Shareholder Activists Hit Starbucks on Recycling

As I stood and watched the line of 12 in front of me at Starbucks the other day, I daydreamed about the load of cups Starbucks must go through every day.  A little googling turned up the fact that  it’s actually 3 billion paper cups and 1 billion plastic cups a year.  To put that in tangible terms, that’s 8,219,178 paper cups and 2,739,726 plastic cups a day.  Wait, 10 million cups a day?

While I wait for those of you who spewed hot lattes onto your laptops to clean up after yourselves, please be assured certain groups are doing something about this.  Starbucks annual shareholder meeting just ended Wednesday in Seattle.  This meeting was entertainment-infused:  Sheryl Crow sang some of her hits and informed the crowd that she “drinks Starbucks coffee every morning” (something tells me we will be hearing more Sheryl at our local Starbucks). But that’s not all. There was shareholder activism to witness.  As You Sow Foundation , a shareholder advocacy organization  put forth a proposal using shareholder advocate John Harrington’s shares, asking the board of directors to adopt a comprehensive recycling strategy for beverage containers.  (Full disclosure: Harrington is my boss.) Although those baristas can stir up a mean mocha,  Starbucks as a whole has a poor record when addressing recycling issues.

Starbucks makes the argument that it has no control over recycling.  Its excuse: local governments control the waste stream system.  As a paperboy in my younger years, I would be late on deliveries sometimes.  Making excuses for this behavior didn’t work, and my clients would show this in the 50 cent tips I received.  In the same terms, Starbucks shouldn’t be making excuses. It should be positioning itself as a leader for change.  Eleven percent of shareholders voted in favor of As You Sow’s proposal, which equates to over 42 million out of the 740 million shares outstanding shares saying “yes.”

Other issues that As You Sow Foundation confronted were the lack of recycled content in the ETHOS water bottles.  If you have noticed, this water is marketed as a way to help children get clean water and Starbucks has contributed more than $6 million to water-stressed countries through sales of it.  That’s all well and good, but distributing millions of plastic bottles with no recycled content isn’t going to help these children in the long run.  By putting at least 10% of recycled plastic into the bottles, Starbucks would simply match its competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi in their strict recycling mandates. So next time you order that Iced White Chocolate Mocha or grab that bottle of water while Sheryl Crow blares from the speakers, ask the barista if you can use a ceramic cup, instead.

Dale Wannen is a portfolio manager with Harrington Investments a Napa, CA, firm specializing in Socially Responsible Investing. He previously worked as a financial advisor for UBS in San Francisco. Also, Wannen is currently an MBA student in sustainable management at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School and, as an avid bird enthusiast, sits as the treasurer and board member for the non- profit San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

Dale Wannen

Dale Wannen is President of Sustainvest Asset Management, an investment advisory firm focused on sustainable and responsible investing (SRI). Prior to Sustainvest, Dale was a portfolio manager at Harrington Investments and specialized in ESG investment strategies, securities analysis, and shareholder advocacy. Prior to this position, Dale was a financial advisor with UBS Wealth Management Services in San Francisco. He is often a guest speaker on the topic of ESG investing and shareholder advocacy.Dale has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He earned a B.A. in Economics from Rowan University and currently is a volunteer with Mentor Me Petaluma, Rebuilding Together Petaluma, and the founder of Green Drinks Petaluma.He also currently sits as Board of Director and Treasurer of San Francisco human rights organization, Global Exchange, teaches Economics for the Oakland non-profit Game Theory Academy and is a committee member for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco. Previous volunteer work has included Treasurer and Board Member for bird conservation organization, San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO), committee member of the Petaluma Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC), and President of the Social Venture Finance Club at Presidio Graduate School.Dale currently holds the Series 65 FINRA license and has previously held the Series 6, 7, 63, 66 and California Life and Health Insurance Certification. He is a member of National Association of Professional Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA).Dale lives in Petaluma, CA with his wife Lauri and their Malamute Shadow.

14 responses

  1. Great post. I think this represents a huge opportunity for Starbucks. Generally speaking, I think Starbucks gets much more criticism than they deserve, but they're a big target and that's how it goes.

    What I think they should do is make a much more obvious and concerted effort to get people to bring their own containers. Really make it sexy, advertise it with celebs, and so on. Sell some fancy Starbucks mugs and give everyone 25 cents off, or 10 cents off a coffee. I suspect it counld actually save Starbucks money if done right – no cups to make, ship and store.

  2. I'm SO GLAD to hear about this action! I've been trying to stimulate a grassroots movement to get Starbucks to move faster on their recycling and compostable cup program for more than a year, writing about it on, tweeting, and finally starting a a group on The Point called “Starbucks Eco-Cup Switch!”

    Our goal is to gather concerned coffee/tea drinkers, who agree that when we have critical mass of 1,000 we will all contact S'bux on the same day, telling them that we want a better cup choice ASAP.

    We have 375 people in the movement so far. I know there are many more people out there who are horrified by the billions of non-recyclable cups used each year.

    Let's hope Starbucks hears us and uses their size and commercial purchasing power to make a bold move to sustainable cup practices!

  3. Pingback: Get Cash for Recycling Your Cell Phone | Earth Day Activities
  4. I’d love to hear an update on this. Just a policy change of asking people that are staying if they’d like to use a “to stay” mug, or asking everyone else if they brought their own mug would likely begin to have a major impact. I now try to forego the coffee if I forget my mug. Sometimes that is hard to do, but oh well.

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