The drink itself looks fine but Starbucks is extremely problematic when it comes to sustainability. It does not utilize its massive purchasing power to influence labor practices on coffee beans plantations and even falls short of its own 100% ethical sourcing goal. It does not not even try to devote any serious resources to sustainable agriculture when the coffee bean growing industry is under threats from low profitability and increasing climate change risks. I am extremely disappointed at the company and they definitely have to do more for its own sake and even the leadership role in the coffeehouse industry to promote sustainable agriculture.
One of Starbuck’s most popular drinks and my all-time favorite, Starbucks caramel macchiato is made of milk, brewed espresso, vanilla syrup, and caramel sauce. All the ingredients can be easily found on the website but it does not disclose the sourcing of these material. The drink at least is not ultra processed but coffee bean growing in recent years has been facing environmental challenges. Since most coffee plantation in the world use the same plant specie, the crop may have lost some disease-resistant traits or other resilience characteristics, which makes the plantations vulnerable to disease. The extreme weather and pest attack further threatens the global coffee supply chain.
Most of the ingredient bottles in the Starbucks store are labeled with the company name and they even sell their syrup on Amazon. Therefore I suspect most of its ingredients are produced in their company owned facilities, which makes it even harder to find the sourcing of most ingredients. In 2012, Starbucks pledged to source 100% of its coffee ethically by the through C.A.F.E. Practices by 2015, but there has been no updates on the progress even until now when the goal is long overdue. The Starbucks still has this ethical sourcing by 2015 goal on its website currently. Additionally, the C.A.F.E. practices is a very weak standard as it does not guarantee minimum paycheck. In 2019, labor inspectors in Brazil found that the working conditions at a plantation that supplies Starbucks is horrible as there were dead bats and mice in food, no sanitation systems, and work days could stretched from 6AM to 11PM. This production process does not sounds ethical or sustainable to me and Starbucks definitely could do better with its increasing profits these years.
Starbucks is the world’s biggest coffeehouse chain and pretty much single handedly expand the coffee culture to the world. I expect a lot from a company that is this profitable and influential. However, Starbucks is 100% not working towards a transforming into a more sustainable business and has even fall short of its own pledge (the 100% ethical sourcing by 2015 goal discussed in How it’s made section). I also tried to find Starbucks’s effort toward climate change or environmental conservation yet the only they could brag about is their One Million Tree which the company pledge to purchase of healthy, rust-resistant coffee trees and make sure they “get into the hands of coffee farmers”. This is not even remotely close to sustainability effort for me. It is good that corporations perceive climate change as a risk and are incentivized to act to ensure its long-term existence. However, what Starbucks is doing does not mitigate climate change or help farmers adapt to the changing weathers. Planting healthy trees in regions that has increasing climate risk without actual sustainable agriculture practices would just lead to trees dying and further destroy the livelihood of coffee farmers. Additionally, I noticed that the company does not explicitly say that they are donating the trees like what they used to for their One Tree for Every Bag initiative. So I suspect the farmers actually have to pay Starbucks to purchase and get delivery of the healthy trees. Therefore, Starbucks is not even trying to greenwash itself when they just outright shows their extremely poor sustainability practices (well I would say there is none). This is not acceptable and has extremely wide negative impact considering how big the corporation has grown. It is not utilizing its purchasing power or devoting any resources to help itself in the long term.