Starbucks’ Newest Promotion

Last month I wrote an article discussing the retail chain H&M’s newest “green themed” initiative. This month, I’m going to overview a new initiative by America’s favorite luxury coffee chain, Starbucks, who is trying to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing the waste their customers produce. Starbucks is one of America’s most beloved brands. With over 11,000 stores in the United States alone, it seems like you can’t walk a city block without running into one of their infamous $3+ cup of joe shops.

Starbucks has made it a goal to serve 5 percent of beverages made in store in personal tumblers (reusable) by 2015. The goal had originally been for 25% but Starbucks has readjusted their goal to be more realistic. To attain this goal Starbucks has started a new initiative and starting this week, Starbucks will be selling reusable coffee cups for a dollar. The reusable cups are designed to look like Starbucks regular paper cups except they are made out of plastic. The cups will be available in 16 0z and 12 Oz size, or grande and tall for those of you who like to use Starbucks terminology.  Customers, who use reusable cups, whether they are the NEW Starbucks reusable cups or their own cups from home, will receive a 10 cent discount per fill and Starbucks will steam clean the cup.

Starbucks has been providing a discount to customers who bring their own cups since 1985. Over the last 3 years, Starbucks has increased reusable cup usage by 55%. In 2011 customers brought in reusable cups 34 million times, about 2% of sales, which is equal to saving 1.5 million pounds of paper from landfills.

In October Starbucks tested the new reusable cup initiative in 600 stores in the Pacific Northwest. Starbucks found a 26% boost in reusable cup usage compared to a similar time period in 2011. Whether this trend will last long term is yet to be seen.

Starbucks uses 4 billion disposable cups a year. Though this seems like an exorbitant amount of cups, the making of cups is only a small portion of Starbucks carbon footprint.  The majority of Starbucks carbon emissions, 75%, are attributed to store operations. Surprisingly one of the biggest contributors to Starbucks’ carbon emissions is the nitrous oxide used in the whip cream.

Being that cups are such a miniscule aspect of Starbucks carbon footprint, why is Starbucks focusing so hard on them? Cups are the most visible aspect of the brand. If you see a cup discarded on the street, which is a regular occurrence, it reflects poorly on Starbucks. By reinforcing the use of reusable cups Starbucks not only greens their image, they also make some improvement on their impact.

To be fair, Starbucks is also making less visible changes to their business module to improve their environmental impact. Some initiatives include reducing water usage, using HVAC systems that use less energy, and improving the materials that their disposable cups are made of.  Starbucks has a lot invested in the environment (climate change may severely impact the growth of coffee beans) and will most likely continue to try to make changes to reduce their carbon footprint.

Coffee Cup via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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