Starbucks and Sustainability: The True Cost of Your Morning Latte.

If you drink coffee, you have most likely had a coffee from Starbucks. Even if Starbucks is not your go-to, or you can’t answer the question “what is your drink?”, you are still affected by this massive company. Since it was started as a small shop in Seattle, it has grown to have over 7,300 company-operated stores and more than 4,600 licensed stores. With all of this massive expansion they have needed to create a massive supply chain. Today, there are about a million farmers that help to produce the coffee that Starbucks sells every year. However, when a customer walks in and orders a coffee drink that can be more than ten words long, they are not thinking about where the coffee came from or how that farmer is treated.

In order to work towards a sustainable supply chain, Starbucks has partnered with Conservation International and has started C.A.F.E., which stands for Coffee and Farmer Equity. Through these organizations they have tried to help the farmer to grow a more sustainable product. They have used strategies described in this video, including preventing deforestation, making soil more fertile, protecting watersheds and water quality, and reducing the inputs needed to produce their product.

Even though Starbucks does their best to look out for the best interest of their farmers, they clearly greenwash their company. They make sure to note that their cups and sleeves are contain post-consumer recycled fiber and they website is full of videos and articles about their sustainable practices. However, as Sarah Lozanova writes in her article “Starbucks Coffee: Green or Greenwashed”, “the coffee industry is inherently unsustainable”. According to this article it takes 140 liters of water to produce every cup of coffee. We tend not to think of this issue when we order favorite beverage every day, but it is the reality. Comparatively, it takes between 13,000 and 15,000 liters of water to produce a single kilogram of grain-fed beef (IFAD). Having this knowledge is unlikely to change human behavior because Starbucks and other companies greenwash their business so effectively through advertising spending. However, do you think if activist groups spent just as much money on awareness spending people might change their habits? Do you think there may come a day that the government is forced to limit per capita consumption of certain foods to protect our water supply?

Image from NBC News

2 thoughts on “Starbucks and Sustainability: The True Cost of Your Morning Latte.”

  1. Do people drink more coffee than they did pre-Starbucks? If not, then it is the same coffee farmers as before, just selling to Starbucks.

    I read once that oil and coffee are the tow most-traded global commodities. Two black liquid fuels…


  2. You have good points about Starbucks green-washing their company… I could see an environmentally conscious customer paying more for a cup of coffee from Starbucks because they advertise the use of recycled goods and a competitor does not. I don’t know a ton about coffee, but it is also my understanding that Starbucks has done a great job of campaigning for free-trade coffee and done other good things for the coffee industry. Is this true, or am I victim to their greenwashing as well?


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