Just How Sustainable Is Starbucks? New Logo, New Waste

By Tara Alley

Starbucks has been working rather diligently lately in an effort to prove their dedication to being a more sustainable business.  They’re in the process of getting new cups in place.  They’re in the process of making recycling containers available.  But currently, Starbucks has been creating waves round the world with their unveiling of a new logo, and in the midst of excitement, nonchalance, and flat out disgust, there’s also a good deal of legitimate confusion surrounding the “why” behind it all.  Not only does it seem strange to take off the words “Starbucks” and “Coffee,” i.e.: take the Starbucks out of Starbucks, one would have to argue that a simple – what would seem entirely unnecessary – change in artwork, is going to create some massive amounts of equally unnecessary waste.  Claiming that the new logo will be widespread by March, a mere three months from now, it’s quite difficult to imagine that there isn’t a stockpile of plastic “old logo” cups (which are only 10% recyclable) that are going to be thrown by the wayside.

And, for a company that has a large portion of their website devoted to promoting the claim that they’re very environmentally aware and making constant efforts to reduce their footprint through methods including recycling, constructing “green” buildings and ethically sourcing their coffee sources, what does it mean to add up the countless building signs, road signs, printed items for every product they carry, window graphics, gift cards, etc. that are all going to have to be re-made, re-printed and shipped to every corner of the globe?  It means a pretty deep carbon footprint.

They’ve been claiming that by 2015, they will have new, 100% recyclable cups and that by 2012, they’ll have recycling containers available in their stores.  But, could it have been a bigger boost for their company to invest in those efforts sooner rather than later with the money poured into the creative team behind this new logo and the sudden mass production going to be involved in new products?  Again, not to mention the waste created with every single Starbucks product that’s going to have to be dumped in this overhaul?

It looks like Starbucks is making a subtle statement about what leads to profits, and it doesn’t look like the world is quite at the point where it’s our desire for sustainability.  This is the fourth logo change since the inception of Starbucks just forty years ago.  And, if it wasn’t something with proven profit, they wouldn’t be doing it again.  If giving us the option to have recyclable cups was feasible in 2011, and would have guaranteed to bring them more profits than a new snazzy logo would, that’s where their energy would be devoted.

As business owners and supporters, how do we change this driving bottom line?  As a current Starbucks drinker, does this change your opinion?  Any more or less likely to purchase a shiny new, 10% recyclable cup sporting the new logo?


*Photos retrieved from: Starbucks.com.

Tara Alley is a freelance writer currently promoting all varieties of green coffee and coffee makers for Coffee Home Direct.

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14 responses

  1. Silly move Starbucks! I won’t drink any less coffee, but I won’t be drinking any more either. And now your cup looks like the ones given out at outlets that serve generic coffee with lots of white space. I heard they are expanding beyond coffee, and this is why, but maybe they should stick to what they’re loved for because the world isn’t yet ready for a new Starbucks automobile or fashion line.

  2. I’m for the change. I agree that the promotional materials for the new design and the need to get rid of anything with the old logo is a bit wasteful. However, if they can make good on their 100% recyclable cup and have containers to capture these cups in their stores (and make sure they go to a place that can process these), that’s a lot of cups that won’t be going to landfills come 2015.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Starbucks claims to be sustainable are just that – claims. Their Via brand of instant coffee creates and amazing amount of packaging, their cups are not recyclable (except for in limited test markets) and they don’t make enough ceramic cups available for staying customers. I can’t tell you the number of times I have asked for a “for here” cup when I’ve forgotten my reusable mug, only to be told that they don’t have any and that I must take a paper/plastic cup. Sustainability is just not a priority for them.

    More facts on the waste created by Starbucks available in this video: http://www.ecoplum.com/clipz/view/18?green=Welcome-to-Ecoplum

  4. Lots of waste indeed.

    I’ve often commented to SBX staff hat they should be asking people if their drink is for “here or to go”and should automatically give those staying a ceramic mug. Of course they always counter that so many people take it to go, but every seat in the establishment is almost always full. Companies have trained customers to be wasteful by automatically preparing goods for takeaway.

    It is the job of companies to untrain this behavior and help Americans re-learn that taking things to go means extra materials used and potentially unnecessary waste.

