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Environmental Pollution of Starbucks

The aim of this paper is to evaluate the impact of Starbucks on the environment, the strategies it has used to reduce its influence and their success level. The data analysis method used in the paper aims at reviewing the literature. One aspect of the company that has contributed to its effects on the environment is the sourcing activities. Coffee farming by its suppliers has the potential to degrade the environment and risk sustainability. The company implemented ethical sourcing by creating standards that all is the suppliers must follow. The approach was successful and has reduced its sourcing activities impact on the environment. The second activity that has contributed to the environmental impact is the use of no-recyclable coffee cups. The cups degrade the environment through slow decomposition. The unsuccessful strategies the company has used include turning used cups into napkins and commitment to fully recyclable cups. The current strategy consists in the creation of totally recyclable cups with the help of a packaging firm. Recommendations to mitigate the impact on the environment include the use of renewable energy sources in the farms as well as lobbying for tax reduction and increase in landfill charges.

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become vital to the survival and sustainability of organizations around the world. One of the areas of CSR is environmental impact of the businesses. It is imperative for all corporations to consider the fact how their activities impact the environment because the environment provides the resources to them. Failure to control the ecological footprint of the firms may lead to degradation of resources and possible exhaustion. When environmental concerns are not addressed, the resources from the environment may become unsustainable, which can threaten the survival of the organizations. Consequently, every corporation that cares about its sustainability must focus on how its activities affect the environment. Starbucks and its activities have impacted the environment indirectly through coffee farming practices and directly by using plastic cups to sell its coffee.


Starbuck Coffee Company is an American corporation that was launched in 1971. After its inception, the company undertook expansion plans that had far-reaching consequences for different stakeholders. The expansion meant that the company had to purchase coffee beans from the farmers residing in different countries. During the course of its operations, the company became aware of its impact on the environment and local communities (Simmons, 2012). One of the greatest concerns was that the demand for coffee beans would lead to deforestation as more farmers searched the land to plant additional coffee plants. Clearing of forests would lead to climate change by reducing the capacity of earth to eliminate carbon dioxide (Werther & Chandler, 2010). Additionally, the company realized that the farming practices used by its supplies could lead to the degradation of the soil and reduce its ability to sustain plants in the long-term. The final and the latest environmental issue was the use of non-recyclable cups to sell coffee. The changes in consumer preferences and tastes have led to environmental concerns. Consumers of various products have become aware of the impact of corporations on the environment and started demanding responsibility for the sourcing and manufacture of products and services. Many customers prefer goods from corporations with the least environmental footprint. The organizations that fail to address such a customer need are likely to lose business as the clients have alternatives from firms that are mindful of the environment. Thus, the concerns have influenced Starbucks to take several steps to mitigate the effects of its operations on the environment.

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Statement of the Problem

The main problem that Starbucks faces is its impact on the environment through its supply chain activities. Since the stakeholders are concerned with the companys impact of the environment, the organization needs to find ways of dealing with the problem. The two areas of concern include the impact of coffee farming on environmental sustainability and the effects of using non-recyclable coffee cups on the environment.

Research Question

The research questions that this paper attempts to answer include:

I. What are the effects of Starbucks sourcing activities on the environment?

II. What is the contribution of Starbucks non-recyclable coffee cups to environmental pollution?

III. What steps has Starbucks taken to reduce the environmental impact and how effective have they been?

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this paper is to assess the impact of Starbucks on the environment, the steps the company has taken to reduce the impact and its effectiveness. Secondly, the paper seeks to provide recommendations on the approaches of reducing the impact on the environment.

The objectives include:

I. To assess the effects of Starbucks on farming practices and their impact on the environment

II. To evaluate the impact of Starbucks coffee cups on the environment

III. To explore the progress of any mitigation strategies

IV. To provide recommendations on the reduction of negative environmental impact and promotion of sustainability

Data Analysis Method

The data analysis method that this paper will utilize is the review of relevant literature on Starbucks activities and how they affect the environment. The choice of literature will depend on its relevance to the ecological footprint of Starbucks and the various stakeholders.

The Literature Review

Ethical Considerations

Although Starbucks has dominated the coffee market for a long time and made significant profits, the company faces ethical issues when sourcing raw materials. According to Peloza & Shang (2011), ethical sourcing is a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged from concerns by theconsumers, environmentalists, communities and shareholders. The concerns come from the fear that unethical sourcing practices by corporations can lead to environmental degradation and unsustainability. Starbucks realized that failure to promote ethical sourcing would negatively impact its reputation and profitability since the clients were likely to shun its products. The coffee beans that constitute the largest raw material for Starbucks are grown in developing countries. Such countries may not have adopted laws that protect the environment from degradation. Others may have the rules but their enforcement may be ineffective. Consequently, the environment is likely to suffer as the farmers focus on the economic benefits while neglecting their impact on the environment. The degradation of the environment that would follow may reduce the ability of the soil to provide the high-quality coffee beans that help Starbucks remain competitive. Therefore, the company had to provide measures in order to reduce the business risk that unethical sourcing posed to its sustainability.

