Innovation, Cup by Cup: The Starbucks Sustainability Approach
3 Min Read By Sridhar Deivasigamani
Starbucks recently announced that it aims to have every customer either use their own personal mug or cup or borrow a reusable cup from their local Starbucks — by 2025.
The company is testing a variety of programs to determine what will most effectively reduce waste while keeping customers satisfied. This change will directly contribute to the coffee chain’s 2030 sustainability goals to conserve water usage by 50 percent and achieve carbon neutral green coffee.
Waste is an immense issue within the restaurant industry, and Starbucks itself distributes over six billion single-use cups each year — most of which are unable to be recycled and end up directly in landfills or the environment. Meanwhile, the entire restaurant industry struggles immensely with waste from single-use plastics.
According to the EPA, food and packaging/containers account for almost 45 percent of the materials in landfills in the United States. This number has only grown in the past few years as the pandemic pushed restaurants to implement extensive carry-out options and provide more single-use, non-recyclable utensils, bags, and containers.
When people look for sustainability within the restaurant industry, they usually look for restaurants that provide sustainably sourced food and/or offer reusable cups, utensils, and environmentally sensitive packaging.
My vision as a climate advocate and inventor-turned-entrepreneur is to create innovations that reduce environmental impact. Too often we let outdated thinking prevent rapid progress: we assume that if something is better or more sustainable, it must cost more and take longer to gain traction.
With clever engineering and perseverance, we can overcome the challenges of implementing more sustainable technologies. We can reduce environmental impact while offering economic returns and compelling value propositions.
When people look for sustainability within the restaurant industry, they usually look for restaurants that provide sustainably sourced food and/or offer reusable cups, utensils, and environmentally sensitive packaging. But what goes on behind the scenes, including water usage, HVAC, and commercial building systems, is just as important as a restaurant’s consumer-facing practices.
Water used in hotels and restaurants accounts for almost 15 percent of the total water usage in commercial and institutional facilities in the United States. And the majority of that figure — 52 percent, to be exact — takes place in the kitchen within restaurants, largely for dishwashing. So, as companies switch to reusable packaging, silverware, and dishes, as Starbucks is trying to do, hot water usage is only going to increase as these companies must wash more dishes.
That’s why holistic, sustainable innovation is so important.
One of the best and most effective ways of cutting CO2 emissions is to use less energy. Implementing water-efficient practices in commercial facilities can decrease energy use by 10 percent, operating costs by almost 11 percent, and water use by 15 percent.
But what goes on behind the scenes, including water usage, HVAC, and commercial building systems, is just as important as a restaurant’s consumer-facing practices.
Saving money and being sustainable are not mutually exclusive, and restaurants can realize the universal benefits of making the switch to more sustainable practices and a holistic approach to using less energy.
The switch to more sustainable practices isn’t an easy one, and the perceived price increase is often what deters many businesses. But switching to sustainable practices is not actually as expensive as we are made to believe.
With sustainability becoming a main goal among the world over the past 10 years, sustainable innovation has embedded itself into practically every industry. And the further holistic, sustainable innovations advance, the less expensive it will be for businesses to make the switch to sustainable practices. That is why innovators cannot stop trying to find solutions to the ever-increasing problems that negatively impact our environment.
Holistic sustainability needs to be the main driver of innovation. Not only do innovators have a responsibility to the planet and society to create environmentally friendly products and systems, but new innovations that do not fall in line with sustainability goals will soon be impractical and of no use to businesses and society.
So, industry innovators, I challenge you to focus on bringing more holistic solutions to bear that improve performance, cut costs, and reduce environmental impact. Starbucks is showing the restaurant industry that it is possible to make bold choices to improve the sustainability of an organization while still delivering value and reducing costs. We should all work to follow its example.