash of 2008, REI has proved that retail companies can thrive, even in a major recession, while taking major steps toward more sustainable operations. In its 2011 sustainability report, for example, REI described a strategy that includes climate-neutral company travel policies with more efficient shipping procedures, among other elements.  As a result, though the company expanded its stores and sales increased 14 percent from 2009 to 2010, REI measured a climate impact increase of only 7.3 percent.

In more recent actions, REI was among the vanguard of companies eliminating wasteful plastic “clamshell” packaging, and in 2011 it became a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Sally Jewell, Stewardship and Sustainability

As an outdoors enthusiast and CEO of a successful company that has corporate social responsibility flowing through its veins, Sally Jewell seems like a reasonable choice to guide the nation’s irreplaceable national heritage on a sustainable path to the future.

But we’re not the only ones who are optimistic about President Obama’s choice.

To get a sense of the early feedback we went to Politico.com, a news website that is not particularly identified with liberal or progressive leanings (to say the least). Reporters Andrew Restuccia and Darren Goode note that while Sally Jewell is a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association, she also has a background in the fossil fuel industry, having started her career as a petroleum engineer for Mobil (before the Exxon merger).

In particular, Restuccia and Goode cite Tim Wigley, President of the Western Energy Alliance, who said:

“…her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio.”

That’s actually a pretty good sign. Despite its problematic place in the sustainable energy landscape, fossil fuel harvesting did enable the U.S. to grow its economy over more than a century while accommodating a skyrocketing population. Try doing that on firewood, and there wouldn’t be a stick of wood left in all of North America.

Now that new technologies are opening up new energy potentials, fossil fuels will eventually fade into the background, just as firewood and actual four-legged horsepower have done. They are still there, they just don’t dominate.

Under the current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, DOI has emerged as a strong player in the new energy future, for example by partnering with the Defense Department to develop more renewable energy on public land.

DOI has also been instrumental in offshore wind power development, most notably by promoting a consortium of Atlantic Coast states to work together on regional offshore wind power generation, including the massive Cape Wind project.

However, the fact is that right now we’re still in a transitional period. As someone with one foot in the fossil fuel industry and another in a more sustainable future, Sally Jewell seems perfectly capable of keeping that transition on a positive track.

Image (cropped): REI store by functoruser

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3141 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

5 thoughts on “Who Gets The Last Laugh On The Sally Jewell Nomination?

  • It might be a bit early for any “last laugh”. The fact that REI had a “climate impact” of only 7.3% is not reassuring. Though I understand that increased business usually means using more energy. I wonder if, as a petroleum engineer, she will be able to realize that we have to abandon all fossil fuels ASAP, though few believe that. I’d wait a few years before dancing in the end zone.

    • “In 2010, we increased our absolute climate impact by 7.3 percent (75,072 tons of GHG emissions, or C02e) from 2009 levels. While an overall increase for the year, this is less than our company growth of 14 percent (by sales)”



      “National outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI saw a 3 percent increase in overall absolute climate impact, but less than its overall sales growth of 8.4 percent compared to 2010, according to its sixth annual stewardship report.”


      (Gotta get REI’s back. I’ve been a member since the early 1970s. Back when there were only two stores. ;o)

      • Bob,
        Sorry if it sounded like I was disparaging REI or Ms. Jewell. That was not my thought there. It’s a big leap from being the CEO of a relatively small corporation to being the Sec of the Interior. I’m hoping that she performs well. I just hope that her training doesn’t get in the way of the changes that must happen if we are to move forward quickly enough to make a difference.
        Apologies for any confusion.

        • I didn’t think you were disparaging REI or Jewell. I thought you were raising legitimate questions. I didn’t understand the 7.3% part so did a little searching to see what it meant.

          REI grew its business in 2010 and 2011 while growing its carbon footprint less. And I think that needs to be put in perspective. REI has been working on its environmental impact for decades, they aren’t new to this dance. For them to grow their business while shrinking the footprint is probably a lot more difficult that your average retailer cutting their footprint. I’m sure the low hanging efficiency fruit was picked many years ago.

          Now, Jewell. I have no idea who she is. She trained and worked in the oil business, left, and became the head of a very environmentally aware organization. That makes me guess that she “saw the evil of her ways” and converted. That REI picked her to head the co-op (it’s not a corporation owned by stockholders, but a business owned by members/customers) says that she must be doing things right, environmentally.

          An Interior Secretary who knows the oil business, has headed a major, heritage environmentally oriented business. If she’s got good management and public presentation skills she could work out just fine. We’ll have to wait and see.

  • Here Wiki’s info about Jewell’s career. Sounds like she has a strong business background. And has a decent record in environmental issues as well.

    “Jewell worked for Mobil oil company on oil fields in Oklahoma from 1978 through 1981, when she joined Rainier Bank, which was hiring engineers to help them understand how to go about making loans to oil companies. She worked in banking for twenty years, staying with Security Pacific, which acquired Rainier Bank, until 1992, and working for WestOne Bank from 1992 through 1995, and for Washington Mutual from 1995 through 2000.[3][4]In 1996, she joined the board of REI and in 2000 was named chief operating officer. In 2005, she succeeded Dennis Madsen as chief executive officer (CEO).[3]

    Jewell has sat on the boards of Premera, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the University of Washington Board of Regents.[5] She helped found the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

    Jewell was named the Puget Sound Business Journal CEO of the Year in 2006.[6] In 2009, Jewell received the National Audobon Society’s Rachel Carson Award for her leadership in and dedication to conservation.[7]”

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