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Corporate sustainability is often simply a greenwashed paradox in which an organization attempts to offset their environmental and humanitarian effects through positive voluntary initiatives to assist communities, even if the essence of the business is, at its core, unsustainable. These green ingenuities support a growing market of ethical consumers who vote with their wallets by preferring to consume products whose parent companies are shown to put time and money back into the resources they are exploiting. This developing public interest in the origins of their food and drink has also drawn attention to the specific ethical practices and overall environmental footprint of global corporations. Starbucks Coffee Company, founded in 1970 and currently boasting over 15,000 stores across 50 countries, is a quintessential exemplification of the diverse complexity of considerations when determining a corporation’s sustainable business agenda, or its corporate sustainability. Utilising Dunphy’s Model, it is possible to determine Starbucks position on sustainability in regards to both environmental and humanitarian efforts and effects as a global company, including considerations of greenwashing. Vital arguments to emphasise are the contradictions surrounding Starbucks main marketing focuses: disposable coffee cups, physical stores, ethical resource traceability, and prominent charity and political campaigns.
As a global corporation which sources from mainly third-world countries, consumers expect Starbucks to address sustainability and ethical challenges proactively from the beginning of the raw product supply chain to the lifecycle ending of all packaging waste. This sense of corporate social responsibility is clearly prominent on Starbucks most iconic product – the billions of coffee cups each year which promote Starbucks logo and boast 10% post-consumer recycled content, yet ironically cannot be recycled by most recycling plants due to polyethylene plastic coating which results in environmentally-detrimental landfill. In a related effort to fulfil a 2010 pledge to serve 25% of drinks in reusable cups by 2015, $1 plastic tumblers have been introduced with a 10c discount incentive for customers who use their own cup. Contradictory to Starbucks extensively marketed sustainability campaigns, the low charge of the tumblers are due to cheap Chinese labour and material; although 29% post-consumer recycled material, the tumblers only last 1 month. Starbucks does produce other recyclable, recycled-content paper products in-store; however for a company which was awarded ‘Beyond the Package Award’ for sustainable food and drink packaging, the evidence implies corporate greenwashing over vital environmental considerations.
Ethical resource traceability is also crucial in Starbucks sustainability analysis as the Fairtrade and Coffee and Farmers Equity (C.A.F.E.) coffee certifications are fully integrated into the brand as to increase the corporation’s economic standpoint based on the perceived environmental connection (Bertoldi, B 2012). However, although Fairtrade is independently certified, C.A.F.E. standards are simply a set of guidelines co-created and audited by Starbucks for larger coffee farms. Starbucks self-auditing cannot be reasonably considered as a fair trade means of business certification when the company operates on such a global scale and directly reaps the benefits of its auditing. Starbucks (2013) also claims most of their food is sourced locally where possible, however many items are shipped to location, some with over 76 ingredients including chemically-derived products. The claim of locally sourced food is therefore empty. Therefore only Fairtrade coffee, which is used solely for espresso, and Ethical Tea Partnership products can be verified as environmentally friendly sourced. A 2010 Earth Day Summit focused on creating demand for sustainable, recyclable products organised by Starbucks is the corporation’s only true attempt at environmental sustainability. Overall, Starbucks efforts are strategically proactive regarding environmental sustainability, however their lack of full disclosure to staff and customers indicate an attempt to appeal to consumer’s ethical consciousness whilst hiding crucial information. This is also supported by a curious lack of information available regarding Starbucks global responsibility efforts since 2011 – the year after the company made several sustainability goals to be reached in 2015 – despite the company website being updated as of 2013.
Starbucks (2013) humanitarian efforts are admirable in comparison, advocating several programs which support third-world countries economically and through education to both needy communities and Starbucks staff. This underlying humanitarian belief is so core to the company’s values that above donating millions of dollars to charity each year and sending fortunate employees overseas to visit Fairtrade farmers that employees contribute a combined 1million community hours per year towards causes such as Multiple Sclerosis. Starbucks CEO has also advocated company support for gay marriage and raising minimum wage in the USA, key issues which benefit from Starbucks support. Comparatively to overseas aid, Ethos water is the poster child of Starbucks humanitarian aid project, donating 5c per bottle to African charities. However, the plastic bottles aren’t remotely biodegradable (10years is the standard eco-friendly design). In addition, a 5c contribution on a $2 bottle is shameless propaganda designed to exploit the plight of Africans to sell more water, hinting Ethos as a profit-producing enterprise disguised as a humanitarian aid project.
Based on the above analytical overview, Starbucks Coffee Company can be argued as essentially strategically proactive in its attempt to obtain the prominent status of a sustainable corporation. Human sustainability issues are thoroughly considered in every measure of the company’s core values and beliefs, which are prominently reflected in both past actions and future goals. Through both supplier and education goals, Starbucks have positively directed their company towards improving the lives of thousands of individuals across the world, with little negative press regarding their efforts. In comparison, environmental issues are heavily debated and are largely scattered between efficiency and strategic proactivity due to strongly-backed arguments rejecting Starbucks carefully-worded marketing campaigns, and justifiable suspicions of greenwashing, particularly related to Starbucks slow and insufficient responses to their problematic disposable cup and Ethos campaign. Ultimately, Starbucks has many more significant goals to commit to and achieve in all aspects of their business before it is possible to consider them as a sustainable corporation. Considering the direction of the current market, it is also strongly advised that they rectify their situation immediately in order to prevent community backlash from greenwashing as well as energising Starbucks shareholders in the necessary direction of environmental sustainability.
**note: all references are available on request. Dunphy Model is also available.**