  5. Actually, there will be no waste of cups, bags, or any logo items. Once the Anniversary celebration ends you will see all remaining inventory of old logo cups and paper goods reappear until exhausted.

    Also – aprons, store signs, merchandise and everything else with a logo will coexist for years until their normally scheduled replacement or renovation occurs. Ask any barista in a store and they can confirm this fact.

  6. Wait a minute – why is this a big deal? Companies change their logo all the time. It would be financially foolish to throw away a mountain of old logo material. Do you have any evidence that they are not, in fact, just going to use up the old stuff before the new rolls in? This seems like a bit of a moot point to me. Just my two cents…

  7. Thanks for this great article, Tara. It’s an excellent approach to think through the upstream and downstream effects of this logo switch, including the production process and end-of-life for signage and merchandise with the old logo. It boggles the mind to think of what this means given Starbucks’ scale.

    I’d recommend to Starbucks that merchandise not simply be dumped, but kept around and sold as clearance items in order to recover as much of their costs as possible. (Or hey, mark them up as “limited edition” prints…) With any merchandise that’s left, Starbucks could surely make charitable tax-deductible donations to Goodwill, or other local non-profits that would either sell or use the merchandise. I’m assuming they do these things when they switch out merchandise seasonally, etc, so applying the same process now would not be an extreme challenge to implement.

    Reusing or recycling signage might require a bit more creativity. Specifically, creativity of the type that artists/makers excel at. The right people/groups could turn old signage into usable products (think Freitag Bags) or collectors items art. I recognize that marketing teams want to manage how/when/where their logos is used and seen, but in this internet age of global connectedness and rapid information sharing, they already have less control than they may like.

    These are just a couple quick ideas. But with some creativity, Starbucks can reduce the end-of-life impact for items with their outgoing logo.

    1. Honestly, if we are worried about the sustainability of waste associated to Starbuck’s rebrand, we are in SERIOUS denial of the overall impacts of our own lifestyles… it isn’t big companies causing the majority of problems anymore – we have met the enemey and it is US!!!

  8. Before pointing a finger regarding not moving toward sustainability, the author should have done more research into Starbucks’ plan for their current paper products, sign-age, etc. Her article is another example of the poor journalism we are inundated with on a daily basis; lacking research and content.

  9. Newsflash:
    Starbucks is in the business of business not saving the world…it’s coffee for crying out loud.

    If they want to change their logo – they can change their logo. And please don’t anyone thing they don’t have a concise plan for the disbursement of ‘old logo’ goods…they are not going to toss them in the trash, come on.

    I don’t even like the coffee much – but do support their success. They’ve done a great job of hawking coffee to the masses and building an amazing brand…they never claimed to put a stop to greenhouse gases worldwideas far as I know…so yes, Starbucks if you want a happy shiny new logo…then by all means – have at ‘er.

  10. I have to agree with some of the previous commenters. Alley is irresponsibly accusing Starbucks of probable mega-waste by “imagining” what they might do with old logo items. If she is going to go that far, a bit of substantiation (a copy of an internal SB memo indicating such, or something) should have been provided. Shame on her.

    (I’m not even a big Starbucks fan; stop in once a month, if that.)

  11. $3 for a coffee & not only that just imagine the waste they throw out everyday just for being open. Empty milk cartons, messed up orders, coffee filter replacements (every half hour). And they fill one average size household can in a few hours. Starbucks IS NOT Eco-friendly at all. Duracell batteries are more Eco then Starbucks is. I don’t have $3 to spend on a drink. I don’t even drink coffee. They’re a company like any other that is just simply wasteful, not to mention the amount of garbage they produce from just being open for a busy day.

  12. Thanks for this! I am going crazy with Starbucks – they don’t even ask “for here or to go”. When I ask for something in a mug, the cashiers get really confused. And usually, if I get a cookie with it, they put the cookie in a bag. Last time I was there I asked for a tea for here and a cookie ON A PLATE and the girl was dumfounded, said I don’t think we have that kind of cookie, and then finally served me a cookie on a plate and my tea in a paper cup. It makes me furious! Every few months I vow to stop going there because of how angry this makes me, but then I end up back there again, largely because it is close to my work. And every time I have something “for here”, i look around the cafe and am inevitable the only person using a ceramic mug.

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