The opportunity

In the early 1990’s, there were about 200 coffeehouses in the United States. By 2005 there were 14,000, and about 25% of those were owned by Starbucks. Today, there are over 19,000 Starbucks around the world.

When we started looking at this opportunity, Starbucks served its hot brews in two paper cups, for the sake of its customers’ fingers. The cups were made from 100% bleached virgin paperboard, which creates serious environmental impacts in its manufacture. And the double cupping literally doubled the solid waste generated by drinking a cup of coffee.

Our strategy

In 1996, Starbucks and Environmental Defense Fund joined a partnership to change the way that Starbucks serves coffee. Given the billions of cups of coffee that Starbucks serves every year, any strategy for reducing the company’s environmental footprint had to address its paper cup.

The goals of the partnership were to:

  • Decrease waste by increasing the use of reusable cups and dishes
  • Reduce the environmental impact of disposable cups


  • In January 1997, Starbucks introduced a corrugated paper sleeve to serve as an insulating layer instead of using a second cup as was common practice. The sleeve, made from 60% post-consumer recycled fiber and 45% lighter than the second cup, was the best environmental alternative to double-cupping.
  • Based on a financial analysis showing potential savings of over $1 million per year, Starbucks instituted a policy of offering ceramic plates and cups to its in-store customers.

Read the Starbucks Final Report [PDF].