Starbucks’ self-imposed goal of offering recycling options to its customers in U.S. and Canadian stores by mid-decade is looking like a tall order.
In 2008, the Seattle coffee giant, which prides itself on a humane approach to the pursuit of profit, declared that implementing so-called “front-of-store” recycling of cups and other waste in all its North American stores would be a “single, universal solution” to mitigate its environmental impact.
But in a report released Wednesday, Starbucks says that has proved more difficult than it thought. The reason: Different cities across Starbucks’ sprawling footprint have varying degrees of zeal when it comes to recycling. And there’s not a market for coffee-stained paper cups everywhere.
So now, without abandoning in-store recycling bins, Starbucks will look at other, more realistic ways to further its environmental goals.
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“We have struggled to implement this single solution in local markets across the entire Starbucks portfolio,” Starbucks wrote in its annual “global responsibility report.”
“While we continue to work to increase the availability of front-of-store recycling where we can, we cannot do this work alone. Going forward we will explore new ways to lower our impact.”
That’s not to say Starbucks hasn’t made progress. In 2013, front-of-store recycling was available in 39 percent of its U.S. and Canadian stores, a big improvement from the 24 percent reported in 2012 and 5 percent in 2010. But that’s still a long way from its 100 percent goal for 2015.
Moreover, only 71 percent of those locations were able to recycle or compost paper cups made for hot beverages, which are the bulk of Starbucks’ business.
A big part of the challenge is that for cups to be called recyclable, local recyclers must be able to collect them, process them and sell them to paper mills and other manufacturers, something that doesn’t happen everywhere, Starbucks’ director of environmental Jim Hanna said. From a material standpoint, “the cups we use are pretty recyclable already,” he said.
Starbucks has also been prodding coffee drinkers to bring their own tumblers by offering a discount. It also sells cheap reusable cups and has been tweaking its store design to feature mugs more prominently — so clients who drink their beverage in the store may opt for those instead.
Starbucks’ struggle to accomplish its recycling goal highlights the difficulty of controlling the environmental costs of a growing, sprawling business.
Part of the reason is that the business itself is also shifting. For example, in 2008 it set out to reduce power consumption in stores by 25 percent by 2015. Two years from the deadline, electricity use has dropped only 7.1 percent. One factor is that Starbucks is expanding its food offerings and uses electricity-hogging ovens more often than before.
“Frankly, the nature of the business has changed over the years since we set that target,” Hanna said.
The company’s responsibility report card also highlighted areas where the coffee giant improved. For example, 95 percent of its beans were deemed ethically sourced, up from 93 percent in 2012. The goal is 100 percent by 2015.
The company also said that it halted its relationships with 17 factories that didn’t meet its labor, transparency and environmental guidelines for store merchandise and other items.
Fifteen of those factories were being considered by Starbucks as potential merchandise suppliers, and most of them failed to meet the company’s transparency standards, said Kelly Goodejohn, ethical sourcing director. Those transparency requirements include allowing Starbucks to perform surprise inspections of their records and to interview employees confidentially.
Two of the facilities were factories that had been manufacturing products for Starbucks but failed to improve over time according to Starbucks’ guidelines. Most of the factories Starbucks broke up with were in China, although there were facilities in Thailand, India and Bulgaria, Goodejohn said.
Ángel González: 206-464-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle