2009 marked a significant change for Starbucks. It’s not just because of their net profit loss this year or the fact that they closed hundreds of stores. Starbucks has taken the initiative to build greener and more individualistic chains.
While Starbucks has not been the center of many environmental debates, there are two notable cases where environmental advocates voiced their discontent. The first case was in regards to their cups. The hot cups are made out of 10% post-consumer waste, the plastic lining around the cup actually makes them non-recyclable. Where do all these cups go then? Into the landfill. In fact 2 billion Starbucks cups land in trash [Source: GreenDaily]. Even the plastic cups, which were modified in 2008, are not practical. Sure, they are made of polypropylene (PP), which uses 15 percent less plastic than the average PET cups and emit 45 percent less greenhouse gasses during their production. These PP cups are labeled with a No. 5 symbol at the bottom (recyclable) [Source: Starbucks], but many Starbucks don’t even offer recycling.
The second major environmental issue includes the enormous amount of water that Starbucks uses. While the regular appliances like dishwashers and sinks use a large amount of water, the biggest waster is the use of the dipper well method. The method uses a continuous stream of fresh running water to rinse away food residue, to keep utensils clean and prevent bacterial growth [Source: Starbucks], however this method wastes about 6 million gallons of water a day [Source: ABC News].
Earlier in 2009, Starbucks responded to these concerns. Partnered with EarthWatch, Starbucks is looking to make all of their cups completely recyclable and actually offer recycling in store [Source: Starbucks]. While it won’t be until 2015 that all Starbucks offer these cups, many are taking the initiative to reduce the amount of paper and plastic waste. In fact, in Manhattan, seven stores took part in a cup recycling pilot program offered by the Green Global USA’s Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR). The paper cups will be collected and and combined with old corrugated cardboard for recycling [Source: Earth911]. For those planning to stay at Starbucks, the company plans on reintroducing “for here” ceramic cups in stores by 2010, and they also offer $0.10 to people who bring in their own mugs [Source: GreenBiz].
Starbucks has also addressed their water usage and in 2009 they plan to have a complete water footrpint audit to see how much water they are actually using. At the moment, while many stores are still using the dipper well method, many have converted to high pressure dishwashers that use a fraction of the water (less than one gallon per cycle) and train their employees to to keep the refrigeration coils on ice machines clean. This reduces the amount of latent heat that would make ice melt faster [Source: Starbucks]. The company has actually reduced their water usage from 26 gallons/SF in 2006 to 24 in 2008 [Source: Environmental Leader].
But Starbucks is going above and beyond the call of duty and has an entire environmental initiative to make their stores even more environmentally friendly. Earlier this year, three flagship stores, two in Seattle and one in Paris, set the standard for the store. Rather than demolishing and throwing out materials from the previous tenants, Starbucks is actually reusing these items to create chains that have individuality and reflect their respective neighborhoods. But it’s not just about reclaiming the materials, Starbucks is seeking LEED certification for all new company-owned stores beginning next year and, in conjunction with 3Degrees, also buys wind renewable energy certificates for more than 211 million kilowatt hours. This actually makes Starbucks one of the largest purchasers of green energy in the US [Source: Environmental Leader]. But they don’t stop there. In November of 2009 Starbucks announced that they would switch over standard bulbs to LEDs in over 8,000 locations, allowing them to consume 10% less electricity. This is part of a larger goal to cut energy consumption by 25% by the end of 2010 [Source: Treehugger].
While many consumers and environmentalists have denounced Starbucks in the past, it appears that they have answered almost all of their customers’ concerns. It remains to be seen if all of they meet all of these goals, but Starbucks has definitely moved beyond their greenwashing methods of the past.