[Editor's note: Also read about the lessons learned in Starbucks' supply-chain program from its partner, Conservation International.]
Starbucks’ latest self-assessment of the impact of its operations on the globe -- measured in terms of energy, the environment, communities and agriculture -- reflects healthy progress, moderated by a dash of frustration on some challenging fronts.
Call it: A few full cups and a couple half empty.
The good news is big gains on renewables, energy efficiency and cup recycling. Water consumption rose, however, and use of reusable cups has barely budged.
At its annual shareholders meeting today, Starbucks released its 11th annual Global Responsibility Report, detailing the coffee giant’s performance in 2011. Check out the report at www.starbucks.com/GRreport. I got an advance look at the report, along with the opportunity to speak with Ben Packard, Starbucks’ vice president of global responsibility.
Here’s my take on what’s full, half full, or half empty in the 2011 report.
Front-of-store recycling. Starbucks has been chiseling away at a commitment to boost the recyclability of its cold and hot beverage cups for many years. It has set interlinked goals of developing “comprehensive recycling solutions for our paper and plastic cups by 2012” and implementing “front-of-store recycling in our company owned stores by 2015.” (Starbucks has nearly complete recycling rates for cardboard packaging from its receiving, replenishment and other back-of-store operations.)
The goals are daunting: About 80 percent of the Starbucks’ containers leave its stores and, of the share that can be re-captured on site, recyclers have shown little love for the hard-to-reprocess plastic-lined paper cups. (The chain's plastic cups, made of No.1 plastic, are proving somewhat easier to sell into recycling flows.)
Boosting recycling of paper cups, in particular, has required near herculean efforts -- not just putting out a bin in the front of a store, but ensuring that haulers and recyclers in a given market will take the cups and process them into new materials. The chain has piloted recycling in a variety of cities, including New York in 2010, an effort profiled by Jonathan Bardelline in GreenBiz here.
As one of a series of city-by-city trials, Starbucks has run a pilot in Chicago area stores, for example, to take used cups, and remake them into napkins that come back to the store. To lick this problem, the coffee chain has instigated three industry wide Cup Summits, inviting competitors, peers and service providers to collaborate on recycling solutions.
The efforts are showing progress. In 2011, Starbucks saw a big gain in the share of its stores with front-of-store recycling, to 18 percent of company-owned stores in US and Canada, up from 5 percent in 2010. The number of sites where you can drop your white and green cup into a recycling bin now exceeds 1,000.
The fastest progress, Packard said, has been in “big markets where conditions were right in terms of hauling, recycling infrastructure and demand for end products.” These include most of Canada, Chicago, and parts of Southern California.