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Going Green with Starbucks

On October 9th, we held a Going Green With Starbucks event where we heard from Amy Wang, the Director of Business Strategy – Reusables, about Starbucks’ initiatives on sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals. Meet the Speaker! Amy Wang: Director of Business Strategy – Reusables

  • 10 years at Starbucks – previous roles: loyalty strategy, digital ordering, international loyalty and digital development, card and loyalty (China)

  • Other experience: Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Digitas

  • Education: Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and Kellogg School of Management for MBA

As a leader in the Business Strategy team, Amy is responsible for packaging portfolio solutions and the development of Starbuck’s reusable experience, specifically the transition from single-use cups to reusable ones and works cross-functionally with various teams on this project. The main goal is finding a way to make the reusable cup an easy and delightful experience for Starbucks partners and customers. There are multiple aspects to consider with this transition such as how to incentivize people to remember to bring their cup to Starbucks, conducting life cycle assessments to prove the positive effect of reusable cups, supply chain capabilities, etc.


Starbucks’ sustainability journey started in 2020 when they announced their 2030 planet positive goal of 50% absolute reduction in water, waste, and carbon. There are strategic programs implemented to support this goal such as sustainable supply chain for dairy and coffee, eco-friendly stores and operations, shift to reusables, and more. At Starbucks, there are 5 major stakeholders: customers, partners, planet, brand, and business. Amy mentions about the importance of the integration of all these stakeholders because they drive the direction of Starbuck’s business decisions.

There are 3 design models of cups that Starbucks is working on implementing to its stores: dine-in (for-here-cup), personal cup (dine-in/to-go), and cup share (to-go). There is also the aspect of a borrow-and-return cycle where customers can borrow a cup when ordering either from the app or in store, enjoy the beverage, cup will get professionally sanitized off-site, and returned to the Starbucks store.


Amy also discussed the flow time of the Starbucks innovation and store testing process which can take up to years to complete. All creative ideas start at the Tryer which is a giant lab that has a range of different mockup stores (drive-through, mobile-order, pick up). There are even baristas that join a 9-month rotational program with the reuseable team to understand the viability of the ideas. After the idea phase it’s the test phase where there are 3 components. First there is the incubation/rapid learning test where they test the idea in 1 store. Then there’s a feasibility test which expands the idea to around 15 stores, and lastly there is the market test which tests the solution in at least 50 stores. This can take years to finalize an idea and have it implemented on the national and global scale. There have been tests done nationwide, such as at Arizona State University campus or Napa, California test sites.

Q&A:

How do Starbucks' values differ across branches (does the approach to ESG goals differ from country to country)?

All initiatives are planned from a global perspective, but there are lots of public mandates in Europe and Asia for the shift to reusable cups. Asia is more flexible in their ability to innovate. In Europe, sustainability is an every day decision for businesses, and thus there’s a time constraint to create the best customer experience. In the United States, there is less of a time constraint, so we also have the time and ability to create the best experience possible to fit the needs of all stakeholders.


What is the biggest challenge with the transition to reusable cups?

A big challenge is influencing human behavior. It is an uncommon behavior for an individual to bring a cup into a store, and the ultimate goal is to make it a universal behavior so that everytime you walk into starbucks you come in with a cup.


How does Starbucks choose what locations to test the reusable cups?

For reuseable cups, there is a high rate of people living on the west coast that are aware of reusable culture. It’s helpful to experiment there first and then expand the research from that demographic to the rest of the country. Fun fact, Colorado has the highest personal cup usage rate in the United States!


What are some things that we as consumers can do to approach a more sustaibable lifestyle?

Bring a personal cup to starbucks! Also brainstorm different opportunites to engage in reusable culture and environmental friendly practices.


What is your favorite part of working at Starbucks?

It’s a fun puzzle to solve. Reusables are like puzzle pieces, and there are so many different pieces to figure out how to implement something new in the world. Also, the opportunities to work with international, public, and private sectors.

Thank you for reading and we hope to see you next week at our Boba Social!


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