Starbucks is not ditching dairy, as some of the confusing recent headlines might have you believe. In fact, the coffee giant is not even agreeing to get rid of the surcharge on plant-based milk. What is happening, though is that the CEO has announced a plan to modernize production and food delivery systems (like more reusable containers) to lower the chain’ carbon footprint.

The company's CEO, Kevin Johnson, was interviewed recently and articulated a five-point plan to make Starbucks more sustainable by 2030. Still, if all he did was eliminate the upcharge on soy,  oat, or almond milk (which is about an 80-cent upcharge to add non-dairy milk to your drink), that would be a good first step.

Johnson says he is prioritizing plant-based milk as part of a strategy to become “resource positive” by 2030, and acknowledged that the company needs to make major changes to become more sustainable over the next ten years.

The current report card is not so pretty: In 2018 Starbucks emitted 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, used 1 billion cubic meters of water, and dumped 868 metric kilotons of coffee cups and other waste, according to an audit conducted by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Quantis.

Dairy products were the worst offenders when looking at the company’s oversized carbon footprint. With more than 31,000 outlets in 80 global markets, Starbucks is looking for ways to do better.

The company released a statement stating that by 2030, it aims to reduce 50 percent of its “current carbon emissions, water withdrawal and waste sent to landfill” and become “resource positive”—meaning it will save more carbon than it spends, by cutting out waste and water usage.

The 5 strategies Starbucks will use to be more climate-conscious:

  • Add more plant-based items to the menu, including vegan milk options (and vegan breakfast sausage was just announced, too)
  • Move toward reusable packaging
  • Invest in agricultural practices that conserve natural resources
  • Reduce waste through more effective food and material processes
  • Launch “eco-friendly" shops, including more modern manufacturing and delivery methods
  • “We know this journey will be challenging," Johnson said in a recent interview. "We know we can’t do this alone, and we know this will require others to join us.”

First on the list: Adding more Plant-based milk to the menu

In an interview with Bloomberg, the CEO acknowledged the negative impact of dairy milk on its carbon footprint, adding: “Alternative milks will be a big part of the solution."

he CEO acknowledged the negative impact of dairy products on its carbon footprint, adding: “Alternative milks will be a big part of the solution."

“The consumer-demand curve is already shifting,” Johnson said, with nearly 20% of Starbucks customers already opting for non-dairy milk. Starbucks just launched a partnership with Oatly oat milk in the midwest. That move is in reaction to more of the chain’s customers choosing "milk made from almond, coconuts, soy or oats.”

He also said Starbucks would reduce the surcharge for vegan milk, which has been a major complaint among consumers and activists. The chain has been repeatedly boycotted over the upcharge. Animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) says simply lowering surcharges for vegan milk are not enough, considering Starbucks is “calling on its customers to choose vegan milk while continuing to charge extra for vegan milk (while allowing additions of dairy milk for free).”

If Starbucks “really wanted to join the fight against the climate crisis,” PETA pointed out, it would end the upcharge for eco-friendly vegan milk entirely. “Continuing to charge more for vegan milk while admitting that it’s the key to reducing Starbucks’ massive carbon footprint is irresponsible and unethical,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

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