In 2020, Starbucks committed to a resource-positive future, formalising environmental goals to cut its carbon, water, and waste footprints by half.
As a progression against those goals, the company has committed to Carbon Neutral Green Coffee and to conserve water usage in green coffee processing by 50 per cent, both by 2030.
Starbucks purchases coffee from more than 400,000 farmers in 30 countries around the world, and it says it’s committed to a sustainable future for coffee.
“As we celebrate 50 years of Starbucks, we are looking ahead at ways we can reimagine the future and continue to inspire and nurture the human spirit,” says Michelle Burns, Senior Vice President of Global Coffee, Tea and Cocoa at Starbucks.
“For farmers and their communities, we know it is critical we work together to address the challenges they face associated with climate change which are making it increasingly difficult to grow high-quality coffee. By reducing carbon emissions and conserving water, we can help farmers be more productive while we are also contributing to a better planet and bringing coffee to customers in a sustainable way.”
Accelerating Sustainable Coffee
From the beginning, Starbucks says it has been a leader in sourcing coffee responsibly.
These coffee-specific environmental goals are an extension of work underway with CAFE (coffee and farmer equity) Practices. Starbucks says evidence shows that farmers participating in the program have higher productivity than the country averages. This has helped Starbucks create a long-term supply of high-quality coffee while positively impacting the lives of coffee farmers and their communities.
Now, in support of the company’s path to a ‘Planet Positive’ future, Starbucks is focusing on its carbon and water footprints at origin – or what Starbucks refers to as “the first ten feet” (farm to port).
With this focus on on-farm activities and land use change, Starbucks is addressing its largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in coffee before the rest of the coffee value chain, such as transportation, roasting, or packaging.
“A strong model for corporate climate leadership; Starbucks has developed clear and ambitious targets that prioritise sustainability from farmer to customer,” says Dr. M Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International.
“Just as significantly, they are backing these commitments with immediate actions to reduce their footprint and invest in nature. I encourage other companies to follow a similar path. It’s good for business, good for people, and essential for our climate.”
Carbon Neutral Green Coffee
Starbucks will work to meet its 2030 target of carbon neutral green coffee, reducing GHG emissions in coffee at origin then compensating for any remaining emissions, by deploying three primary strategies:
- Decreasing carbon emissions in Starbucks supply chain by equipping farmers with precision agronomy tools.
Through Starbucks Farmer Support Centers and a new soil scanning mobile app, the company is helping farmers understand the specific nutrients and fertiliser needed to increase farm productivity. More than 11,500 soil and foliar samples have been collected to date. With these custom, farm-specific solutions, farmers can target and decrease fertiliser use – which helps to decrease carbon emissions on their farms – and increase farm productivity.
- Promoting and distributing climate-resistant tree varietals.
With Starbucks open-source agronomy approach, the company shares research, seeds, and seedlings with farmers all around the world, helping farmers to adapt to climate change. These climate-resistant varietals are rust-resistant and enable farmers to grow more coffee on the same amount of land, which then helps to reduce overall carbon emissions.
- Protecting and restoring at-risk forests in key coffee landscapes.
Starbucks says land use change and deforestation are the greatest climate risks facing the coffee industry. Working in partnership with Conservation International, Starbucks will invest in forest and landscape protection and restoration programs in coffee producing countries, starting in Colombia and Peru. These agroforestry efforts will not only remove carbon and support the carbon neutral pathway, but also will benefit freshwater ecosystems and coffee communities.
Water Conservation at Origin
Traditional coffee processing is water intensive. With 200,000 wet mills in the CAFÉ Practice supply chain, Starbucks has an opportunity to conserve water by ensuring farmers have access to more environmentally friendly machines, which also standardises quality and increases processing efficiency for farmers.
Starbucks will achieve 50 per cent conservation in water usage by 2030 by:
- Conserving water by directly investing in new ecological wet mills (eco-mills) for CAFE Practice farms.
Over the last year, Starbucks purchased nearly 600 eco-mills that have been distributed to coffee farms in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Kenya, and Rwanda. The result has been up to 80 per cent water savings in coffee processing where installed.
- Investing to make current water processing technology and machinery even more efficient.
Through Starbucks Tryer Center, we are working with suppliers to explore improvements to existing water processing machinery and technology. Meanwhile, through our Farmer Support Centers, we are conducting research and gathering insights from farmers to inform future machine design and operations.
- Developing water replenishment projects in coffee communities.
As part of Starbucks long-term water strategy, the company will develop water replenishment projects at origin, with a focus on communities and basins with high water risk.
Work in Action
Over the last year, Starbucks launched programs in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, and Kenya to test its carbon and water strategies impacting more than 92,000 farms. In addition to investing in new, water-conserving wet mills, Starbucks worked with farmers to gather more than 11,500 soil and foliar samples to inform soil health.
Based on the success of these initial pilots, Starbucks is now expanding the program to Colombia and launching a new, holistic sustainability project with 100 smallholder farmers in Nariño, Colombia. Over a five-year period, the Nariño project will combine the best of Starbucks knowledge and resources on regenerative agriculture, precision agronomy, and farm economics.
Farmers will receive hands-on support including customized, in-depth agricultural and business education and training to best manage their crops and land. They will also receive new equipment and facilities to optimise for reduced water use and carbon emissions and new, climate-resistant coffee seedlings to replace unproductive trees.
This project and partnership with Starbucks will help farmers increase their productivity, quality and profitability while decreasing the environmental footprint generated from coffee growing and processing.
Measuring and scaling work
Starbucks says the most pressing issues in coffee cannot be solved by one company alone, and that the best solutions require everyone coming together to collaborate in providing a better future for farmers.
Starbucks is working with Conservation International, and others, to advise and evolve its carbon neutral coffee roadmap and measurement methodology. Starbucks will share its learnings to help the entire industry.
Starbucks has also joined the United Nations Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, a CEO-led coalition, as well as the Water Resilience Coalition to elevate its corporate water agenda and partner with other leading companies on collective action projects in key basins around the world.
“On behalf of the CEO Water Mandate team, I am proud to welcome Starbucks to the Water Resilience Coalition’s leadership committee and to working together to advance water stewardship in key basins,” says Jason Morrison, Head of the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate.
“This is in line with Starbucks aspiration to be resource-positive and a longstanding history of sustainability work, particularly with coffee farmers on climate-and-water smart agriculture practices. We look forward to having Starbucks join this cohort of leading companies to collectively tackle watershed health issues that will enable more resilient supply chains and farming communities around the world.”
Starbucks will continue to measure its overall carbon and water footprint and share progress annually in its Global Environmental Social Impact Report. The company is also working with the Science Based Targets initiative to validate the 2030 corporate sustainability goals, inclusive of green coffee.
Image: Joshua Trujillo