5 things to know about Starbucks new environmental sustainability commitment

Starbucks chief executive officer Kevin Johnson announced Tuesday a renewed focus on sustainability, all with an eye toward eventually “giving more than we take from the planet.”

“Our aspiration is to become resource positive -- storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than we use,” Johnson, wrote in a letter posted Tuesday.

His letter included preliminary targets for 2030 as well as the company’s commitment to be transparent in its reporting against short- and long-term goals. He also vowed to work with Starbucks partners, customers and other stakeholders on this journey. The company will spend the next year continuing to test and learn before formalizing these sustainability targets as part of the company’s 50th anniversary in 2021, he wrote.

“Our eyes are wide open knowing that we do not have all the answers or fully understand all the complexities and potential consequences,” Johnson wrote. “Now, it’s time to create an even broader aspiration – and it’s work that will require visionary thinking, new ways of working, investment of resource and urgent action.”

Starbucks has over 31,000 stores worldwide with 400,000 partners serving 100 million customers a week and the road ahead will require commitment and creativity from partners and customers across the globe as well as from entrepreneurs, non-profits and suppliers, he said.

Here are five important things to know about Tuesday’s announcement:

1. Starbucks wants to halve its carbon emissions, waste output and water impact in the next decade while growing the business at the same time

Johnson’s letter outlined three preliminary targets: By 2030, Starbucks will aim to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent; reduce waste sent to landfills from stores and manufacturing by 50 percent, driven by a broader shift toward a circular economy; and will also conserve or replenish 50 percent of the water currently being used for direct operations and coffee production.

2. There’s a new way to track progress

Starbucks has long used science-based research to assess progress. Now, the company has also released a comprehensive environmental footprint of carbon emissions, water use and waste in Starbucks global operations and supply chain. Created in partnership from Quantis and World Wildlife Fund, it will serve as a baseline for measuring future progress. “As we move forward, we will be transparent in reporting short- and long-term progress against our goals,” Johnson wrote.

3. From more plant-based food and beverages to reusables, Starbucks is looking far and wide for opportunities to transform

Starbucks identified key areas in which it can make big impacts by 2030, including expanding plant-based and environmentally friendly menu options; shifting from single-use to reusable packaging; investing in innovative agricultural, water conservation and reforestation practices; looking for ways to better manage waste (including food waste) in stores and in communities; and developing more eco-friendly operations, from stores to supply chain to manufacturing.

4. Yesterday’s groundwork = a head start

Over the years, the company has partnered with other organizations and invested in ways to bring sustainable practices to scale, including the Starbucks FoodShare program, NextGen Cup Challenge, becoming a leader in L.E.E.D. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) stores, investments in renewable energy and a goal to eliminate plastic straws by the end of 2020. It has also spent two decades, in partnership with Conservation International, to achieve the milestone of sourcing 99% of coffee ethically through C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity) practices. Research shows that implementing C.A.F.E. practices over the years has more than halved what the company’s carbon footprint would have otherwise been.

“This pledge to become ‘resource positive’ is bold and necessary – exactly what I’ve come to expect from Starbucks,” said Dr. M. Sanjayan, chief executive officer of Conservation International. “For more than two decades, Conservation International has partnered with Starbucks to source coffee in ways that are good for the people and the planet. We succeeded – today, 99% of Starbucks  is ethically sourced – but we have not rested. Now we are working to bring the entire coffee sector along to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. This is what it will take to meet today’s challenges: bold vision paired with action that does not rest.”

5. A greener green apron

Starbucks partners are mobilizing for change in increasing numbers. More than 18,000 partners have enrolled in an online “Greener Apron” course on sustainability and environmental stewardship in the last two years, and the number continues to grow. Lisa Ference, a store manager in Conway, Ark., is among those. Her “aha moment” came a few years ago when an oil spill near her home devastated a local lake, and ever since she’s felt strongly about getting involved and speaking up for wildlife and the environment. She was thrilled by Tuesday’s news from Starbucks.

“I feel certain that over the next decade we will become the model for other companies seeking to become resource-positive as this is, in my opinion, also the pathway to sustaining our business in the long term,” she said. “There are so many reasons to be grateful for this company, but the most important is that our mission and values are a reflection of my own. Sustainability is a flagship issue in my personal journey, one that I feel incredibly passionate about, and it’s a privilege to work for an organization that doesn’t wait to be summoned to act. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

The announcement is an important moment for Starbucks, said Sheila Bonini, senior vice president leading private sector engagement for World Wildlife Fund, the world's leading conservation organization. Bonini said a lot of companies make environmental commitments, but what excites her most are the moments down the road when those companies get to celebrate each step toward meeting those goals.

“I’m impressed with Starbucks leadership – with their ambitious strategy to tackle sustainability as well as their humility and willingness to look at all parts of the business to try to achieve it,” Bonini said. “We are already starting to see some catastrophic effects of climate change. It’s clear our level of consumption and production today is more than the planet can take. We all need to address it. We need to address it yesterday.”

She believes it’s important for companies to not only make it easier for people to act sustainably, but to help them understand why it’s important.

“People want to be green, but we have to help them get there,” she said. “We’re all partners in this.”

2018 Starbucks Environmental Baseline Report
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