Coffee Shop Hop #12 – Update!

Starbucks, New York (Delancey Street). This Shop Hop wasn’t intentional. I live with a Chinese family – the mother, doesn’t speak English very well and from what I gathered through back and forth translation with her children for almost a half an hour, she either forgot to and/or decided not to pay because her family didn’t use the service that much. Long story short, I needed internet so decided I’d work from the neighborhood Starbucks. Let me disclose something. I used to work at Starbucks. When I was living in Toronto, I had previously lived in Washington state where this  giant coffee company was born. To me, working there helped with the nostalgia of the West Coast.

So here is the hop session and how I switched from work to investigatory mode.

I see a free spot at the wooden high table overlooking the street. I’ll take that, thank you! I make eye contact with a man sporting a full beard, wearing dark frame glasses and a blue shirt. It’s a brief encounter, he then immediately turns back to his laptop and I look in the direction of where I’ll be parking myself for some time. Sometimes I feel I should talk and connect with someone – I felt that but didn’t.

I don’t see a single for-here cup. That’s strange. When I worked as a barista, the first things that would come out of my mouth after taking an order were, “would you like that for-here?” Not everyone would – they’d want to walk around (I worked at a shop in a bookstore), but some people would say yes who otherwise would have accepted a paper cup.

I’ve been here for a while. I feel I should buy something. I walk up to the counter when surprisingly only one other person is there (it’s a heavy traffic store). The baristas are laughing and enjoying themselves. I straight up tell them I’m working and would like to get something because I’m using their space. I ask for a short drip. The barista taking my order grabs a paper cup – I stop him mid grab. “Can I have it in a for-here cup?” The barista says they don’t have them. “You don’t have for-here cups?!” I exclaim in disbelief. I’m aware Starbucks has a whole slew of things about environmental responsibility.

Veering off from the hop here to share a few things I found researching “Starbucks sustainability”.

Starbucks worked with the United States Green Building Council to develop the LEED (Leadership in Environment and Energy and Design) Retail Program, which is essentially an evaluation system of building environmental performance (e.g., assessing things like building sites, energy consumption, and materials and resources). According to their website they have over 1000 LEED certified stores – the first of which included things like tables made from coffee grinds, using at least 10% of materials sourced from 500 miles (reminds me of the 300 mile rule limit Richard has for sourcing at Terremoto), and reducing over 45% lighting power with LED lighting.

This is great, but it’s not specifically about operations related to consumers. Then I came across this article, Greener Cup. It outlines Starbucks’s efforts to reduce waste, including recycling and promoting reusable cups etc., and highlights a challenge they are facing. As they put it,

Despite these efforts, we have learned that widespread behavior change is unlikely to be driven by one company alone. We will continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste but ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.

So at the corporate level, they get cups are a major waste contributor, but are expressing the need for cooperation from the consumer – a bottom-up approach is needed. This is where the strategizing seems to stop. I think this is because it’s not clear who it is that needs to step up to the plate and take action (e.g., the people, profit/non-profit organizations, local governments etc.). I agree work needs to be done at this lower level, but like I mentioned in my previous post a proper communication structure between bottom and top levels is also needed. This is something that I’m working on at the moment – Cup Switch (website forthcoming – progress can be followed on Instagram @cupswitch).

Ok. Back to the shop hop.

I tell the barista I’d like to get something because I’m working there, but I can’t accept it in a paper cup (it would be sacrilege). They don’t have anything to serve the coffee in for me. After realizing I wont be having coffee, I tell them I can leave the store if they like. The barista is really nice, and in that “don’t be silly” kind of way tells me it’s totally fine to stay.

Another two hours pass. I’m meeting someone in an hour and need to get my carrier service for my new iPhone before that (yes, I’ve now entered the modern world!). I pack up, and go up to the counter to get the manager’s contact details. He happens to be there. “The guy in the black apron” a barista sweeping the floor tells me. I introduce myself. His name is Dylan. He has an agreeable personality. I confront him about the cup issue, asking why they don’t have for-here cups. He tells me he has been trying to get some special mettle stand for the espresso bar to place cups on that meets Starbucks’s standards – they want them on the bar so customers can see them. I query further, asking why can’t they be ordered and stored somewhere else; baristas can still offer these cups in the meantime. I see he realizes that is a possibility, but I also gather there is backlog trying to get things approved and can appreciate the challenge of balancing store priorities.

I explain how having for here-cups could save costs on trash pick up. He says that’s a corporate expense so doesn’t immediately affect him. In this situation, I actually think it would be good for stores to pay for this expense, or at least be aware of it to help encourage managers to take greater responsibility for their store waste.

My attention has been directed to the condiment stand at the front of the store several times. I’ve seen someone pour coffee down the trash – right now I see a plastic water bottle brimming over the top. That pains me.

Dylan says there’s a recycling bin, pointing to the back of the store. Around this bin are line dividers, which are also used to keep people from going into an area. “What kind of message is this sending people in the store?” I think. Also, “Who the heck sees this?” I tell Dylan I’ve been in the store for almost 4 hours and wasn’t aware of the bin. If customers are already at the condiment stand, why are they going to walk all the way to the back to recycle something – that’s if they’re even aware of it. Also, how do they know what they can recycle? There’s no information displaying what can and can’t be put into the bin.

Photo on 03-11-2017 at 13.48 #2

As I was leaving the store, I thought about asking Dylan to remove the dividers around the recycling bin. I didn’t because I think I gave it to him pretty hard about not having for-here cups and he was trying his best to be accommodating. He even asked at one point if I drank cold coffee and offered to me, on the house, one of their plastic reusable cups. I thanked him but declined.

For the new direction I’m going in, I’ve thought about approaching Starbucks, potentially for sponsorship. I see that they want to “become the world’s greenest retailer” and are working to “promote and incent the use of “for here” and reusable cups”. These goals are aligned with the Cup Switch mission.


*UPDATE! November 15, 2017.

Since writing this, the store manager made an effort to respond to my concerns. I wanted to share this because I think it illustrates how change can be made by speaking up and creating a dialogue – discussion in this way may “tip” (I’m reading Melcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point right now) people to move in the direction they have intentions of going. Below is a snippet of the email I got from the store manager a few days ago.

I wanted to let you know that this passed weekend we put in a statement to get the rail guards for the espresso machines to display the for here cups. However regardless if approved or not we will be receiving for here cups this Sunday! I am definitely excited about that and happy to say you can now enjoy your beverage in a ceramic cup! I am also planning on relocating the recycling bin to a more noticeable location and will be ordering a surplus of reusable cups in efforts to up sell.

Well done Dylan!

Original visit November 3, 2017. Didn’t do a bathroom inspection.

3 thoughts on “Coffee Shop Hop #12 – Update!

  1. OK – I’m sure you’ve had enough links from me for today but I need to share my Starbucks posts with you too! This one looked at sustainability issues and asked readers to rate Starbucks for social and environmental impact:
    This follow-up post shows the poll results and also provides a template that users can use to write a review of their local Starbucks (and post on Yelp, Google Maps, or TripAdvisor, etc.). Publishing reviews is a GREAT way to spread the word to other customers and also deliver a message to the business.

    I was also in contact with the Global head of sustainability (that’s not her exact title, but something along those lines) about cup use. I shared ideas about how to encourage personal cup use (since this is something that Sbux say they want to improve) – I’d love to discuss this further with you – can you send me an email and I’ll forward the communications I had with Starbucks on this topic? (jmskrb at gmail dot com).

    I love your blog and your energy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s