Which National Coffee Shop Is the Most Sustainable? This Report Has the Answer
American consumers are indisputably coffee lovers across the board, with more than half of Americans drinking coffee daily, according to the National Coffee Association. That totals nearly 400 million cups of coffee every. Environmental advocacy organization Brightly just reviewed what coffee shops offer the most sustainable options, highlighting the extent of the coffee industry’s environmental footprint. The study compared seven national coffee chains including Starbucks, Dunkin’, Biggby Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Blue Bottle Coffee, Dutch Bros, and Peet’s Coffee to determine the most sustainable coffee shop on the market.
"In the U.S., we drink over 400 million cups of coffee every day,” CEO and co-founder or Brightly Laura Wittig said. “When it's time for the average American to venture out for a cup of Joe to go, it's no surprise that choosing to support a more planet-friendly chain can have a positive impact on the world around us. We recently ranked multiple coffee companies on the consumer-facing sustainability initiatives that make a difference, and the results are surprising."
By analyzing certifications, cup recyclability, commitments to a sustainable future, plant-based options, and commitments to reduce waste, Brightly determined the true environmental costs that each coffee chain presents. The organization concluded that Blue Bottle Coffee is the most sustainable national coffee chain available. Brightly emphasized that even though some of the chains surveyed were more regional than others, each company on the list is frequented by the regular coffee drinkers nationwide.
To determine the sustainability rankings, Brightly gauged the five operational factors on a scale from one to five, with one meaning needs improvement and five signifying the company's successful efforts. The final score is out of 25. Ranked from best to worst, Brightly ordered the coffee shops: Blue Bottle Coffee, Peet's Coffee, Dunkin', Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Biggby Coffee, and Dutch Bros.
Blue Bottle Coffee
The Oakland, California-based coffee shop developed several sustainability measures over recent years, attempting to maximize its organic sourcing as well as minimize its carbon footprint. The company works directly with the farmers worldwide that it sources its coffee beans from. The majority of the company's coffee is also Certified Organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).
Beyond the coffee, Blue Bottle worked to enhance its cup recyclability in an attempt to minimize the company's overall waste. The company switched from plastic-lined cups to paper-derived to-go-ware in 2011, becoming one of the first coffee chains to switch from traditional plasticware.
The company also announced recently that it will experiment with making oat milk the default milk option. Blue Bottle will host a trial run at two locations to gauge consumer reactions to the oat milk. Currently, the coffee company offers both almond and oat milk at all its locations.
Peet's Coffee holds its own at number two in Brightly's sustainability study. The organization claims that the coffee chain has "an impressive history of being ahead of the sustainability curve." The most notable achievement is that the coffee chain ranks the highest in cup recyclability, boasting that all to-go-ware is 100 percent compostable.
The coffee chain also pushed to minimize its water and material waste across its production and manufacturing facilities. Alongside waste reduction, the company has become increasingly concerned with lessening its energy consumption, incorporating that its new natural and high-efficiency lighting reduces its energy by 40 percent.
Earlier this year, Peet's Coffee teamed up with Beyond Meat and Eat Just to debut the Everything Plant-Based Sandwich. The completely plant-based sandwich is one of a kind, featuring the JUST Egg plant-based egg replacement, Beyond Breakfast Sausage patty, and melted dairy-free cheddar. The sandwich joins Peet's Coffee's dairy-free milk selection, giving plant-based consumers the ability to grab a snack and drink a non-dairy specialty coffee drink.
As the second-largest coffee chain in the United States, Dunkin's 8,500 locations provide plant-based and environmentally conscious consumers with one of the best options on the market. Currently, the coffee giant holds several certifications including USDA Organic and Rainforest Alliance certification. The issue lies in the percentage of products that the certification applies to, meaning that only 30 percent of Dunkin's coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified and none of its coffee holds Fair Trade even if its espresso does.
Beyond the coffee, Dunkin' reduced its greenhouse gases by 60 percent in 2019 as compared to its levels in 2013. The coffee chain also committed to multiple sustainability in recent years. Earlier this year, Dunkin' donated $380,000 to several organizations that focus on coffee sustainability.
The coffee brand also debuted several plant-based options on its menu over the last decade. Even though its partnership with Beyond Meat expired, the company still offers several dairy-free specialty drinks using oat. coconut, and almond milk. The chain's menu also features vegan bagels, hashbrowns, and avocado toast for its consumers to enjoy.
With 15,000 locations in the United States alone, Starbucks is the largest coffee company in the world. The coffee chain became the first international coffee chain to become 100 percent Fair Trade Certified in 2000. Over the last two decades, the coffee giant has made strides to enhance its sustainability efforts after facing intense criticism about its overall environmental impact.
The company experienced backlash due to its lack of recyclability as well as its slow movement to include plant-based alternatives on its menus. Even though in recent years the company has initiated its sustainability measures, it took years for the coffee giant to begin discussing and developing options to lower its waste and reduce its carbon footprint.
Recently, Starbucks introduced several plant-based options to its menu including the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich and the Lentil & Vegetables Protein Bowl. Even though the breakfast sandwich is not vegan, it marks the first time the company has featured a meat-free protein alternative to its menu.
Starbucks may offer several plant-based milk products including oat, coconut, almond, and soy milk, most stores add a surcharge for the substitution. Although as competitors begin to prioritize milk alternatives, Starbucks is likely to follow suit to match the shifting consumer behavior.
In January, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson declared that the company would take a dominant shift towards plant-based options following the COVID-19 pandemic. With that promise in mind, consumers expect to see Starbucks raise the ranks on the Brightly sustainability scale.
“If I were to say what is probably the most dominant shift in consumer behavior, [it] is this whole shift to plant-based [products],” Johnson said in January. “And that is a shift both in beverage and in food.”
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Biggby Coffee, and Dutch Bros
The final three coffee shops fall short of the halfway marker in Brightly's study. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Biggby Coffee, and Dutch Bros have made minimal efforts to enhance sustainability in sourcing, menu items, and recyclability. Although the scoring is low, the three coffee chains have made some strides in transition their production and company models to improve sustainability.
Each location offers dairy-free milk for their coffee drinks, providing coffee drinkers with oat, coconut, and almond milk to choose from. However, the only company out of the remaining three that has made efforts to expand its plant-based food menu is The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which just revealed a Beyond Sausage Sandwich this week.
The Brightly report concludes by highlighting the fact that none of the coffee chains achieved a perfect score, explaining that "It’s practically impossible for businesses that serve thousands of customers a day to be perfectly sustainable," but that "being an environmentalist isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being informed about your options and doing your best with the resources available." The report encourages businesses and consumers to think about the environmental costs and sustainability when making purchases, aiming to shed light on the necessary change still needed across all layers of production.