Starbucks' Green Goals: Cups Present Challenges


As Earth Day approaches, Starbucks is repeating its offer to give any customer who brings a reusable mug or tumbler into its stores a free brewed coffee or tea (hot or iced) on April 22. Customers can also buy a branded container for 20% off on Earth Day.

Last Earth Day, 1.2 million people took up the free drink offer. Starbucks also offers a standing 10 cents off beverage orders when customers supply their own mugs/tumblers. In total during 2010, customers brought in their own containers more than 32.6 million times, resulting in keeping nearly 1.45 million pounds of paper out of landfills, according to the company's site.

Meanwhile, Starbucks' latest environmental and social responsibility report, posted on its site, shows the chain on track to achieve (or already having achieved) most of its ambitious environmental/ community service goals, but encountering challenges on some fronts -- including reusable cups usage levels and in-store customer recycling.



As the chain's self-scorecard shows, those 32.6 million beverages served in reusable cups -- though 6.4 million more than in 2009 -- still represented just 1.8% of all beverages served in Starbucks stores last year, whereas the chain's goal is to serve 25% of all beverages in reusable containers by 2015. Also, to date, just 5% of company-owned stores have front-of-store/customer recycling bins, whereas the goal is 100% by 2015.

Starbucks reports that it made progress in developing comprehensive recycling solutions for paper and plastic cups last year (in part through a pilot in New York). Also, fully 75% of its stores recycle cardboard and behind-the-counter waste.

But implementing front-of-store recycling bins for consumers presents challenges, as municipalities differ in their policies regarding what materials they collect for recycling from residents and businesses, and some use multiple recycling services to handle different items, Starbucks VP, global responsibilities Ben Packard explained to The same challenges complicate Starbucks' efforts to turn the four billion cups that it produces each year into recyclable commodities.

Packard said the company continues to hold "cup summits" with players in the recycling supply chain and run tests that demonstrate that the cups can be successfully recycled with cardboard and turned into new cups. It will be launching recycling programs in Chicago, and such programs are already in place in Seattle and San Francisco, he reports.

But since 80% of customers leave with their drinks in hand, encouraging use of reusable cups is critical, and this, Packard says, is a "long-term, behavior-change issue." In addition to the Earth Day beverage freebie and ongoing discount incentives for reusable cup usage, Starbucks is providing ceramic mugs to customers who stay on premise to drink their beverages, according to Packard.

In other areas, Starbucks' report shows that it's on track with its goals of ensuring that 100% of its coffee is ethically sourced by 2015; investing in farmers and their communities by increasing farmer loans to $20 million by 2015; and improving farmers' access to carbon markets (enabling them to generate additional income while protecting the environment).

Also on track: Reducing water consumption by 25% in company-owned stores by 2015 -- consumption is already down 22% from its 2008 baseline -- and building all of its new company-owned stores to LEED certification standards (10 store design/construction projects were audited and approved during the 2010 pilot project).

Starbucks also exceeded its goal of purchasing the renewable energy equivalent of 50% of the electricity used in company-owned stores by 2010 (a 58% level was achieved, and the new goal is 100% by 2015).

However, it missed its goal of reducing energy consumption in company-owned stores by 25% by 2010 (it decreased use by 1.6% last year, and by 1.7% in 2009). The original 25% goal has now been extended to 2015.

Packard told Greenbiz that this mainly resulted from procedural delays in getting simultaneous LEED certifications for multiple stores and that, as these stores are rolled out, the ability to implement their sustainable elements in existing stores will reduce overall energy use.

On the social/community service front, Starbucks reports having engaged 53,000 young people "to innovate and take action in their communities" last year, exceeding its goal of 50,000 by 2015. But it acknowledges "needing improvement" in ramping up to achieve a goal of mobilizing its employees and customers worldwide to contribute 1 million hours of community service per year by 2015. Last year, 191,224 such community service hours were logged, versus 186,011 in 2009 (not including Youth Action Grant activities), the scorecard shows.

1 comment about "Starbucks' Green Goals: Cups Present Challenges ".
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  1. Barry Chiorello from Second Story Productions, LLC, April 26, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    The use of ceramic mugs for customers who stay in store, is mentioned here, but I have not seen it encouraged in our local stores. You have to specifically ask, or your drink will be in a paper cup. I don't think most customers know that the drinks are available in ceramic cups. So Starbucks must do a better job of promoting this.
    The other benefit that customers will find using ceramic cups is that the coffee taste so much better. (Do a taste test and compare.)

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