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Is Starbucks actually serious about environmental sustainability?

Steven Li

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Corporate has made a lot of promises about sustainability recently, as it becomes an increasingly important topic. Though the intent of many of these promises has come into question, what some call “greenwashing,” some companies are serious about environmental sustainability and have been for a long time coming. (Cue Aldi.) So, is Starbucks among them?

Starbucks’s Early Commitment

No doubt, Starbucks is an early adopter of climate strategy. Its initiatives date back to 2005 when it started investing in renewable energy. Impressively, the company worked hard for 10 years until it finally able to have renewable sources power 100% of the electricity used in company-operated stores.

Aside from its dedication to renewables, the coffee chain also boasts a 20+ year commitment to ethically and sustainably-sourced coffee. In 2015, Starbucks announced a $30 million commitment to helping farmers forge sustainable farming practices, particularly when it comes to coffee. The initiative, dubbed the Global Farmer Fund, has now grown to over $50 million in committed capital and expanded to donating trees to farmers.

Starbucks Misses Sustainability Targets

Despite Starbucks’s early commitment, it missed a number of key sustainability targets. In 2008, Starbucks committed to serving 25% of its drinks in reusable cups by 2015.

Starbucks was far from achieving that goal. In fact, it was so far from achieving the goal that it revised the goal to be having 5% of its drinks served in tumblers by 2015.

But the company failed to meet this goal as well. To put it into perspective, Starbucks’s new goal is to have 2.8% of its drinks served in reusable cups by 2022. That’s double its current 1.4% figure.

As You Sow’s Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron opines, “Starbucks has said they’ve been trying to promote reusable cups for years, but there’s clearly been little effort made toward what should be an easy policy to meet.”

I’m not sure about it being an easy policy to meet, but objectively, Starbucks has missed its targets, and by a sizable margin too.

Current Initiatives at Starbucks

In hopes to become a more environmentally-conscious company, Starbucks is currently working on a number of initiatives.

To make its cups more sustainable, Starbucks has invested $10 million alongside venture firm Closed Loop Partners to make its cups both recyclable and compostable by 2021. If Starbucks can pull it off, it would be a huge deal for its over 30,000 locations globally. That is, its cups, if not thrown away, could be repurposed into other goods down the road.

When it comes to the plastic problem, consumers are using tons of plastic straws from beverage companies like Starbucks. Consequently, the company hopes to phase out its plastic straws by 2020 and replace them with “alternative-material straw options”. If the company can make this happen, it would remove over 1 billion plastic straws a year from circulation.

Additionally, Starbucks looks to “Double the recycled content, recyclability and compostability, and reusability of [its] cups and packaging” by 2022. Earlier this year, Aldi made the commitment to reach 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. Starbucks seems to be on the right track here.

renewable energy
Just a month ago, the coffee giant bought into a renewable energy portfolio, containing both solar and wind projects.

Just a month ago, the coffee giant bought into a renewable energy portfolio, containing both solar and wind projects. Greentech Media reports that this buy will provide enough energy to power 3,000 Starbucks stores in the United States. The portfolio approach, so far, has been unique to the corporate ecosystem.

Conclusions

Starbucks has unequivocally shown that does have a genuine commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and improving its environmental impact. From its early commitment to its current initiatives, the company exemplifies one dedicated to sustainability efforts.

However, the coffee giant has a lot more to prove before it’s completely in the clear. What remains to be seen is whether it will be able to meet its current targets.

But for now, the answer is yes, Starbucks is serious about environmental sustainability.

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Opinion

Opinion | Food Waste is the World’s Dumbest Environmental Problem

Outrider Foundation

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Food Waste

Wasting food has been called the “world’s dumbest environmental problem.” Every year, the average family of four in the U.S. tosses roughly $2,000 in food; 30 to 40 percent of food produced in this country ends up discarded.

At dinner, our parents urged us to finish everything on our plates. Beyond the moral and economic reasons to do so, it turns out there’s a significant environmental one, too. When food winds up in landfills it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than the poster child of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, which primarily comes from fossil fuel use.

In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. Few people realize that when they shove some grapes into the bottom drawer of their refrigerator and forget about them, they are contributing to climate change.

Food Waste

Throwing out food at home is only part of the problem. As the Natural Resources Defense Council noted in a report last year, “We leave entire fields unharvested, reject produce solely for cosmetic reasons, throw out anything past or even close to its ‘sell by’ date, inundate restaurant patrons with massive portions, and let absurd amounts of food rot in the back of our fridges.”

When we toss food, we’re not just wasting calories; we’re also squandering the energy used to grow crops and raise cattle, as well as the energy required to ship, refrigerate and package food.

It’s time for people, restaurants, supermarkets, and farms to factor this cost to the environment when they over-order or carelessly discard edible food. The federal government has recognized the need to address this problem; in 2015 the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. It’s doable, and we all have a role to play.

In May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hosted a food waste roundtable in Washington.

“Our nation’s agricultural abundance should be used to nourish those in need, not fill the trash,” Perdue said. “So many people work on food waste issues in their own spheres, but it’s time to change the culture and adopt a holistic approach to get everyone working together and sharing ideas.”

Overseas, some governments are taking more aggressive actions to stem food waste. France, for example, bans grocery stores from tossing edible food. South Korea prohibits food waste from landfills and requires people to separate food waste from their regular trash.

