Starbucks Sustainability

Why Starbucks Is A Sustainability Leader

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 29, 2012

Starbucks Corporation is an international coffee company that has a base in Seattle, Washington but locations all around the globe. Currently, Starbucks Corporation is the largest coffeehouse company all around the world, with over 17,000 stores in more than fifty countries, including over 12,000 in the United States alone, and 1,200 in Canada. Starbucks Corporation is known for selling drip brewed coffee, as well as specialty hot and cold drinks, coffee beans, and food items. Starbucks Corporation is heavily involved in a number of sustainability initiatives in an effort to become more environmentally friendly, including recycling initiatives and utilizing fair trade products. Here is a list of some of the sustainability initiatives undertaken by Starbucks Corporation.

1 ) Recycling and Waste Reduction. In many Starbucks stores across the globe, if commercial recycling for items like milk jugs and/or cardboard is available, the café will do it. Starbucks works with local communities to make recycling easier. Starting in 2009, Starbucks began providing recycling in the front of the house in a number of key markets in the United States in Canada. Starbucks has also launched a number of initiatives to reduce the overall environmental impact of disposable cups. For example, Starbucks hosted a Cup Summit, where representatives of the plastic and paper cup value chain come together to find criteria for a good recycle solution for cups. Starbucks also offers a ten cent reduction on cost to those who bring in their own reusable cups rather than needing one of the paper ones.

2 ) Energy Conservation. Starbucks understands that the stores create 80 percent of the carbon footprint of the company, and therefore it is important to conserve energy and boost energy efficiency to reduce this contribution to climate change. Currently, 20 percent of total electricity used in the stores throughout the United States and Canada comes from renewable sources. Starbucks has also made a number of investments into new, energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems in stores.

3 ) Water Conservation. Water is used a lot in Starbucks stores to brew coffee and tea beverages, as well as a number of back of the house operations, such as ice machines and dishwashers. Starbucks wants to reduce water consumption by 25 percent by the year 2015. So far, the company is on track with a 22 percent reduction by the end of 2010. To do this, one of the things Starbucks has had to do is implement a number of new technologies. For instance, for stores in the United States, all mechanical dishwashers utilize less than a single gallon of water during the cycle.

4 ) Green Building. Starbucks is always looking for new ways to design, build, and operate their stores to reduce their environmental impact. Starbucks is utilizing responsible building materials and a number of water and energy efficient technologies. Starbucks is utilizing the LEED Certification program created by the United States Green Building Council as a benchmark for all the changes. Some of the efforts to green stores include installation of low-flow valves, improving lighting efficiency, utilizing recycled flooring tiles, using paints with low VOC, and installation of cabinetry that is made from 90 percent postindustrial material.

5 ) Climate Change. Climate change has always been of primary importance to Starbucks. Since 2004, Starbucks has focused on energy conservation, renewable energy, as well as advocacy and collaboration. For instance, Starbucks partnered with Conservation International to create a series of pilot projects to improve coffee production, restore and conserve natural habitats, and look into various opportunities to increase farmer access to forest carbon markets. Because of the amount of energy used in stores, when it comes to climate change, Starbucks is mainly focusing a majority of their energy on purchasing renewable energy and energy conservation measures.

6 ) Responsibly Grown Coffee. Starbucks’ partnership with Conservation International has also assisted in developing purchasing guidelines to address ethical sourcing of coffee. Known as Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFÉ) Practices, these sets of guidelines help Starbucks farmers grow coffee in a way that is not only good for the people, but also good for the planet. For example, there needs to be a number of measures in place to manage the amount of waste created, as well as protect the quality of water, conserve energy, and preserve biodiversity.

7 ) Ethically Sourced Tea. Starbucks is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership, and therefore is looking for ways for buyers to improve industry conditions throughout the entire tea industry. The ingredients in Starbucks’ tea brand, Tazo, are received via the Community Health and Advancement Initiative Project, or CHAI project for short. This project aids in increasing sustainability throughout communities by providing economic development and health services.

8 ) Ethically Sourced Cocoa. Much like Starbucks’ approach to coffee, the approach to purchasing cocoa is created to guarantee a long-term supply of ethically sourced and high quality cocoa while still contributing in a positive way to the environment as well as all the cocoa-farming communities. The Cocoa Practices program is much like the CAFÉ program for coffee in ensuring that cocoa is grown in such a way that is beneficial to the people and the environment. For example, Starbucks has been collaborating with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Cocoa Foundation to aid in supporting the Cocoa Livelihoods Program throughout West Africa.

9 ) Showing Support for Farmers and the Community. Long term success for Starbucks really depends on all the farmers who are growing the coffee. Starbucks works on the ground with the farmers to improve quality of coffee and the communities. By assisting in strengthening their communities and sustaining the farmers, Starbucks can ensure the healthy supply of top quality coffee. For example, Starbucks created Farmer Support Centers throughout Costa Rica and Rwanda to offer local farmers expertise and resources to lower the total cost of production but increase the production and quality.

10 ) Ethos Water Fund. Starbucks created the Ethos Water Fund to aid in raising awareness about the fact that over one billion people around the world do not have access to clean water for drinking. The fund helps to provide children with clean drinking water. When a consumer purchases a bottle of Ethos Water from any store, a portion of the proceeds go to the fund. Over $6 million has so far been granted to support water, hygiene, and sanitation education programs in countries that are water stressed.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He is also author of The 2012 Cleantech Directory. He can be reached at