Ever since the popular coffee giant brewed the first cup of Starbucks coffee for retail customers in 1971, it has attracted die-hard fans right along with die-hard critics. What began as a single store in Seattle grew to more than 16,000 stores worldwide, causing some to wonder if Starbucks and the environment were at odds, or if the company cared for Planet Earth as much as they cared for its quickly growing stock.

As the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world, the company has succeeded in building an empire on a pile of beans. And while the beans have always been ethically sourced, there are other areas where Starbucks had to do some major green tweaking. But tweak they did, and these days Starbucks and the environment go hand in hand — or recycled cup in hand.

Water use

For those who followed the news back in 2008, the company was lambasted first in the U.K. and then all over America for keeping its under-counter faucets (dipper wells) running constantly in all 10,000 stores — amounting to 2 million gallons of water wasted per day. Headlines ran amuck accusing Starbucks of neglectful waste and seriously depleting water supplies. What no one mentioned was that since 2007, the company had been working to find a water-saving solution that did not compromise health standards.

A solution was found and implemented in 2009, and the company announced a goal of reducing water waste 25 percent by 2015. New manually operated hand-meter faucets have been installed in all company owned stores in the U.S., saving about 150 gallons of water per store each day. And in many markets, a blast of high pressure water cleans blender pitchers instead of an open tap.

Waste management and recycling

For a company that produces more than 2 billion paper cups a year, Starbucks has a lot of work to do to keep the landfills from overflowing with grandes and ventis. Waste reduction was first tackled by the company in 1997, when it developed recycled-content cup sleeves to protect customers from hot beverages and avoid the waste of "double cupping."

A decade later, Starbucks created and launched the industry’s first hot beverage paper cup with 10 percent post-consumer recycled fiber. In the following year, Starbucks rolled out a new plastic cup that has less of an environmental impact. They also began offering ceramic mugs and a discount to those who brought their own reusable cups. In 2009, the company served 4.4 million more beverages in reusable cups than in the previous year.

Taking waste management a step further and prompted by a grassroots effort on behalf of customers, Starbucks began offering free recycled coffee grounds for use as nutrient-rich compost. The grounds are packed in recycled coffee bags, marked as compost, and carried out the door by customers who’ve realized that what perks them up so effectively can do the same for their garden.

Green building

As part of Starbucks’ long-term commitment to environmental stewardship, the company entered into a pilot program with the U.S. Green Building Council to reduce the environmental impact of its stores on a global scale with significant cost and time efficiencies. They have also implemented an LED lighting conversion program, the result of an alliance with GE Consumer & Industrial to develop a solution that will help reduce energy consumption as well as utility and maintenance costs at Starbucks stores around the world.

“To reduce the impact our stores have on the planet,” Starbucks says, “we're designing and building them with locally sourced products, reusing or recycling materials where we can, and finding ways to lower the amount of water and energy we consume.” The first LEED-certified Starbuck’s store in Seattle blends the feel of an old-fashioned dime store with high-efficiency lighting, appliances, and water systems. 

Green partnerships and awards

Starbuck’s environmental efforts have not gone unnoticed. They ranked third on the EPA’s National Top 20 Retail list of largest green power purchasers, and fourth on both the National Top 50 and Fortune 500® lists. Newsweek magazine named Starbucks the greenest company in the Travel and Leisure sector, while Ethisphere magazine lists Starbucks as the only café and restaurant to earn the magazine's designation as one of the world’s most ethical companies.

The carbon footprint of Starbuck’s supply chain is expected to shrink over the next few years, as Maersk implements its industry-leading move of verifying carbon emissions per vessel. As one of Maersk’s larger customers, Starbucks can track CO2 data to promote transparency and accountability and pursue a shared goal of reducing carbon emissions.

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