Is Starbucks Actually Serious About Environmental Sustainability?
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Is Starbucks Actually Serious About Environmental Sustainability?

Is Starbucks Actually Serious About Environmental Sustainability?

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.


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.

View Comments (3)
  • Why does one never see any reference to the responsibility of consumers? Starbucks CANNOT meet reusable mug goals if their consumers care only as much as if they were human worms (the icon of consuming). And plastic straws! That exists because of consumer demand… yes, and restaurant workers’ habits of throwing you several even when you’ve begged not to be given one.

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