The Bucks Stop Here

Yesterday, the CEO of a certain Seattle-based coffee business stepped down and mentioned he might get into ‘public service’. Given the rumors of a presidential run, we thought it was time to talk about how Starbucks has served the public since it was founded by three students in 1971 as Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It’s a topic close to my heart; my first job was as a Starbucks barista at the age of 15.

One thing is for sure, Starbucks revolutionized the coffee industry by personalizing the ordering experience (“Grande iced sugar-free soy vanilla latte for Jerry!”), pushing the café as a communal hangout space, and diversifying into other product offerings. Along the way, a commodity like Arabica coffee beans, which cost Starbucks $.50, began retailing for $4 and up, altering how coffee is sold and creating a ridiculous number of coffee shops and franchises.

On the social impact side, Starbucks receives good marks for pay and benefits, especially for part-time workers. But how about its environmental footprint? While Starbucks touts its record of ethical sourcing certifications, ‘organic’ is notably absent from their criteria. What has me preoccupied this week though, as a French man begins a swim through the ‘Great Pacific Garbage patch’, is Starbucks’ plastic packaging. The vast majority of coffee Starbucks sells comes in either transparent plastic cups, lids, and straws or ‘paper’ cups that are lined with plastic. Starbucks has played a major role in popularizing our coffee-on-the-go culture and have used their iconic green straws and packaging as part of this marketing play. Besides being a drain on resources, much of this packaging becomes litter on our streets and then ends up in the ocean.

How much responsibility does the corporation bear here? At Flat World, we believe good business means maintaining the integrity of our environment and not pushing costs onto society. As we look at projections that our oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050, we can say that change at a chain that sells 4 billion cups of coffee per year would be a great start!

Kellen Parker, Vice President

Yesterday was World Environment Day, with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution.” As Indian prime minister Modi called for a crackdown on plastic pollution, the state of Tamil Nadu announced it would ban the use of plastic items, including nonbiodegradable plastic bags beginning in January.

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Because ocean plastic is so diffuse and widespread, we can’t assume science will solve this one for us. But there is evidence designer bacteria may be able to break down plastics. Some businesses are also innovating small fixes like six-pack rings that can feed ocean life. New technology requires new investment — together we can accelerate potential solutions.

Next time you go for your grande latte, bring a reusable cup — or, if you have a few minutes, ask for a dine-in mug and take a load off. Businesses are allowed to serve you beverages like coffee, tea, juice and water in your own container in NYC and other places, and often give discounts or perks when you do. You can also boost plastic collection by supporting something like a bottle bill or certain private initiatives.

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