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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an idea that corporations have to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all
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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jul/Aug 2005 : Starbucks


A Success Strategy at Starbucks
By Brenda Timm

The world’s leading retailer, roaster and brand of specialty coffee, Starbucks is easily recognizable by its green logo and the green aprons sported by its retail store baristas. But just how green—environmentally responsible —is the company?

With more than 9,500 retail locations and nearly 100,000 partners (employees), Starbucks aims to minimize its environmental impact and has made sustainability a part of the company culture. In 1990, Starbucks embedded the value of “contributing positively to the community and environment” in its Guiding Principles, and in 1992 established its Environmental Mission statement, in which it pledged: “Starbucks is committed to a role of environmental leadership in all facets of our business.” Since then, the company has integrated environmental policies and programs in every area of operations, and holds all of its partners—from senior-level management to baristas—accountable for its commitment to the environment.

The company’s Environmental Affairs group, directed by Ben Packard, drives and implements Starbucks environmental strategy, including setting and tracking the progress of environmental goals. To help execute the strategy, Packard relies on the Starbucks Environmental Footprint Team, which is comprised of directors from the company’s major areas of focus (e.g., Sourcing, Transportation and Store Development & Operations). The Environmental Footprint Team meets quarterly to review progress made with goals and share information on new issues related to Starbucks environmental performance.

Nearly every department in Starbucks is accountable for at least one part of the strategy annually. For example, in 2004, Store Development & Operations was responsible for purchasing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified products for wood flooring; Retail Operations oversaw the Grounds for Your Garden program, which provides customers and local parks with complimentary five-pound bags of used coffee grounds to add to their soil as nourishment; and in 2005 Property & Utility Management led the purchase of renewable energy.

Climate Change

Recognizing that coffee farming depends on a healthy environment, Starbucks is concerned about the negative impact that climate change could have on coffee-growing communities. These changes ultimately could have a significant effect on the long-term sustainability of its business.

In 2004, with support from CH2M HILL, Starbucks voluntarily conducted an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to understand and evaluate its contribution to climate change. Using the WRI Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Starbucks limited the inventory to areas with the biggest environmental impact: retail, coffee roasting, administration operations and its distribution network.

Based on the results, Starbucks made a commitment to reducing emissions by:

Purchasing renewable energy—annually, five percent of the energy needed by its North America retail stores, generated by 11 large-scale windmills, and estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by two percent;

Addressing the impact of its transportation operations—working with Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) Clean Cargo Group on ocean transportation and using the Clean Cargo tool to engage freight vendors;

Monitoring roasting plant operations— an environmental team at each of the company’s four roasting plants are creating measures for reducing emissions and conserving energy;

Taking leadership and raising awareness—by encouraging others to take action.

Setting a reduction target—in fiscal 2005, the company will establish a gas emissions reduction target.


As it has grown, Starbucks has struggled with a problem: serving millions of hot beverages in paper cups that potentially could have a considerable environmental impact. Following almost a decade of work with its cup and paper fiber suppliers to find a solution to this problem, the company has come up with a small but significant way to reduce this impact. The company recently announced that its supply chain member, Mississippi River Corporation, has received first-ever approval from the Food and Drug Administration to incorporate 10-percent post-consumer fiber into hot beverage paper cups. The new cups, which will appear in Starbucks stores in early 2006, will lower the company’s use of tree fiber by more than five million pounds annually. The company also has been a major participant in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a group of packaging professionals that has adopted sustainable principles, and is working to apply these principles to the development and procurement of new packaging materials.

On the coffee purchasing front, Starbucks actively supports the sustainable production of coffee through its C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) Practices, a set of socially responsible coffee buying guidelines. Two of the company’s five main coffee buying guidelines, which were developed in conjunction with Conservation International, focus on environmental leadership in coffee growing and processing. In 2005, Starbucks was recognized with the World Environment Center’s Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development for its C.A.F.E.

At the store level, Starbucks has embarked on efforts to employ sustainable design and construction solutions (for example, using environmentally friendly materials for cabinetry in 95 percent of newly constructed U.S. company-operated stores in fiscal 2004); to use sustainable hardwood seating (major purchases in fiscal 2004 were certified by FSC); and to encourage creative recycling among its partners (in 2004, the company recycled nearly 114,000 pounds of electronic waste materials that otherwise would have ended up in landfills).

Sharing Information and Inspiring Partners

Starbucks uses several targeted internal communication tools to educate partners about these efforts and to encourage them to help. The company communicates through its weekly Scoop operations bulletin that goes to all retail stores, plus the monthly Siren’s Tale newsletter, which is distributed throughout the entire organization. Starbucks also disseminates internal information online via its Partner Portal. For major announcements of environmental programs, Starbucks executives use the company-wide voicemail system.

At Starbucks, internal communication is a two-way channel. Mission Review, an ongoing opportunity for partners to provide feedback on projects or programs at Starbucks, allows partners to question whether a decision, action or program adheres to the Starbucks Mission Statement or Guiding Principles. Retail customers are encouraged to contact the Starbucks Customer Relations Call Center at (800) 235-2883.

The company also acknowledges its partners for their environmental efforts through existing recognition programs (Bravo Award, MUG Award, Green Apron Award), which may take the form of on-the-spot recognition or formal presentations, and which can be given by any partner to another.

In partnership with the Earthwatch Institute, Starbucks offers Earthwatch Expeditions for its partners and customers. The program educates partners on important global conservation issues by offering a hands-on experience working alongside research scientists on field expeditions around the world. In May 2005, Starbucks announced that 20 customers and 10 partners were selected to participate in an Earthwatch Expedition in Costa Rica.

Challenges Ahead

The exponential growth Starbucks has experienced has sometimes caused the company to play “catch-up” in its mission to honor its commitment to sustainability. Higher-than-average energy and water use per square foot of retail space in 2004, caused by an increase in the number of customers and the number of hours that each store is open, has spurred the company to intensify its focus on conservation measures in its retail stores. As it continues to build on its “green” accomplishments, the company is looking for ways to institute company-wide metrics and data-collection systems that will allow it to measure fully each store’s performance and contribution to the company’s environmental footprint.

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