Of all the details crammed into last week’s monster press release about Starbucks’ “Greener Stores” project, one in particular sticks out: that the coffee giant will open-source this new initiative in the hopes that other retailers will take similar steps to create “a new standard for green retail.”
Making retail greener isn’t a particularly new topic, but, on paper at least, the Starbucks Greener Stores plan certainly shows how much muscle Seattle is willing to put into the environmental side of its business. (That the company will save an incremental $50 million in the process over the next 10 years probably helps, too.)
For the project, Starbucks has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund. And over the next year, sustainability consulting firm SCS Global Services will audit all Starbucks-owned stores, existing and future, taking into account criteria like energy efficiency, noise control, air quality, and use of sustainable materials in building.
Some goals of the project include:
- Using tech to gain 30 percent water savings and 25 percent avoided energy compared to old stores
- Powering all stores with 100 percent renewable energy
- Changes to lighting, air quality, and noise levels in stores
- Building and/or refurbishing stores with sustainably sourced materials
- Reducing waste
- Create a “culture of sustainability”
“This framework represents the next step in how Starbucks is approaching environmental stewardship, looking holistically at stores and their role in helping to ensure the future health of our natural resources,” Erin Simon, Director of R&D at World Wildlife Fund, U.S., said in the press release “When companies step up and demonstrate leadership, other businesses often follow with commitments of their own, driving further positive impacts.”
All this follows Starbucks’ announcement from July that it will ban single-use plastic straws. The chain also operates 1,500 LEED-certified stores — more than any other retailer worldwide.
And yes, disposable coffee cups, whether plastic or plastic-coated paper, will probably lead to Armageddon at some point, but what this latest news from Starbucks highlights is that making the coffee industry sustainable has to do with a lot more than cups. From deforestation to coffee’s carbon footprint, the industry has a lot of issues to address if it wants to become truly sustainable at some point in the future. Which is why, while I tend to take company press releases with a gigantic grain of salt, it’s encouraging to see the world’s largest coffee retailer addressing the sustainability question from some of the less-discussed angles.
The question is, Can all this work on Starbucks’ part impact other major coffee retailers? With that in mind, here’s a quick look at what a few of the others are up to:
Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Since 2008, Peet’s has roasted all of its coffee in a LEED Gold-certified roasting facility in the U.S., located in Alameda, California. The roasters for the company’s recent expansion into China were even required to complete an apprenticeship at the Alameda facility. The company currently scores 41 out of 69 for the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC), with particularly high marks around design innovation and indoor environmental quality (i.e., noise levels, air quality).
Costa Coffee. While it hasn’t yet made it Stateside, UK-based Costa has built “zero-energy” coffee shops that use sustainably sourced timber and rely on renewables like solar energy. Last year, it also opened an energy-efficient roastery, claiming it to be one of the world’s most sustainable industrial buildings. That includes a 249kw solar PV system for power and a rainwater harvesting system created to cut down on water use. Coke just acquired Costa for a reported $5 billion. With the deal set to close in 2019, we’ll have to wait and see what that means for Costa’s ongoing sustainability plans.
Dunkin’ Donuts. Meanwhile, America runs on foam cups, apparently, but that’s a problem Dunkin’ has vowed to do something about. In February of this year, the company announced its plan to phase out all polystyrene cups from its supply chain by 2020. Meanwhile, next-generation Dunkin’ stores are reportedly 25 percent more energy efficient than their predecessors, though actual numbers aren’t given. Dunkin’ also launched the DD Green Achievement in 2014, which helps franchises build more sustainable restaurants. The company says it plans have 500 DD Green Achievement stores in the U.S. by 2020.
Individually, none of these initiatives will make the coffee retail industry truly sustainable. And different companies have different priorities, not to mention varying budgets, which makes progress somewhat inconsistent across the industry. That’s where Starbucks’ new framework might actually provide some real guidance. Should it prove successful for the world’s largest coffee retailer, we may start to see a more standard set of practices around creating a more sustainable coffee culture.
Now if we could just figure out what to do about those darn cups.