Starbucks: Fair Trade or “Tradewash”?

August 1, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is telling consumers to turn up the heat on Starbucks and pressure them to take Fair Trade more seriously.

According to OCA, many customers mistakenly assume that all Starbucks coffee is fair traded, but in fact just 6% of the company’s coffee is certified Fair Trade.

OCA is asks consumer activists to take these steps:

1) Sign OCA’s 2008 petition to Starbucks demanding that all espresso drinks be both 100% certified Organic and Fair Trade.

2) Make a free call to Starbucks’ Customer Service line and let them know how you feel. (800) 235-2883. Click here for a sample script.

3) Sound off on My Starbucks Idea, Starbucks’ public forum. We have an idea for you Starbucks, its called Fair Trade!

4) Find a non-corporate café near you using the Delocator.

Is the “all Fair Trade espresso” demand impractical or too idealistic? Not really. Dunkin’ Donuts, the world’s largest coffee and baked goods retailer, already does just that. Even McDonald’s sells all Fair Trade coffee in their New England stores and in the U.K.

So what’s up Starbucks? Why not empower farmers by supporting a minimum price per pound and buying from democratic cooperatives?


600 Stars Bucked: Starbucks to Close 600 Stores

July 1, 2008

By Chris O’Brien

600 Stars Bucked

According to, Starbucks will close 600 stores within the next nine months and eliminate 12,000 jobs. For some perspective, that’s about 7% of its global workforce. At the end of March 2008, the company boasted 16,226 stores -just over halfway to CEO Howard Schultz’ stated goal of 30,000 outlets.

The company says most of the stores slated for shuddering are near other Starbucks locations. So, maybe opening two or three Starbucks on a block isn’t such a great business plan after all? Or is it actually a very sly strategy designed to bully smaller competitors out of business?

Starbucks Chief Financial Officer Peter Bocian admits that the stores targeted for closure were cannibalizing 25-30% of the sales of other nearby locations. But here’s the kicker. Starbucks stocks rose 4.5% immediately after the announcement.

Follow the logic here. Starbucks opens stores that it can’t afford and then closes them and gets a boost on Wall Street. Meanwhile, local competitors are put out of business while Starbucks carries the unprofitable stores. Once competitors are closed, Starbucks closes its redundant stores. That leaves the other one or two nearby Starbucks perfectly positioned to not just regain the customers from the other Starbucks but also to gain all the customers from the closed down competitor.

Maybe I’m just paranoid. Or maybe a company aiming for 30,000 stores is a beast that someone needs to slay.

Talking Trash about Coffee

May 16, 2008


Posted by Chris O’Brien

An article in the Seattle Times this past Wednesday claims that Starbucks’ vice president of corporate social responsibility “knows it’s an issue” that the company’s coffee cups are single-use disposable trash that can’t be recycled.

The company’s 2.5 billion paper cups used in North American stores last year contain 10% post consumer waste (PCW) recycled fiber content, and the cup sleeves contain 60% PCW content; both attributes are improvements considering that the cups used to be 100% virgin and “double-cupping” was a common wasteful practice that was mostly made obsolete by the sleeves.

But the cups are still lined with plastic, and that makes them non-recyclable. There are new coffee cups on the market, like the ecotainer (which I wrote about here), that replace that plastic lining with a starch-based material, which makes them compostable. But a compostable cup does not compost make. Just like a ‘recyclable’ aluminum can has to actually be recycled in order to gain the benefit of its recycability, so a compostable cup needs to enter a composting system in order to realize its environmental advantages. That’s a bit of a challenge since composting infrastructure is fairly limited in the U.S.

However, it is certainly possible to arrange composting services independently, and there is a growing number of compostable products: food serviceware, garbage liners, and packaging products. The Biodegradable Products Institute website lists all the companies with products that meet the BPI standard for compostability. Only products that meet these standards are allowed to display the BPI logo (seen here at top). Composting is a heady matter, requiring specific conditions regarding light, temperature and moisture. In other words, simply tossing a cup in landfill and waiting decades or centuries for it to degrade doesn’t count.

Bottoms Up!My prediction is that government will eventually provide composting services the same way it now offers recycling services in many places. Meanwhile, I like the approach taken by Higher Grounds (my co-bloggers here at BeanActivist). They simply don’t offer disposable cups. Instead, if you forget to bring your own reusable mug, they’ll give you one! That’s right, they’ll give you a ceramic mug to takeaway. How can they afford that? Simple answer: craigslist. They post want ads for free coffee mugs on craigslist. Imagine all the tacky, unloved mugs stuffing cupboards across America, like that “bottoms-up” mug you received at your bachelor party from your high school buddy. Now imagine someone who is willing to take them away from you for free and put them to good use. It’s simply brilliant.

Don’t expect Starbucks to attempt this novel approach any time soon. They are currently experimenting with the compostable variety so we’ll have to see what happens.