: Magazine : Back
Issues : Jul/Aug 2005
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
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.
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
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
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
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)
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.
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.