Starbucks Sustainability Report Paints A Mostly Rosy Picture Of Green Progress

Marco Paköeningrat /CC BY-SA 2.0

Starbucks has released its 2011 shareholder report, within which are some interesting metrics on their progress towards sustainability goals first outlined in 2008.

The report covers coffee sourcing, the amount of money invested in coffee farming communities via farmer loans, hours of community service volunteered by employees, LEED certification, recycling, energy consumption and sourcing, the amount of reusable cups used, as well as a variety of other factors.

Heading the report is the goal of having 100% of Starbucks coffee be "ethically sourced" by 2015. That means, for Starbucks, meeting their CAFE Practices standards. In 2011, 86% of all coffee purchased met this criteria, an increase of two percentage points over 2010.

Starbucks' VP of global responsibility Ben Packard on the differences between Fair Trade and Starbucks' own ethical sourcing standards:

The idea of supporting small producers, we have absolutely the same thing in mind as the Fair Trade movement. The challenge we found, in looking at all the certification schemes, was that none of them addressed the breadth of types of farms that we buy from.

On a consumer basis Fair Trade is very important in Europe, as a consumer purchasing criteria. It's not as relevant [in the United States]. We continue to offer one of our major coffees, Italian roast, as Fair Trade certified. So we're offering something that's brewed more often.

But the CAFE Practices piece suits a broader aspect. We buy from big farms; we buy from small farms organized into co-ops; we buy from small farms who are organized into Producer Support Organizations—they're not co-operatives but they are export organizations.

Nevertheless, Packard points out, Starbucks is one of the top purchases of Fair Trade coffee in the speciality coffee market.

A bit further down is an issue which TreeHugger has covered before: Starbucks efforts to have more front-of-store recycling. After a pilot program two years ago in New York City—from which Packard says Starbucks learned a lot of valuable lessons, such as making sure the bins are right in front of people, clearly labeled—in 2011 Starbucks has expanded the program to over 1000 stores in the US and Canada. That adds up to front-of-store recycling in 18% of US and Canada locations, which Starbucks considered to be on track to hit 100% of stores by 2015.

As far as expanding reusable cups, Starbucks has revised their goal. Previously the target was 25% of beverages in reusable cups by 2015. Now it is 5% of beverages "in personal tumblers" by 2015. Currently 2% of Starbucks' beverages were served into reusable cups of some sort.

I asked Packard why more stores in the US don't offer in-store customers beverages in reusable cups by default (at least those I've been to in Europe offer you a ceramic mug if you're staying).

"It's speed of service, and 80% of people are leaving the store. That's it. That's the dimension you compete on," he replied; and then touted the discount that Starbucks' offers for bringing your own mug.

What we realized is that the piece we can measure—and probably innovate how we communicate it—is that we're providing a discount to consumers, for over 15 years now, which is the 10 cent discount [for bringing your own mug]. It is an incentive, but probably isn't the biggest reason why people do that.

Overall the report paints a rosy picture of Starbucks' sustainability efforts. One target ("engage a total of 50,000 young people to innovate and take action in their communities by 2015") has been achieved. The target on reusable cups has been modified (downward). All other metrics are on-track to be reached, by Starbucks' assessment:

  • Hours of community service by Starbucks employees doubled in 2011, reaching over 442,000 hours, on the way to 1 million hours by 2015.
  • 75% of new stores are built to LEED certification (the exact level isn't disclosed).
  • Energy use in Starbucks stores was down 7.5% over 2010 levels, on the way to a 25% reduction in 2015 (from 2008 levels).
  • In 2011, a hair over 50% of Starbucks electricity worldwide came from renewable sources, purchased via renewable energy credits, on track to 100% by 2015.
  • Though water consumption increased in 2011 slightly from 2010 (due to changes in behind-the-bar washing procedures), Starbucks says it is still on track to reduce water consumption 25% from 2008 levels by 2015.

Tags: Coffee | Corporate Responsibility