While those mandates might prove politically unpalatable in the United States, some states are taking more modest steps, such as restricting how much food waste can be sent to landfills, and we should encourage those laudable efforts. But real progress will come when people and businesses step up to solve this problem. And many already are doing so.

The Food Waste Reduction Alliance—a collaborative effort of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association—is working to standardize the confusing panoply of labels that consumers use as cues to determine if food is still safe to eat.

There are also organizations like Food Cowboy, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and Meal Connect, which bring technology to food donations—allowing farms, grocery stores, and restaurants to donate their excess food to food banks. Some supermarket chains are also taking steps to sync unused food to groups feeding the needy. Trader Joe’s has Donations Coordinators at its stores, who work to bring unsold food to nonprofit organizations.

A vast field of piles of rotting tomatoes and green beans in Florida.

A vast field of piles of rotting tomatoes and green beans in Florida | Getty Images

Then there’s “ugly food”—produce that looks weird or misshapen but is identical in taste and quality to properly proportioned fruits and vegetables. Companies like The Misfits sell imperfect-looking produce at a discount. As the company says, “Crooked cucumbers, misshapen tomatoes or not-so-red Red Peppers are just as delicious and nutritious as ‘the other guys’—and less expensive!”

If we could take these solutions and scale them, the food we’d save could feed millions of hungry people, conserve resources, and make a big dent in one of the biggest sources of climate change.

It won’t take a rocket scientist to solve this dumb problem. We can do it ourselves.

This article was originally published by the Outrider Post and republished with permission as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.



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Opinion

Opinion | Americans care less about the environment than the rest of the world

Ari Kelo

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america environmental concern

In the past five years, the world has become increasingly concerned with the environment. According to a study published by Glocalities, the global percentage of people “worried about the damage that humans cause to the planet” rose from 71% in 2014 to 77% in 2019 — a 6 percent increase. Despite this increase in global environmental concern, however, the United States still lags almost 10% behind.

Only 68% of Americans show concern for human-created environmental damage. So why do Americans have more environmental apathy than the rest of the world?

Environmental concern is on the rise everywhere

Although fewer Americans care about environmental damage than the rest of the world, it’s important to note that both populations are showing an upward trend. Since 2014, about 7% more Americans show concern for the environment. This rise in concern among Americans parallels the global rise.

This is good news. Maybe now the world will focus more on its environmental footprint. And with eco-consciousness gaining traction at the global level, the world may be able to unite on this front.

Indeed, the rise in environmental concern seems to transcend typical social boundaries. The trend appears in economies both big and small, advanced and upcoming. It spans across age, gender, education levels, and political ideology. It seems to be a war not on culture but on “greed, ignorance and reckless exploitation” according to the trend report. This rise in momentum is an opportunity to unite against the damages we inflict on our environment.

U.S. politics may explain environmental apathy

Although on average American voters worry less about environmental damage than the rest of the world, American Democrats actually care more than the global average. This year, a whopping 83% of Democrats expressed environmental concern. This is 6% more than the global average.

But there’s a steep division drawn on U.S. party lines. Where 83% of Democrats demonstrate environmental concern, only roughly 58% of Republicans share the sentiment. So why does the percentage drop a whole 25%?

In short, we’re not too sure. The news we consume, our socio-economic statuses, and educations may all play a role. Another factor could be the divide between urban and rural communities — the effects of climate change are most exacerbated in cities.

But one thing is certain. Although Republicans and Democrats are strongly divided on the environment, the younger generation has shown far more concern across the political spectrum.

In fact, young Republicans have shown the highest increase in environmental concern. 67% of Republicans aged 18 to 34 said they are worried about environmental damage. That’s nearly equal to the national average. It very well may be that age is as large of a factor as politics in determining eco-consciousness.

So with environmental concern among America’s youth on the rise, the U.S. may soon catch up with the rest of the world. When it does, it will have a lot of work to do.

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Energy storage is paving the way for new economic models

Elisha Israel

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Energy Storage

As the world moves towards the mass adoption of renewable energy, some questions come to mind. Which energy sources are most practical for the future? How do we rebuild an energy infrastructure and economy that works? What economic models are best for this new energy economy? Energy storage can answer some of these questions.

Energy storage is picking up speed

At the moment, the installation rate of solar panels is rapidly accelerating. And partially, massive reductions in price are facilitating this growth trend. Energy storage is beginning to follow a similar trend line. Specifically, we are rapidly nearing a time when we’ll be able to store excess energy to cover the energy needs of energy customers.

But does a centralized energy infrastructure make sense for our future? Well, provided there will always be some element of interconnection, some entity should maintain a functional level of grid-based energy transmission. On the other hand, as energy storage becomes more accessible, an interesting future opportunity presents itself.

An interesting market opportunity arises

Imagine a future where every building functions as an autonomous energy unit. While this may stay grid-connected, each building could have the ability to both generate and store its own electricity. Once each building has generated and stored enough electricity for its own needs, there’s an opportunity to sell the excess energy on the market.

There is a similar opportunity with vehicle-to-grid energy transactions too. Since there will be so many vehicles that are stagnant overnight, they can also leverage energy storage in a peer-to-peer energy transaction.

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