Starbucks sustainability lead urges others to make the business case
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
While the whipped cream on top accounts for a bigger slice of the company's carbon footprint, recycling the cup is Starbucks' most visible sustainability goal.
Jim Hanna offered advice to a roomful of environmental professionals Wednesday: Find your own cup.
No, Starbucks Coffee Company's director of environmental impact and global responsibility wasn't referring to a the travel mug he hopes you'll bring into your local Starbucks and fill with steaming coffee — though he hopes you'll do that too.
What Hanna, who spoke at the Northwest Environmental Conference and Tradeshow, was talking about was Starbucks' crusade to implement widespread recycling of its disposable coffee cups by 2015.
As it turns out, the 4 billion disposable cups that Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) churns through every year, represent a miniscule slice of the company's overall carbon footprint. The bulk of its emissions — about 75 percent, Hanna said — are attributed to store operations. Another measurable chunk comes from the nitrous oxide in whipped cream. (Fun fact: That nitrous oxide accounts for a larger slice of the company's carbon footprint than all of its U.S. roasting operations combined.)
But the cup is what people see: Littering streets and tossed into overflowing garbage cans.
"In this case perception is reality," Hanna said.
In order to gain the loyalty of customers and have the opportunity to tell the story about Starbucks other efforts to operate more sustainably, it is imperative that Starbucks fix the cup problem.
Which is what Hanna implored others in the audience to do at their own companies: Find the imperative problem and work toward a solution.
"If the only reason you're invested in sustainability is because it's the 'right thing to do,' you're in trouble," Hanna said.
For sustainability initiatives to be successful, they have to have a business case.
What's Starbucks' case? Climate change.
The coffee giant's business depends on the coffee bean, which grows in specific climates that are in jeopardy as temperatures rise.
"We're the canary in the coalmine," Hanna said.
Starbucks was a founding member of BICEP, the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy. The Portland Trail Blazers became the first sports franchise to join the organization last year.
To reduce emissions, Starbucks has pledged that all new stores will be LEED-certified and is also working to improve energy and water efficiency in existing stores. Starbucks is working with PECI and a Washington utility in a pilot program to improve efficiency by pitting stores against each other in a power-saving competition.
"My dream is that we solve the cup issue and a customer walks into a store and says, 'Look at that ultra-efficient air conditioning unit," Hanna said.
Starbucks' heft — Hanna said Wednesday the company serves 60 million customers per week and has 155,000 employees working at 17,000 retail stores in 60 countries — makes it an easy target for bad press making its commitment to sustainability even more pertinent.
As Hanna advised his audience a focus on metrics and transparency will help businesses avoid greenwashing.
In short, Hanna said, "Focus on what matters."
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