Starbucks struggles with reducing environmental impacts
Starbucks customers who care about the environment ask first about the paper cups. The cups are not recyclable, and even if they were, many...
Seattle Times business reporter
Starbucks' trash profileBy volume:
Cardboard: 32 percent
Milk jugs: 15 percent
Paper cups: 9 percent
Pastry boxes: 8 percent
Other dairy cartons: 7 percent
Other waste: 29 percent
Source: Starbucks' 2002 Waste Audit
Starbucks customers who care about the environment ask first about the paper cups.
The cups are not recyclable, and even if they were, many Starbucks stores do not have recycling bins.
Ben Packard, Starbucks' vice president of corporate social responsibility, knows it's an issue.
"Recycling is the baseline in a lot of people's minds. Recycling and dealing with the cup," he said.
Starbucks is considering solutions, including using biodegradable material instead of plastic to line the inside of the cups, Packard said. In a Phinney Ridge store, it is testing a program to compost its current cups.
The environmental challenges facing the company are complicated, though. For instance, even if the 2.5 billion cups Starbucks bought for stores in North America last year could have been composted, many would have ended up in landfills.
Some cities do not have composting or recycling programs, Packard said. "If there's no commercial recycling market, we can separate [materials] all we want, but nobody's going to collect it."
Starbucks recycled some materials in 2,344 of its company-owned stores in the U.S. and Canada last year. That's just 32 percent of its company-owned stores in those countries; it does not track recycling at licensed locations in airports, grocery stores and elsewhere.
In many spots, Starbucks has landlords who make recycling decisions. Still, last year the company recycled in only 73 percent of the stores where it controls waste removal, down from 79 percent in 2006, according to the corporate social-responsibility report that Starbucks is releasing today.
Starbucks wants to increase the percentage of stores that recycle, Packard said.
It also works on environmental issues in ways that customers rarely see. Among Fortune 500 companies, it is the ninth leading purchaser of renewable energy certificates. It is testing energy-efficient lighting in several shops.
Starbucks estimates that of the greenhouse gas emissions it measures, 81 percent come from electricity in stores and 18 percent comes from coffee roasting.
At its Kent roasting plant, the company is installing new equipment to reduce natural-gas consumption. But even that becomes a complicated issue when Starbucks considers its other three U.S. roasting plants. Some regulators require roasters to install equipment that uses more natural gas to reduce the smoke created by roasting, Packard said.
"We're changing [to more fuel-efficient equipment] where the regulatory framework allows it," he said.
Starbucks has turned up the thermostat in stores during the summer, and recently it completed a six-month study to determine how its energy use correlates with customer transactions, store hours, outside temperatures and other factors.
"If we're going to reduce our energy consumption, we need to know where best to spend our time and money," Packard said.
Starbucks has committed to building stores by 2010 that are 25 percent more energy efficient. By that year, it also expects new stores in the U.S., Canada, Germany and the U.K. to be certified as green by independent organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council.
Some environmental groups, including Conservation International and the Environmental Defense Fund, have partnered with Starbucks over the years and laud it as a company that embraced environmental awareness before it came into vogue.
"They've pushed ahead in a number of areas environmentally," said Elizabeth Sturcken, managing director for corporate partnerships at the Environmental Defense Fund, which worked with the company on alternatives to the double-cupping the hot drinks.
Starbucks now gives customers a 10-cent discount when they bring their own reusable cup. It also introduced corrugated cup sleeves made from 60 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, and in 2006 it introduced paper cups with 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber that it estimates saved about 110,000 trees last year.
The company recently pledged $7.5 million over the next three years to a partnership with Conservation International that will help protect the land, water and forest of coffee-growing communities in Mexico and Indonesia.
Others are not happy with Starbucks' environmental record. They are concerned about everything from new plastic stoppers for coffee lids to Starbucks' bottled water brand, Ethos.
Ethos has generated more than $6.2 million to support water, sanitation and hygiene education programs in Africa and Asia.
"Bottling water is an environmentally insane thing to do in general," said Ryan Zinn, campaign coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association. "For them to promote it as a way to raise money and interest around water contamination and water shortage is a little bit ironic."
Conrad MacKerron said the nonprofit where he works, As You Sow, flunked Starbucks in two out of three categories in a 2006 report that measured companies' container recycling efforts.
The group was surprised that Starbucks does not use recycled plastic in Ethos bottles, even though the product is manufactured by PepsiCo, which uses recycled plastic in its own bottles.
Starbucks said it began selling Ethos-branded, heavier plastic bottles that are refillable on Tuesday.
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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