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From bean to workplace: How Starbucks takes a “ground-up” approach to sustainability

Patrick Kwok, General Manager, Starbucks Singapore, shares on imbibing a culture of sustainability in employees (or, partners are they are referred to) right from the start, which includes trips to coffee farms to deepen their understanding of the 'humble coffee bean'.



Coffee is feeling the heat of a changing climate. Research shows that the effects of climate change could potentially reduce the world's coffee-growing regions in half.

Slowly but surely, more brands have been pushing for sustainability in a bid to change the world.

Issues of such a massive scale require a paradigm shift in the way we view our business for the long run. But to be truly sustainable, employers need to cultivate an all-round lifestyle that is embraced by every employee.

Embracing sustainability in training

At Starbucks, we refer to all our baristas and staff as partners – not just employees, but a family of contributors with a voice and a part to play towards a greater good.

Sustainability is organically seeded from the early stages where we educate our partners about our company background and values. It is included in our training materials, which spell out how sustainability is a part of everything we do.

Partners also grow through deeper learning about the history, geography and socio-political challenges of the humble coffee bean. This connects the dots around our business and the importance of sustainable practices.

Practising a sustainable lifestyle

Learning goes beyond training – it is reinforced every day on the job.

Our partners are trained to pass on their knowledge to customers in-store, where they actively apply and champion these initiatives. These include offering cutlery for takeaway orders only upon request and providing discounts for customers who bring their own reusable tumblers or mugs to purchase drinks.

Beyond that, partnerships with larger organisations also foster a deeper sense of belonging – one example was our recent partnership with the National Environment Agency in the 'Say YES to Waste Less' campaign, where consumers are encouraged to take simple, actionable steps to reduce their impact on the environment.

Experiencing the heart of sustainability

For employees to truly champion a sustainable lifestyle, my belief is that they need to experience it with their own eyes.
For more than a decade, we have brought various partners to coffee farms in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Rwanda, where they have witnessed the entire bean-to-cup story come to life.

I have personally walked the farms of Costa Rica that were started by Starbucks, and am filled with awe and pride by the amount of heart and grit put into building a sustainable farming community. Picking coffee beans and interacting with the farmers allowed me to witness sound farming methods in practice, and how farmers' livelihoods benefit from our shared R&D and knowledge – even for those who do not work for us.

Celebrating milestones together

On 9 September this year, Starbucks gave out reusable cups to customers to celebrate that 99% of Starbucks coffee is ethically sourced, with the last 1% representing our ongoing pursuit of improvement – this was also our way of celebrating our equally passionate partners who have stayed with us through the years, beginning as baristas and progressing to champion sustainable practices as store managers and district managers.

I have found it helpful to anchor our business with initiatives that connect the business and the local community. It is important to constantly identify ways in which employees can get involved in appropriate community projects that would sustain and direct these initiatives – only then can they truly understand and campaign for sustainability at work.

Browse the gallery below for a sneak peek at Starbucks' coffee farm visits:

[gallery link="file" ids="127096,127095,127094,127098,127097,127099"]

Photos / provided

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