Green Coffee at Starbucks?

Last Updated Apr 27, 2009 6:35 PM EDT

Starbucks aims to have fully recyclable paper cups available by 2012, and has opened its first LEED-certified store.

Those are two of the highlights from the company's new corporate social responsibility report, which became available online Monday.

Among the others:

* The company says it's now the largest-single buyer of "Fair Trade" certified coffee; * Its coffee buying initiatives include pilot projects that give coffee growers incentives to stop deforestation.
* It has also opened a new LEED-certified roasting plant in South Carolina.

Starbucks has taken a lot of hits from the environmental community over the years, over everything from using too many genetically modified food products to not doing enough to help family-owned coffee farms. I can tell you this stung a lot of people in management. Friends of mine who work there -- 30-something liberals who drive fuel-efficient cars and give generously of their time and money to worthy causes -- routinely say they feel that as a company, Starbucks gets unfairly targeted because of its size, and doesn't get enough credit for the work it does.

The annual corporate social responsibility report was the company's response, both in tracking the environmentally friendly steps the company is taking, and as a way of holding itself accountable for being green in fact, and not just green in the logo -- at least according to an acquaintance of mine who was hired to work on it several years ago.

Back to the paper cups. Starbucks uses a plastic coating on the paper cups to keep them from disolving when hot liquid is poured into them. As a result, most cities won't recycle them. However, it has started using recycled paper fibers in the cups, which it estimates saved some 44,000 tons of virgin wood fiber, or roughly 300,000 trees, over the past three years. Starbucks also says it will make ceramic mugs the "global standard" for all coffee drinks served to customers who plan to drink them in the stores, which will also cut paper cup consumption.