Starbucks and Conservation International

by JulieCraves on January 12, 2006

Starbucks entered into a partnership with Conservation International in 1998, an alliance also supported by USAID (unfortunately known to finance many projects promoting sun coffee).  Here is a short history of some of the results of that partnership:

In late 1999, Starbucks introduced a shade-grown coffee grown in Chiapas, Mexico that was part of their partnership with Conservation International (CI), which “promotes practices such as water and soil conservation, crop diversification, and chemical fertilizer and pesticide reduction.”  In addition to buying the beans, Starbucks also “provides financial support to the project and offers technical advice to farmers to raise the quality of their coffee.”

In 2001, Starbucks announced new purchasing guidelines it had developed with CI, which award points to suppliers based on sustainability categories. Suppliers with higher points receive a preference from Starbucks.  Starbucks will also pay a premium of up to  ten cents a pound to suppliers who meet sustainability guidelines.  At the time, Starbucks was reportedly paying an average of $1.20 a pound for coffee, which is still below the typical $1.26 per pound Fair Trade minimum.

It is worth mentioning that these sustainability categories are not strictly environmental, but are also based on quality, social conditions, and economic benefits to the communities.  They do mention shade and chemical reduction, but do not impose any enforceable guidelines for shade management or organic farming methods.

In 2003, Starbucks launched a Colombian coffee that was the result of their partnership with CI and the Colombian Coffee Federation, with stated goal “to promote coffee production methods that protect biodiversity and, at the same time, allow coffee farmers to improve their livelihood.” Starbucks also provides substantial financial support to other CI coffee field projects.

The measures Starbucks is taking on environmentally-friendly coffee are not comprehensive.  The CI guidelines are a start, but lack the strong certification for organic or shade-grown farming practices that are needed to truly protect biodiversity. Their efforts are appreciated, and if customers demand it, perhaps they will continue to improve their commitment both to Fair Trade and the environment.

Revised on November 25, 2020

Posted in Retail and specialty roasters,Starbucks

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