You can’t step foot outside your house without passing someone toting that famous plastic cup. You’re one of them; you’ve dodged traffic, spent wads of cash, and raced against time to squeeze in a coffee run before early morning meetings.
That famous green-and-white siren logo has the power to make or break your day. It’s more than just coffee; for the ethical consumer and beyond, it’s the coffee shop of a lifestyle.
It also has the power to pump more than 8,000 plastic cups a minute into the world, which results in mountains of waste smoldering in landfills.
This brand is what we like to call a sustainability paradox. How can coffee sustainability exist when it’s an entire industry that relies on plastic cups, paper filters, and the deforestation of billions of trees?
Only 1.6% of the drinks that Starbucks sells are consumed in recyclable or reusable cups, which reflects Starbucks’ failure to reach the goal of turning every cup recyclable as far back as 2015. However, the coffee behemoth has made major strides since then, and while they’re not as eco-friendly as some of our favorite organic coffee brands, we’d still like to identify whether or not Starbucks is a greenwashing sinner.
Related Articles: Former Starbucks Manager Wins 25.6M Lawsuit Against the Company | Is Uniqlo as Sustainable as it Claims? | Is Hugo Boss sustainable? Sort of! | Is Mango actually sustainable?
Is Starbucks socially and ethically responsible?
Starbucks sustainability is threaded by ethical environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria.
It is what makes this beloved face of coffee culture an ethical and sustainable brand, or at least that’s what it is trying to be.
Starbucks is realistic; they know it will take time to make a real impact, and tell users that their social and environmental goals will take multiple decades. However, they take their social responsibility seriously with some really ambitious goals. They want to reduce their footprint in the coffee industry by half by 2030.
Raise a cup for those who practice sustainability! 💚
Bring your own Reusable Cup and get a Php 10 OFF on every handcrafted drink you order.
We are committed to becoming resource positive – to give more than we take from the planet. 🌏 pic.twitter.com/pQM8T23syx
— Starbucks Philippines (@starbucksph) January 13, 2023
They have been implementing reusable packaging and a dedication to reducing single-use plastics; which is something that we have seen in the lack of straws they give out and all of the reusable cups they sell; but they still sell straws and these reusable cups are sometimes made out of plastic.
So while this does help a little in reducing their impact, it’s really just a drop in the bucket for this massive brand.
Some of the baby steps they are taking have been:
- Introducing a plant-based menu to reduce the impact of animal-based foods;
- Investing in regenerative agriculture and reforestation;
- Working with “responsible” stores around the world that are committed to reducing their amount of plastic use, energy consumption, and water waste.
The Starbucks 2021 Global Environmental and Social Impact Report featured some glittering progress announcements, including:
- Ethical sourcing;
- Donating $100M to disease-resistant trees to help reduce deforestation; is a big one since 1.6 billion trees get harvested for all of those Mermaid-branded cups…just in one year alone;
- Reducing landfill waste by 50% in 2030.
The report was divided into the main categories that drive Starbucks’ sustainability: People, Planet, and Governance.
Making an impact: a look at Starbucks’ community development efforts
People are at the heart of sustainability. While sustainability is often associated with greening up the environment, it’s consumption’s monumental impact on people that matters. Starbucks knows this, which is why it devoted nearly 30 pages to People in the 2021 report.
Some eye-catching insights of the report included:
- 2021 marked Starbucks’ largest wage investment yet, and in 2022 reached $1 billion in wages and benefits;
- Full tuition coverage under the Starbucks College Achievement Plan;
- Employees are granted Bean Stock;
- $1,000 annual donations to select nonprofits;
- 401K retirement plan.
Extensive training courses like Greener Apron, which combines Starbucks’ people and planet goals by giving partners resources and lessons on making their stores, homes, and communities sustainable.
In 2021, 2,500 partners earned their college degrees through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. By 2025, Starbucks plans on graduating 25,000 more partners. Partners include Starbucks employees from the corporate level all the way to the baristas that make the coffee happen.
Grads, you did it! 💚 Congrats to our 700+ partners (employees) who just graduated from @ASUOnline. And thank you, customers—with your support, partners can get 100% tuition coverage through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Read about our graduates: https://t.co/chupi0GKps pic.twitter.com/7O5NXm522W
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) May 5, 2021
So, is Starbucks sustainable? You can look no further than the 2021 report’s first 30 pages to know that ethical alternatives to Starbucks are not all too urgent; after all, if they take care of their people, then they take care of sustainability in the coffee itself.
