Degrees podcast banner illustration
Degrees podcast banner illustration

How this 30 Under 30 sustainability star navigates tough dilemmas at REI

Dawnielle Tellez, 29, recently made it onto media company GreenBiz’ 30 under 30 list. The REI sustainability analyst tells Yesh Pavlik Slenk how hard it is to make the outdoor apparel industry more sustainable. She tells us what she learned working at Patagonia; what dolphins and solar panels have to do with hiking pants and backpacks; and how she landed one of the sexiest jobs in corporate sustainability (note: she could paper her walls with rejection letters).

The clothing retail industry is not known for being climate friendly. The textile industry, as a whole, emits 1.2 billion tons of carbon and uses five trillion liters of water per year.

Tellez, an EDF Climate Corps alum, is candid and thoughtful about the challenges of making the outdoor apparel industry more sustainable. “What’s been tough for me to realize is that at the end of the day, the outdoor industry and broadly apparel industry is reliant on fossil fuels,” she  tells Yesh Pavlik Slenk. 

She finds reasons for hope, though. Tellez says the circular economy, the adoption of lower carbon materials, and scaling decarbonization are exciting, emerging ways the apparel industry will be reducing negative environmental impacts going forward.  

Tellez advises people looking to get into sustainability careers to set goals, ask for informational interviews, and explore the kinds of degrees she and other sustainability specialists have pursued. “The space is just wide open right now,” she says. “I feel like you can really carve out whatever it is that you want.”

Tellez fights social challenges as well as climate change—particularly the historical exclusion of marginalized groups from outdoor activities.  She hopes to see them become more visible and included in the outdoor imagination—some of which is modeled by high-profile outdoor apparel companies like REI.

“Looking to groups that are bringing access and knowledge of sport, [such as] Black Girls Run, Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, organizations that are doing incredible work to build community amongst different BIPOC groups is, I think, hugely valuable to how we’re going to be able to make the outdoors actually accessible for all people going forward.”

Show episode notes

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Additional information: 

Follow EDF:

More episodes

  • Wes Gobar of BlackOak Collective

    Building a Black community for green jobseekers

    The environmental workforce remains overwhelmingly white. But not if Wes Gobar of BlackOak Collective can help it. Yesh talks with him about his journey.


  • Jenny McColloch

    The woman greening the golden arches

    Can you use your MBA to save the planet? Yesh teams up with Mike Toffel of Climate Rising to ask the chief sustainability officer at McDonald's, Jenny McColloch.


  • Ryan Panchadsaram

    10 ways to save the planet

    Yesh goes deep into the job opportunities of the future with Ryan Panchadsaram, co-author of the book Speed & Scale, an action plan to get global emissions to zero by 2050.