Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) produces a lot of waste. Customers still use plastic straws, throw away their cups, and go through tens of millions of bags and napkins each month. The company has made efforts to use recyclable items, and to offer cups that make drinking without a straw easy, but its efforts still have it sending products to landfills.

Now the company wants to do better. CEO Kevin Johnson has "unveiled a multi-decade aspiration to be a resource-positive company, giving more than it takes from the planet." The new initiative includes "science-based preliminary target reductions of carbon, water and waste by 2030," and offers "five strategies the company has identified to move toward them."

A plastic Starbucks cup with a lid resembling a toddler's sippy cup

Starbucks has already created a cup that makes it easier to drink without a straw. Image source: Starbucks.

A greener Starbucks?

The coffee chain has set five specific goals that it plans to meet by 2030. It did not lay out exactly how it plans to reach these targets, which makes sense given that the deadline is a decade away.

  1. Offer more plant-based menu items.
  2. Stop using single-use packaging that ends up in landfills.
  3. Invest in "innovative and regenerative agricultural practices, reforestation, forest conservation, and water replenishment" in its supply chain.
  4. Do a better job managing food waste.
  5. Create more eco-friendly stores, operations, manufacturing, and delivery.

"Our aspiration is to become resource positive -- storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than we use," Johnson wrote.

Starbucks does not entirely know how it's going to meet these goals. Johnson, however, pledged short-term and long-term transparency so consumers can see what his chain is doing.

"Our eyes are wide open knowing that we do not have all the answers or fully understand all the complexities and potential consequences," Johnson wrote. "Now, it's time to create an even broader aspiration -- and it's work that will require visionary thinking, new ways of working, investment of resource and urgent action."

The company did lay out some specific benchmarks it hopes to achieve by 2030:

  • reduce its carbon emissions by 50%
  • cut waste sent to landfills by 50%
  • conserve or replenish half of the water it uses

Starbucks will also make its progress public. To do that, it's using a new gauge created in a partnership with Quantis and the World Wildlife Fund. The index will track the company's "comprehensive environmental footprint of carbon emissions, water use, and waste in Starbucks['] global operations and supply chain."

Why is Starbucks doing this?

Call it a mix of altruism and staying ahead of bad press, but Starbucks is taking real action here. It's also doing so in a way that neither puts immediate pressure on the company nor requires it to make an immediate major investment.

Basically, the coffee chain has agreed to do the right thing, but has given itself a lot of runway to get it done. That's a smart move to protect its stock price. The company can take its time to meet these goals, while making incremental changes and taking advantage of innovations by others between now and 2030.

This is Starbucks protecting its brand while getting ahead of what could have become a public-relations problem. It's addressing the issue before it faces a backlash...in a way that should also do some real good by 2030.