Direct Farmer Support and Finance
In 2021, 95% of Starbucks coffee was ethically sourced and verified through the Coffee Farmer and Equity (CAFE) practices. CAFE verifies farming practices to adhere to economic, social, and environmental criteria to promote sustainable coffee.
In 2021, Starbucks gave the Global Farmer Fund $100 million.
How is Starbucks committed to the environment?
The Global Environmental Council drives Starbucks’ commitment to sustainability. The company’s specific environmental goals are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), meaning that their work in reducing carbon emissions along the manufacturing chain is the real deal.
50% of water withdrawn will be conserved and reused to support watershed health, ecosystem resilience and water equity in the “green coffee production.”
While we’re fans of green coffee health benefits, Starbucks uses green coffee production as a metaphor for its ethical coffee.
How do we know this?
In 2020, Starbucks became a founding member of the Transform to Net Zero (TONZ) initiative to become a net zero global company by 2050. Through this step, Starbucks coffee has become greener than ever, answering the question: is coffee a sustainable industry?
Well, with this initiative, we now know that it can be.
Sustainability Beyond the Bean: Starbucks’ Community Impact
Other than reforestation and reaching climate neutrality, Starbucks also knows the impact of preserving global freshwater resources in order to conserve and preserve clean water for those who need it most throughout the world.
This should come as no surprise, given the huge pressures on our water resources (fashion probably being the most water-thirsty industry, hence why fashion giants like Nike, Adidas, Gucci, Louis Vuitton have already embraced more sustainable policies).
An endorser of the UN Water Resilience Coalition (WRC), Starbucks has integrated water preservation and reuse in the production of their coffee, so that clean water is no longer wasted in large quantities. Through this, more people in need of clean water have a better chance of staying hydrated, clean, and healthy.
Starbucks is also transparent. This is something we love since testing and experimenting with these bold goals will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Starbucks tells us this themselves in the report. They are definitely doing their part to make up for this (especially with all they do for their people).
You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, so the greenhouse gas emissions that come from all of the sustainable research, initiatives, and experiments at Starbucks will be worth it in the long run – as long as they stick to their story.
Starbucks Greener Stores in North America have reduced CO2 emissions by 30%. The Greener Stores Initiative, which is part of the Greener Store Framework, was co-created with the World Wildlife Fund (which Starbucks joined in 2018).
Starbucks has blended coffee production into the global mission of reducing CO2 emissions which have helped make their coffee ethical.
2,779 Starbucks locations became certified Greener Stores in 2021. These green certifications expanded across the globe with international locations also falling under this ethical umbrella. This expansion has continued well into 2022, and by 2025 there will be 10,000 Greener Stores.
Starbucks’ approach to human rights standards
Starbucks is governed according to the Ethics and Compliance Program, which promotes ethical leadership and workplace cultures cultivated for success. The Standard of Business Conduct keeps toxic workplace behavior away from Starbucks communities and promotes the framework for Anti-Harassment, Anti-Discrimination, Conflicts of interest, Gifts & Entertainment, Anti-Bribery, and Equal Employment Opportunity.
The Global Human Rights Statement respects CEO Kevin Johnson’s mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
This is achieved through Starbucks’ dedication to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Bill of Rights, the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and many other human rights-oriented global governance standards.
2020 Women on Boards “Winning” Companies have 20% or more women on their board. With 38% of women on their board, we shine a spotlight on @Starbucks for elevating women to the highest roles of corporate governance! #WinningCompanyWednesday pic.twitter.com/9jbv4wFj5M
— 50/50 Women on Boards (@5050Wob) August 12, 2020
The employee experience is also fostered by Starbucks Partner Networks. These clusters are led by partner groups to promote diversity, inclusions, and an overall healthy, balanced workplace at Starbucks and beyond.
The Starbucks corporation’s business ethics and compliance create the values and work culture at Starbucks are all outlined with one thing in mind: people.
Work-life balance, fair wages, and working conditions, and respect for basic human dignity along every tier of the production ladder are at the heart of governance at Starbucks.
Accountability and transparency: Starbucks’ Sustainability Reporting
Starbucks takes a transparent and accountable approach to report on its sustainability efforts. The company uses various reporting standards and metrics, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, to measure and communicate its progress on sustainability.
This beloved coffee company also engages in regular communication and disclosure of its sustainability performance through various channels, including its sustainability report, website, and social media.
Transparency is at the heart of trustworthiness, and while we know that reaching full sustainability for a company as massive as Starbucks, their ethical-minded goals are a great place to start.
Editors Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A woman drinking from a Starbucks cup. Featured Photo Credit: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay.