Starbucks Uses Systems Thinking to Develop a Recyclable Cup

Starbucks has taken a lot of flack in the past few years for its non-recyclable cups, lack of recycling bins, and shoddy water use policies. In the past, Starbucks has covered up environmental embarrassments with vague promises to build more energy-efficient stores and cut carbon emissions. Now the coffee company is making a legitimate attempt to do right by the environment with a plan to make sure that all single-use cups are recyclable by 2012. But Starbucks isn’t stopping there; the company is using systems thinking to ensure that the entire life cycle of the cup –from factory to recycling bin–is sustainable.

Earlier this month, Starbucks convened a summit with representatives from every part of the paper and plastic cup supply chain, including raw material suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage partners, local municipal governments, Starbucks employees, and environmental NGOs. The company also brought Peter Senge, the pioneer of systems thinking, as moderator.
Ultimately, Senge concluded that Starbucks’ 2012 recyclable cup goal “seems impossible, but that’s kind of secondary.” Regardless of whether the goal is achieved within the 2012 time frame, Starbucks’ systems thinking plan could serve as a model for paper cup buyers like Burger King and McDonalds in the future.
Next up for Starbucks: asking select municipalities to process recyclable cups, measuring success, and creating a pared down advisory board to keep things running. If the plan is successful, Starbucks would do well to apply systems thinking to other paper products. It shouldn’t even be that difficult once the logistics of the recyclable cup supply chain are solidified.

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