For the fourth year in a row this Black Friday, REI Co-op will close all 153 stores, process no online payments, and pay more than 12,000 employees to #OptOutside with friends and family. This year, REI is also pledging $1 million in support for the launch of a new center of academic excellence at the University of Washington that will study the link between human health and time spent outdoors.
To make the case for spending more time outside, REI and the University of Washington are launching a new initiative called Nature for Health. The new center of academic excellence within the university’s EarthLab will broaden and deepen its examination of how time outside impacts our health. It will build on existing bodies of work and explore new ideas like whether a dose of nature can be prescribed alongside traditional medicine to tackle issues such as anxiety and depression. This partnership between REI and the University of Washington grew out of years of collaboration among university researchers and leaders in the outdoor, nonprofit and governmental communities.
“We know there is a link between time spent in nature and our health and well-being. We are working to close the knowledge gap so we fully understand the benefits,” said Joshua J. Lawler, head of Nature for Health and the Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences at the University of Washington. “We’ll then work in close partnership with practitioners and decision-makers to use this information to do things like lower healthcare costs, design better schools and hospitals, and reduce disparities in health and well-being.”
REI is an active investor in the growing body of research establishing the link between health and nature. REI has already invested more than $1 million into efforts by the UW, Sierra Club, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital’s Center for Nature and Health, and the Oregon Public Health Institute to understand how time outside impacts anxiety levels, ability to focus, childhood development, happiness and other health factors.
“The best researchers in the world are proving the case that getting outside is critical to our mental and our physical well-being,” says REI CEO Jerry Stritzke. “It’s time to rethink time outdoors as a must-have, not a nice-to-have.”
Those of us that regularly spend time outdoors completely understand the benefits it offers. But what if you don’t readily have access to the outdoors?
“The best data we have says that, in any given year, 150 million Americans don’t spend any time outside. That’s half the country,” says Stritzke.
REI is also working hard to increase access to green spaces and public lands through rewilding projects across the country. Examples include running buses from downtown Seattle to local trailheads and turning industrial spaces in Chicago into an outdoor recreation hub with a mountain bike park, trails, paddling, climbing, and more.