How Starbucks hopes to trim its emissions footprint.
Starbucks wants to go on a carbon-lite diet. But oh, it's hard.
In its shop in downtown San Mateo, Calif., for instance, baristas serve up about 40,000 cups of coffee drinks every month. Just based on utility bills alone, that means Starbucks is serving up about 4,900 pounds of carbon with its drinks--or about two ounces per cup.
Starbucks executives say they are looking for ways to trim those carbon emissions. But they are reluctant to say just how much Starbucks' worldwide carbon footprint is--and how it has changed over the past few years. Starbucks has calculated the carbon footprint of its North American locations only once, in 2003. Since then, its number of U.S. company-owned stores has almost doubled to 6,281. Its international company-owned locations, also left out of the calculation, now number more than 1,500.
"Although we have grown in size, the nature of our business remains the same--the operation of retail stores and roasting coffee," says Jim Hanna, environmental affairs manager at Starbucks in Seattle. While Starbucks chooses not to calculate its carbon footprint every year, the company does conduct annual progress checks, but these numbers are not publicly reported.
Other eco-friendly companies are also surprising coy. Last month, for instance, Google led a group of 40 other companies (including Starbucks) in kicking off the "Climate Savers Computing Initiative," a project aimed at building and buying more energy-efficient PCs.
But Google refuses to disclose its own carbon footprint. "This is important competitive information that relates to the details of our operations," says Google's Bill Weihl, the engineer in charge of the company's energy strategy.
Google is nonetheless keeping a watch on the size of its carbon footprint and hopes to achieve “carbon neutrality” by the end of this year by using non-carbon energy sources for much of its power needs and purchasing carbon offsets for the rest. Recently, Google flipped the switch on 1.6 megawatts of solar power modules on the roof of its Mountain View headquarters.
Starbucks was early among eco-sensitive companies. Executives became convinced early in this decade that atmospheric carbon could wreak havoc on the global climate--and so on the supply and price of coffee beans. "We're facing environmental risks posed by climate change that could negatively affect many aspects of our company, including our ability to procure coffee," Hanna says.
Temperature and rainfall dictate how much coffee comes out of regions including Latin America and Asia. "As we hope to increase to 40,000 stores worldwide in the next 10 years, we're going to need a larger supply," Hanna says.
In 2003, Starbucks hired Denver-based engineering firm CH2M Hill to calculate the carbon footprint of the approximately 3,700 stores it then had in North America. CH2M Hill began measuring corporate footprints in the late 1990s and has done comparable calculations for a few dozen companies, including Nike, 3M, SC Johnson and energy firm Kinder Morgan.
Doing such calculations is still something of a black art. CH2M Hill's Lisa Grice, who worked on the coffee company's carbon footprint, says the final number primarily includes electricity used in retail stores. Carbon calculators take into account stores' geographic locations. That's because electricity generated at power plants in one state may come from a different source than a power plant in another state. Some stores may get electricity from coal-fired plants, which results in greater carbon emissions, while others may depend on hydroelectric power, which has a lower carbon byproduct.
Starbucks decided to leave out the additional 81,000 tons of carbon dioxide it emitted through transporting coffee materials and disposing solid waste. According to Starbucks Environmental Affairs Manager Ben Packard, the company can only control and manage carbon emissions from energy used in retail stores and coffee-roasting plants.
It took about half a year of data collection and complex calculations to figure out that Starbucks emitted 295,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere in 2003. Starbucks decided to leave out an additional 81,000 tons of carbon dioxide it emitted by transporting coffee materials and disposing of solid waste. According to Starbucks Environmental Affairs Manager Ben Packard, the company can only control and manage carbon emissions from energy used in retail stores and coffee-roasting plants.
Starbucks attributes 81% of its greenhouse gas emissions to purchased electricity and 18% to coffee roasting at its three North American plants and natural gas usage in stores.
That 295,000-ton figure gives Starbucks a small carbon footprint, among a list of about 1,000 companies compiled by the Carbon Disclosure Project, a London-based nonprofit. Near the top of the list is energy giant American Electric Power with 146.5 million tons of carbon emissions. Next in line are oil and gas companies Royal Dutch/Shell and British Petroleum with 105 million tons and 92 million tons.
Comparatively, General Electric's 12.4 million ton footprint makes it a medium-size emitter. The smallest carbon emitters weighed in at a few thousand tons. Most of the lower footprints belong to insurance companies, retailers and banks.
Starbucks execs say that even as they've been growing the number of outlets, they've been trying to be more energy efficient. In 2005, Starbucks joined the World Research Institute's Green Power Market Development Group, a consortium of 15 companies ranging from Staples to Google. The group helps its members purchase renewable energy at lower prices. Last year, the coffee company increased its wind power to 20% of the total energy usage in North American stores. This offset 62,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
But to track progress in reducing carbon emissions accurately, companies need to update those footprints frequently, says Marcus Peacock of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We've asked companies to check their numbers annually," he says.
A number of companies are doing just that. Both Intel and Sun Microsystems, which are also part of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, report their carbon footprints annually. Intel's carbon footprint added up to 4 million tons in 2006, a number that includes worldwide operations. Sun first calculated its footprint at 255,000 tons last year, and used past data to figure out carbon emissions dating back four years. The company also reports up-to-date carbon numbers on its Web site.
"We calculate this monthly so that we can make sure we're on track with improving emissions," says Sun's VP of Eco Responsibility Dave Douglas.
Both Intel and Sun are part of the EPA's Climate Leaders Program, a group of companies that sets tangible carbon reduction goals. Climate Leaders began five years ago, when few companies even knew the meaning of carbon footprint. Now, the program boasts 132 members.
In the meantime, Starbucks executives insist they are looking for ways to improve energy efficiency and encourage their customers to do the same. This summer, Starbucks told its customers to go green through a number of high-profile campaigns, including "Green Umbrellas for a Green Cause" and the online Planet Green Game (planetgreengame.com). Starbucks will also start monitoring the energy usage of specific equipment at some stores later this year. "We'll install individual meters on espresso machines, refrigerators, water filtration systems and other components," Hanna says.
This doesn't necessarily mean you'll see a green espresso maker at a Starbucks near you anytime soon. "Quality and performance come first," Hanna says.