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How Starbucks Took the Lead on LEED

<p>When the coffee giant announced its goal to get all of its new stores LEED-certified starting this year, it was the culmination of an effort to address its biggest environmental impacts.</p>

Last year Starbucks announced its intention to complete U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification for all new company-owned stores starting in late 2010. Since then a number of Starbucks stores have been built or remodeled as part of the new LEED Volume Certification program that Starbucks helped to establish.

When Starbucks first investigated building certification programs, Starbucks found that none were practical for retail. Like many evolving programs and processes that support sustainability, LEED required creativity and effort to fit Starbucks' business model.

But that extra effort did not deter Starbucks. Jim Hanna, Director of Environmental Impact for Starbucks explained that sustainability has been a part of the company's culture since its founding. Starbucks sees the impact of the climate crisis directly on those communities that support its supply chain -- the coffee growers. As a result, the company has stepped up its commitment to doing its part to support these communities.

As a publicly traded company, Starbucks also considers sourcing risks, operational efficiency and brand building when making its green investments. Building more sustainable facilities -- by embracing LEED certification -- achieves all three:

  • Sourcing risks. In the world's most important coffee growing regions, there is already more erosion, increased infestation by pests, and shifts in rainfall that are putting supplies of quality coffee at risk.
  • Operational efficiency. Using energy and other natural resources more efficiently cuts costs.
  • Brand building. Many of its associates and customers appreciate Starbucks' commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.


Since energy use in Starbucks' stores makes up roughly 80 percent of its entire carbon footprint (as reported in Starbucks CSR Report of 2009), a sustainable building program will have significant impact.

Before deciding on a building certification program, Starbucks established objectives, which included sourcing construction materials locally, reducing energy and water utilization, and providing a healthy and inviting environment for employees and customers. Hanna shared that "[Starbucks] settled on LEED, since LEED is consistent with our goals. It also provides third-party verification, is broadly accepted and supports electronic filing."

Selecting LEED was just the first step. Since LEED was designed for office buildings, Starbucks found LEED cumbersome for retail and cost-prohibitive when certifying each store. Hanna stated that "We took our complaints to LEED and they listened intently and then told us to 'go fix it.'" The LEED Retail Committee was founded that went on to enhance the LEED program to better support the retail segment.

Starbucks approach to its green building program is also consistent with its culture of innovation. We can learn from Starbucks to:

1. Invest first where large impact;
2. Set goals and then select the best tools and processes;
3. Tune evolving green tools and processes to fit the organization;


The next time I find myself in Starbucks, I can appreciate that the same care that goes into its latte also went into its sustainable building.

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