Starbucks’ opens green innovation center

Discussion
Photo: Arizona State University/Starbucks
Apr 29, 2021
Tom Ryan

Starbucks has partnered with Arizona State University to open an innovation center dedicated to testing environmental sustainability initiatives.

Scheduled to open in December 2021 on ASU’s Tempe campus, the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet in the first year will focus on:

  • Greener stores: The center will develop and open-source solutions to design, build and operate buildings that minimize environmental impacts throughout their life cycle. 
  • Food and wellness: Alternative menu items, including plant-based offerings and protein sources, will be explored that empower customers to make the right choices and that promote environmental practices. 
  • Community betterment: The center will work on inspiring local partners to become “Community Champions” by offering training, support and a community development playbook to help enhance civic infrastructure and activity in their neighborhoods.
  • Innovation test stores: ASU’s four campuses in Phoenix are home to nine Starbucks stores that will act as innovation labs to test strategies developed at the research center. In-store testing will include plant-based food and beverage offerings designed to reduce carbon intensity, strategies to improve recycling and circularity (including reusables) and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Most recent innovation centers opened by retailers and QSRs have focused on in-store technologies and food innovation. Starbucks has a second innovation hub, Tryer Center at its Seattle headquarters, that opened in November 2018 to focus on new products, processes and store design. A mockup store inside Tryer Center helped develop systems for customer pick-up of mobile orders.

The eco-focused innovation hub follows Starbucks’ announced commitment in early 2020 to become “resource positive” when it comes to carbon, water and waste. By 2030, goals call for reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent, conserving or replenishing half of the water taken for coffee production or operations and halving its waste sent to landfills.

Said Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ CEO, in a statement on the new innovation center, “We constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways to give back more than we take, using our power at scale to create a better society in which we all live.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does establishing separate innovation centers focusing on sustainable solutions make sense for retailers? What do you see as the primary hurdles retailers face developing green initiatives and meeting their sustainability goals?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Sustainable solutions are important enough at this point that they absolutely deserve a separate innovation center."
"Establishing an innovation center focused on sustainable solutions is a thoughtful approach to tackling this complex issue."
"Starbucks’ cups are not recyclable. That seems like a basic “miss” for a company with such lofty goals."

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7 Comments on "Starbucks’ opens green innovation center"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Every business and citizen has a responsibility to do their part to help mitigate the consequences of pollution and its impact on the environment. Establishing an innovation center focused on sustainable solutions is a thoughtful approach to tackling this complex issue. And while only the largest enterprises have the resources to establish centers like Starbucks, every retailer can find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and provide their customers with more sustainable options – from the type and amount of packaging they use, to the way they design and build their stores.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Sustainable solutions are important enough at this point that they absolutely deserve a separate innovation center. The whole subject deserves a focused, dedicated effort. The tricky part is extracting solutions from that new silo and implementing them at scale. “Skunkworks” have long been an effective model for innovation, but implementation at scale is the ultimate goal. STORY before Macy’s was a terrific innovation center. It sounded great as a Skunkworks project at Macy’s. Implementation at scale didn’t happen.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Global warming is taking place at a speed of 100X compared to only a few decades back. In order to counter that and to ensure we leave the planet for future generations in a better shape than we inherited it, everyone, including consumers, retailers, manufacturers, research institutes, government, etc. needs to move at 1000X speed. I think the biggest hurdles the world is facing around sustainability are 1.) cost-effective technologies to develop sustainable products, packaging in a sustainable manner 2.) sub-optimal solutions that are just transferring the problem from one area to another (e.g. clothes rental that drive additional transportation) 3.) Lack of consumer awareness on how to promote sustainable living (they know the “why” part).

Gary Newbury
Guest
The concept of sustainability having a short term ROI is at the heart of the lack of real and meaningful uptake within many businesses. The move for a retailer to more sustainable practices around sourcing, transportation and any conversion processes are of a strategic and longer term nature and may put the organization at a short term competitive disadvantage, especially when the consumer is not able to differentiate between “appearing sustainable” and deploying “actual sustainable” practices being deployed as they browse shelves and select their products. Throw a pandemic at the retailing industry and strategic initiatives are reprioritized around stock availability, cashflow and a focus on government policies (i.e. lockdowns, restrictions and vaccinations). In general, innovation (and potentially now sustainability) labs tend to build further silos between such initiatives and the mainstream activities of a retailer’s business. It might work to alleviate greenwashing claims, as there may be visible investment, however it will, over time (unless it produces continuous cost effective breakthroughs) likely be subject to ROI controls and ultimately abandoned. Smarter retailers may dodge… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

It does make some sense, but the devil is in the details. For example, Starbucks’ cups are not recyclable. That seems like a basic “miss” for a company with such lofty goals. Instead of wondering whether or not to offer cashew milk on the menu to make the Earth a better place, Starbucks would be better advised to stop the bleeding before starting the plastic surgery. And this ought to be a cautionary tale for all retailers. Innovation centers and incubators are a great way to tackle complex problems like the environment and retailers should get engaged with them. That said, that involvement should begin with filling in the potholes on the road to Utopia. Hard to be taken seriously when your primary product (in this case a cup) is the poster child for unsustainable practices.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Sadly, Starbucks is only one of a handful of companies that think this way. Looking at the others, you will see some commonality in the way they think. Look at the companies who are leaders in compensation, education alternatives, healthcare, and other benefits for their lowest level workers and you will see those same companies thinking about the environment.

A year or more ago foam cups and containers were banned in NYC. Who pushed back? The manufactures, yes. But the big push back came from the McDs and DDs of the world.

“What do you see as the primary hurdles retailers face developing green initiatives and meeting their sustainability goals?” A pennywise and pound foolish mindset and small thinking.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

Absolutely.

It demonstrates to consumers that the corporation is genuine about its commitment to sustainable solutions by partnering with the university and will also allow them to experience the innovations at their local store.

The challenge to corporations — which Starbucks has addressed — is that most corporate environmental programs are not tangible, or the consumer rarely experiences the benefits of the programs. Corporate sustainable programs run the risk of becoming noise, just clutter the consumer will ignore.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Sustainable solutions are important enough at this point that they absolutely deserve a separate innovation center."
"Establishing an innovation center focused on sustainable solutions is a thoughtful approach to tackling this complex issue."
"Starbucks’ cups are not recyclable. That seems like a basic “miss” for a company with such lofty goals."

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