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Starbucks plans to hold the milk

Starbucks has announced plans to make the company more environmentally sustainable, and cutting back on dairy use is on its to-do list.

Yesterday, Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company, published a letter to partners, customers, and stakeholders outlining plans to make the company more sustainable in the coming decade. 

“Our aspiration is to become resource positive, storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than we use,” he wrote.

The first action item on Johnson’s list reads, “We will expand plant-based options, migrating toward a more environmentally friendly menu.”

In an interview with Bloomberg News discussing the company’s efforts, Johnson said, “Alternative milks will be a big part of the solution. The consumer-demand curve is already shifting.” Starbucks currently offers dairy alternatives including soy, coconut, and almond milk. Oat milk is also available in some areas. According to Business Insider, Starbucks uses more than 93 million gallons of milk per year.

The company’s environmental impact report lists animal protein as its highest contributor to carbon and water usage. Starbucks says dairy made up 21% of its carbon footprint in 2018.

In a response to the Starbucks announcement, Krysta Harden, the executive vice president of global environmental strategy for Dairy Management, Inc., writes, “We share Starbucks’ commitment to environmental sustainability. In fact, in 2008, the U.S. dairy community was the first agricultural sector to commission a full lifecycle assessment to understand our environmental footprint, which showed that fluid milk accounts for only 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Since then, due to innovative farm practices and new technologies, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly since 2008, involving 31% less water, 21% less land, and a 20% smaller carbon footprint.”

Johnson listed other ways the company plans to improve its environmental practices, including shifting to reusable packaging, focusing on regenerative agriucltural practices, better managing waste, and developing more eco-friendly stores and operations, but Harden argues dairy can be part of a sustainable way forward.

“Dairy can and will play an important role in achieving sustainability in supply chains and global food production,” she says. “From an environmental and nutrition standpoint, it is not an either-or; both plants and animals play a critical role in the health of the people and the planet. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to making environmental progress and frankly, it will take public-private partnerships and value-chain collaborations to achieve greater collective and positive impact. U.S. dairy is committed to doing its part and will soon be sharing a framework for achieving meaningful progress in carbon neutrality, soil and water health.”

Dairy Managment, Inc., is funded by dairy farmers in the U.S. and dairy importers. It manages the National Dairy Council and American Dairy Association.

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