Starbucks Opens Sipping Container Drive-Thru in Taiwan

©. Starbucks

It is an eye-catching Kengo Kuma design, but it ain't sustainable.

Starbucks has opened a new outlet in a new mall in Hualien City, Taiwan, a drive-thru that also has seating for sipping in the shipping container. This is evidently considered green. According to the press release,

This drive thru location is built to meet customer needs, both today and in the long-term. It offers the convenience of Starbucks drive thru for customers on-the-go on Nanbin Road, but also continues Starbucks 30-year history of sustainability by recycling 29 used shipping containers to form the store’s structure. It’s 320 square meters and two stories tall.
shipping container store in Taiwan

© Starbucks

It is designed by Kengo Kuma, and evidently was "inspired by the foliage of coffee trees combined with the traditional Chinese bucket arch." Inside there are 3,455 square feet of sitting area. The press release says it is two stories tall, but there are clearly four levels of containers. An interior photo shows a stairway blocked off with planters, so perhaps the upper two levels are just there for show.

The store is designed to help bring people together over coffee. Inside, the containers feature create warm and comfortable seating areas for customers. From one end of the container, customers can enjoy views of the beautiful mountain range. The other end is decorated with graphics that tell coffee stories.

According to the press release, Starbucks is "committed to building sustainable stores." They have built 45 prefabricated shipping container outlets in the States, all drive-thrus of about 450 square feet. According to Seattle Bizjournals,

Shipping container outlets are used to "expand into sites that were previously too small to sustain a more traditional store and can be delivered and installed in less time than traditional stores."

There is some logic to that, which does not apply here in Taiwan, where it is being built right next to a new mall and is apparently all for show. And while it may be built out of used shipping containers, each has to be massively reinforced to cantilever out like that; shipping containers have to be supported at their corners. There is likely as much steel in the reinforcement as there might have been to build a 3,500 square foot store at grade. Being in steamy Taiwan, it is probably air conditioned; between the thermal bridges long enough to reach the mainland and the vast surface area, it probably difficult to do this efficiently. Although when you look at the photos of the interior on WebUrbanist it doesn't look like there is any insulation, but there are glassed-in areas where the people are crowding.

credit: Tom Ackerman, Starbucks

© Tom Ackerman, Starbucks

When Starbucks opened their first shipping container store, I was dubious, no, I was angry. The company had the nerve to wrap it in a halo of green, painting on the side all those R words, "regenerate. reuse. recycle. renew. reclaim. readjust. replace. respect. reabsorb. recreate" and more. I complained then and do now that calling a drive-thrugreen is a lie because of all the SUVs idling away waiting for their latte.

[The problem is] our consumption of petroleum and its conversion into carbon dioxide. It is the single biggest issue we have to deal with to solve our climate problems and our energy security problems. This building is just another cog in sprawl-automobile-energy industrial complex that we have to change if we are going to survive and prosper. We have to stop sprawl, not glorify it; covering it in the R-words is sanctimonious and delusional, and Starbucks knows it.

The consensus among commenters was that I should stop whining. "If absolute perfection is your goal, absolutely nothing will ever be good enough."

Fine. But the energy and effort involved in making 29 shipping containers stand up like this far exceeds that involved in putting a drive-thru window into the wall of the new shopping mall. Most of it doesn't even appear to be occupied. It is nothing more than a giant "look at me" sign. The President and CEO of Starbucks says, “Simply put, sustainable coffee, served sustainably is our aspiration. We know that designing and building green stores is not only responsible, it is cost effective as well.”

But this has nothing to do with sustainability. It is just a big expensive Starbucks sign on top of a drive-thru. I wish they wouldn't pretend it is something else.

Lots more photos from Ya! Travel site here.