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Co-latte-ral damage

12 January, 2024

Upon first glance, Starbucks’ newly introduced reusable cup policy, which allows customers to use reusable cups for walk in, drive through and mobile orders across the US, seems like a logical and positive decision. Customers receive a 10-cent discount, while Starbucks works toward reducing their global waste footprint, to which their cups currently contribute 20%. 

But behind the scenes, the policy has been met with employee frustration, centred around claims that the policy, in practice, is not feasible. Workers complain that they’ll have to adapt to a new process, on top of their existing work. The drive-thru model, based on customers being able to pre-order, drive up and receive their drink, will face challenges if baristas have to wait for the customer’s cup to make the drink.  

This response from Starbucks employees falls in a broader context of ongoing worker dissatisfaction in relation to pay, labour contracts and staffing levels. In fact, last November Starbucks’ employees orchestrated the largest strike in the company’s history, which coincided with their annual Red Cup Day – a day where Starbucks gives away a free reusable cup for every hot drink ordered. Contesting Starbucks’ failure to increase staffing levels to match the day’s uptick in sales, the strike was driven by anger towards the company’s general disregard for how their decisions impact their employees. 

This latest display of discordance between Starbucks and its employees reflects the challenges that can arise when sustainability practices are implemented. Businesses need to account for how their decisions might impact employees and take the necessary measures to ensure that the interests and experiences of all stakeholders are considered. It can often be employees who pay the price, and so implementing a successful sustainability policy means bringing them on the journey too. 

By Rosie Serlin

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