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The goal is for them to run on renewables

Tim Nelson
September 14, 2018

It’s hurricane season, a time when Americans are most acutely aware of the looming threats of long-term climate change and increasingly extreme weather. With the Trump Administration announcing its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords last year, it’s easy for the situation to feel rather hopeless. Moving on from plastic straws is a start, but it’s ultimately a case of shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Fortunately, at least one company that’s already announced such a ban seems poised to take a bigger swing at tackling our dire climate problems.

While on a panel at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced the coffeehouse chain’s pledge to operate 10,000 “greener stores” around the globe by the year 2025. Starbucks aims to hit that target through a combination of new construction and retrofitting its existing locations with sustainable materials and green tech.

The move isn’t a sudden shift, but an extension of existing efforts. Starbucks has partnered with the US Green Building Council in the past, and currently operates 1,500 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified stores across the US and in 19 other countries.

The 2025 push isn’t about meeting LEED standards, but exceeding them. Over the next year, Starbucks will codify its “Greener Stores Framework” in partnership with SCS Global Services and the World Wildlife Fund. A primary goal is to power these greener stores exclusively with renewable energy.The framework will likely also specify certain reusable, low-impact building materials and recommended practices geared toward improving local air and water quality.

As with most corporate sustainability measures, the move isn’t purely altruistic. CNBC estimates that the greener stores will save Starbucks $50 million in utility payments over a ten year span. And given that climate change could end up shrinking the world’s coffee supply, getting greener is an effort to ensure Starbucks’ core business model is still viable in the future.

From Johnson’s perspective, reducing costs while reducing Starbucks’ CO2 output can—and should— go hand in hand. "One of our social impact pillars is sustainability," he said in his Global Climate Action Summit panel appearance, according to a company news item. "We are a company in that believes, in the fabric of mission and values, that the pursuit of profit is not in conflict with the pursuit of doing good.”

From the sound of it, Johnson doesn’t want Starbucks’ sustainability efforts to stop at straws and stores, either. During his time on the panel, he also mentioned his desire to make coffee the world’s first 100% sustainable crop, grown and sourced using ethical practices. Given the complexities of the global supply chain, that’s certainly a daunting task even for a business with as much purchasing power as Starbucks. But at the very least, it’s good to know that the most ubiquitous coffee chain on the planet will attempt to do its part to avert climate disaster before we’re paddling kayaks to go get our morning coffee.  

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