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From 1998, Starbucks created an initiative to promote best practices in coffee farming in partnership with a non-governmental organization known as Conservation International. This cooperation aimed at enhancing the production of coffee while promoting biodiversity. The consequence of the partnership was the formation of Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) practices (Starbucks, 2017). The CAFE practices combine various reporting factors that include an environmental aspect. Consequently, the coffee-growing communities were empowered to improve their production capacity, conserve the environment and promote the restoration of natural habitats. Additionally, the CAFE practices helped the farmers to identify solutions that could help them become resilient when they faced the challenge of climate change(Marie-Christine, 2010). As a result of their partnership, Starbucks has managed to reduce its ecological footprint significantly. Since it only purchases from the farmers who use the CAFE practices, the company has enabled the adoption of such practices, which have significantly reduced its sourcing activities impact on the environment. Although the company has become a market leader in the promotion of environmental conservation, it continues to search the new ways of reducing its environmental impact.

The Impact of the Coffee Cups on the Environment

Having dealt with the effects of coffee farming on the environment, Starbucks faced another challenge that has persisted to date. Many recycling plants do not accept the paper cups that Starbucks uses because their outer lining is plastic. The consequence of having such cups is that they are left in the landfills and can take up to 20 years to decompose fully (Kamenetz, 2010). Consequently, the disposal of such cups has led to environmental degradation. The customers have complained to the company to devise the ways of dealing with the cups. The impact of the cups has become a great concern to the local communities and private organizations, which has led to their partnership aimed at pressuring the company to produce cups with reduced impact on the environment. A non-governmental organization known as As You Sow practices shareholder activism to promote environmental responsibility. In 2010, it filed a shareholder resolution at Starbucks to pressure the company to adopt aggressive measures necessary to address the coffee cup problem. The demands led to several changes discussed in the following paragraph.

Starbucks has taken several steps to reduce the impact of the coffee cups on the environment. First, the company pledged that it would produce totally recyclable cups by the end of 2012. However, they failed to reach the goal and the company faces the same problem currently (Lubin, 2014). Second, the organization partnered with Georgia Pacific to turn the plastic cups into Starbucks napkins after the customers have used them. However, the approach did not achieve the expected results because its success depended on the customers returning of the cups, which the company could not guarantee. Currently, the firm cooperates with Frugalpac, a British packaging company to create fully recyclable cups (Kottasova, 2016). The managers expect that by the end of the partnership, it will have addressed the problem of environmental degradation caused by its coffee cups.


The long-term outlook for the company is promising. Since the impact of the sourcing activities has been successful to a large extent, the only recommendation for Starbucks is to continue pursuing the improvement of CAFE practices by utilizing emerging technologies. Such technologies may include the use of alternative sources of energy, such as solar ones. The use of such energy sources can further reduce the impact of the companys sourcing activities by ensuring that the farmers do not add carbon into the atmosphere (Fellner, 2008). The use of carbon-based fuels in the farms increases the companys carbon footprint, which has several consequences. The carbon released leads to global warming that can cause droughts and famine. Such consequences can result in the unsustainability of coffee farming and Starbuck business model.

The coffee cup problem needs selection of several approaches. One of the factors that limit the ability of companies to adopt recyclable materials is the feasibility of such an action (Kamenetz, 2010). The cost of manufacturing such cups may increase the cost of production to levels that are not feasible. One of the ways to promote the use of the recyclable cups is to lobby legislators to create laws that make the use of recyclable materials affordable. The government through legislation can lower the taxes on companies that use biodegradable materials. Such laws can help the companies, such as Starbucks, to dedicate considerable financial resources to manufacturing coffee cups that have reduced ecological footprint. If the government lowers the taxes to promote the use of recyclable materials, Starbuck should ensure the total use of biodegradable cups.

Non-governmental organizations should lobby the government to increase charges on the landfills. High charges can limit the amount of non-biodegradable coffee cups by discouraging the company from using them. The charges can prompt Starbucks to offer discounts to the customers who reuse their coffee cups (Low & Davenport, 2009). Such an incentive can reduce the impact of the non-recyclable coffee cups.


Starbucks impact on the environment has resulted from the farming practices of its suppliers and the use of non-recyclable coffee cups. The paper was aimed at assessing the impact of the activities on the environment, the mitigation strategies used and their success rate. The data analysis method used was literature review on the Starbuck ecological footprint. The ethical sourcing consideration that Starbuck applies is the CAFE initiative that promotes environmental conservation and restoration of natural habitats. The approach has proved to be successful. The coffee cups degrade the environment by not decomposing fast in the landfills. The solutions that the company has used but failed to succeed include the commitment to 100% recyclable cups by 2012 and the turning of the used cups into napkins. The current approach is collaboration with Frugalpac, which should be effective according to Starbucks. The recommendations to minimize the environmental impact and promote sustainability include the use of renewable energy sources, lobbying for tax reduction and hiking of landfill fees.

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