REI supports regional growth with energy-efficient distribution center

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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REI Lebanon, TN distribution center (Photo credit Al.Neyer)
Aerial view of REI's Lebanon, Tenn. distribution center (Photo credit Al.Neyer).

A national specialty outdoor retailer is opening an ergonomic, environmentally-friendly supply chain facility in Tennessee.

REI Co-op is starting fulfillment for 60 stores in the Midwest and Southeast from its new state-of-the-art distribution center in Lebanon, Tenn. The facility’s design and operations are intended to prioritize the employee experience while minimizing impact on the climate.

The 400,000-sq.-ft. center employs more than 230 part- and full-time staffers.  The facility complements REI’s three existing distribution centers in Bedford, Penn.; Goodyear, Ariz.; and Sumner, Wash.

[Read more: REI expansion continues into 2025]

Employee experience

Highlights of the facility’s employee-centric design include 90 skylights over regularly occupied spaces, floor-to-ceiling windows, high air quality, ergonomic workspaces and a gym.

The design also 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.

Carbon life cycle

The distribution center minimizes 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 carbon solutions provider Clearloop.

Electric forklifts transport goods in the facility and electric chargers are available for staff vehicles. According to REI, its 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 also includes widespread use of conveyor belt sensors that pause when product is not moving, which additionally cuts down on noise for employees.


REI diverted over 90% of the facility’s building project construction waste from landfill, and the center 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 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 other distribution centers as certified facilities.

The facility is also 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 are intended to 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 retailer’s Pennsylvania and Arizona supply chain hubs are also recognized by the USGBC’s green building certification.

“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,” said Sylvia Wilks, REI's 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.”

Headquartered near Seattle, REI Co-op has 185 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia.