Saturday, June 13, 2009

Starbucks... My Love-Hate Addiction

Ok. Now that we have determined that traditional, huge coffee companies=bad and that I am sadly addicted to coffee (currently drinking some now!) we can move on to the dichotomy of Starbucks.

Like previously mentioned, it would seem there is a trend for the Lulu's out there to be sipping their Starbucks on their way to a yoga class. I was one of them in Montreal. I had my order down pat- "Un grand, sans crème fouetter mocha, svp" (I lived in the Plateau, no English orders pour moi!). There was something fabulous about the café style atmosphere and the taste of the coffee from that terrible, non-recyclable cup. Eventually I bought a reusable, stainless steel interior mug and to my dismay- the coffee did NOT taste the same from the mug as it did from the cup. Psychological- I know. (recipe for perfect home coffee: French Press, handmade coffee mug from LoveMe Boutique, JustUs! Fair Trade organic coffee beans, grinder, NS non-pasturized honey and Farmers Milk!)

In any case, my habit of drinking coffee pre-yoga class has stopped, mostly because due to my sensitive belly, coffee often disagrees with me (not something I like to experiment with during class). Each year as I switch from hot drinks to cold there is a period of a couple of weeks that I soldier through the inevitable pains of my belly being forced to adjust to the difference (what can I say- I LOVE coffee lol).

Of course, after seeing the `Strong Coffee` documentary, I vowed to wean myself from Starbucks once and for all. Didn't happen- BUT I have found some interesting little tidbits of info on Starbucks that I thought I'd share with you (I know there are closet Starbucks eco-yogi/ni's out there!).

The Good Stuff:
Starbucks does actually buy Fair Trade certified coffee (however they call it "C.A.F.E.: Coffee and Famer Equity practices" and it has been developed by Starbucks- not third party regulated). As of October 2008, Starbucks indicated that they would be doubling their Fair Trade certified coffee purchasing to 40 million pounds in 2009, making them the largest company to buy Fair Trade coffee.

Starbucks also has something they call "Starbucks Shared Planet" (also not third party regulated). Their mission statement: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit- one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time". Their website is super pretty, super suave and reviews a ginormous amount of environmental/ethical/community based involvement and goals. Very persuasive.

Shared Planet even has 2015 goals:
100% of their coffee will be responsibly grown and ethically traded (sounds pretty vague to me...)
100% of their cups will be reusable or recyclable (ouu! now this I like)
we'll contribute 1 million community services hours each year.

Starbucks carries 10% post-consumer fiber cups, which their site claims to have saved 44,000 tons of virgin wood fiber in Canada (soo... no pcf cups in the States?).

They are also working on reducing their water usage (which they have been slammed for recently in the media). According to their site, they will be having a water audit in 2009 and were supposed to have installed hand-meter systems for their continuously running dipper wells this spring.

Starbucks also offers their used coffee grounds (FREE) for your garden! This I have seen in local stores around Halifax, all packaged nicely in non-recyclable bags (they could at least but them in paper compostable bags...). Their goal is more recycling in stores.

The Bad Stuff:
Despite "ethical" sourcing claims, Starbucks' percentage of coffee sold that is Fair Trade certified is only 6% and as far as I've been able to tell, this does not include the coffee they use in regular prepared beverages. If they do manage to double their Fair Trade coffee purchased, this only brings them up to 12%. For a company that is worth billions, you would think they could afford to invest more in third party certified equitable practices. Also- their goal of having 100% of their coffee "ethically grown and sourced" is pretty darn vague. If they get to define "ethical" and "responsible" that could mean pretty well anything.

Although they admit that their dipper wells waste water, they didn't actually state exactly how much on their website. In October of 2008, the British media blasted Starbucks for wasting... get this: 23.4 MILLION litres A DAY. The next time you get your mocha, check out their dipper wells; the little sunken in holder for their temperature gages, spoons and such. There's a tap that runs continuously. The claim: Starbucks uses these cold running water taps to abide by food safety regulations in order to kill bacteria growth that may form. What they don't mention is that there are other ways to clean and prevent bacteria growth, the running water method is only one.

I thought this might be common practice, so the next time I was at Just Us! coffee I asked the barista if they had a dipper well with running water. He looked at me like I had ten heads- "Why would we have that? Do you know how much water that would waste?"

The recycling goal from Shared Planet strikes me as especially odd, as I haven't seen an iota of evidence of any recycling initiative here in Halifax or Nova Scotia, where recycling is mandated by law. Even rural Tim Horton's have three option recycling recepticals in their stores, with traditional garbage bins taped off and no longer used. At the Spring Garden Starbucks, (not far from Lululemon) they used to have a hand written sign asking customers to give the workers their plastic cups because they recycle. It's no longer there.

The final little tidbit to add to the Starbucks sketchiness: they've been sued recently for employee discrimination. Very Wal-Mart-esque. It would seem that Starbucks is anti-union and has been attacked by various organizations for firing employees who participate or support union groups. There are also allegations that Starbucks is anti-homosexual, as they are being sued for firing employees due to sexual orientation. For a company that as part of it's mission statement claims to provide a healthy, fair work environment for it's employees, this strikes a bit hypocritical.

I am totally guilty of buying coffee from Starbucks and even (GASP) drinking it out of the horrible non-recyclable cups! I was mollified slightly after reading all that "Good Stuff" about the company... but soon realized that most likely it's the pretty glossed over baubles that distract me from a profit-driven company. Being only coffee-addicted human, I try to limit my Starbucks experience, drink from their ceramic mugs, ask them where the recycling is at and try to visit JustUs! much more frequently.


  1. I didn't know starbucks was going to audit their water usage! That's great really. I actually read an online discussion on the issue of their ever-running sinks and it was surprising to see how many people assumed that when you leave a tap on ALL water that goes down the drain gets recycled into potable freshwater in some kind of infinite closed system. Apparently we still need to educate people on how not to waste water, and thats kinda sad.

  2. Such a tangled situation...once again, as most eco-wranglings are.

    I'm not a Starbucks person - (see comment on previous post) - but I agree that with the buying power they have and with the flock of loyal addicts, um, I mean, customers :) they have - I really can't see WHY they can't implement all of those changes PROPERLY. Surely, they'd still be making a profit on the $6 coffee?

  3. I have heard through Transition LA that here in the states our waste management companies do not use to correct dirt to garbage ratio to break down the beloved paper cup... Sadly it will sit in U.S. land fills for about 50 to 100 years. This is not Starbucks fault. I pass this on so people can choose paper, ceramic mug, travel mug or to obstain! ;-)

    I enjoy a good cup of coffee and I love the experience of a cafe but try very hard to support local cafes and coffee shops. This is sooo hard when we have a Starbucks right in the lobby of our building! Thank goodness with a perpetual line out the door directing me to keep away! Haha;-)) Om

  4. Just think about the people you are literally turning into slaves, by giving the bad guys YOUR money, all this transnationals are the same: coke, shell, monsanto.. Just check out what they are doing to the amazons and the recent killing of peruvian indigens trying to protect the amazons, just check out what they are doing with soy in brazil, uruguay, etc. I'm proudly latin american and proudly haven't touched a coke in 10 years. We all can make this world better, making just the odd stop in starbucks is not good enough, compared to all the people you are affecting by supporting this market, bring your fair trade coffee from home..

  5. xio: actually I do bring my fair trade from home. :)


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.