Starbucks To “Push” Plant-Based Milk Amid Slew Of Sustainable Measures In Bid To Become ‘Resource Positive’

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As a part of a company-wide drive to become more eco-friendly, the global coffee giant Starbucks will be promoting vegan milk. Among other sustainable measures that the company plans to implement include waste reduction, providing more clean freshwater than it uses, and carbon storage. Starbucks’ move on sustainability reflects the pressure the food service industry is feeling from customers, especially the younger ones, who are demanding businesses to do more to protect the planet and are increasingly wary of corporate greenwashing efforts.

The global coffee giant Starbucks has just released a statement saying that they are aiming to become “resource positive” by storing more carbon dioxide than they emit, reducing waste and eliminating water wastage. Speaking about their new sustainability plan, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said that a “big part of the solution” when it comes to footprint reduction will be to “push customers to choose milk made from almond, coconuts, soy or oats, whose production is environmentally friendlier than dairy.”

In the announcement, the company said it plans to revamp its menu to move dairy out of the way as much as possible. While plant-based alternatives like soy milk or oat milk have already been around in many Starbucks locations all over the world, including in Hong Kong, where Oatly’s brand has become commonplace, Starbucks is planning for even more non-dairy options. Not only will plant-based milk alternatives become the “standard” throughout the chain’s stores, customers can expect to see less cream, whipped cream and dairy milk in their extensive list of drinks, from frappuccinos to lattes. 

Read: It’s time for Starbucks to scrap their vegan milk tax

Indeed, dairy products account for a whopping amount of carbon emissions, water wastage and land use. According to non-profit GRAIN, just 10 of the world’s largest dairy producers are responsible for enough carbon emissions to match half of France’s total output. Starbucks says that their use of dairy products accounts for over a fifth of its total greenhouse gas emissions and a seventh of their water waste.

Many of these new measures are driven by changing consumer tastes. Customers, especially the younger generation, who have woken up to the environmental impact of their consumption habits, are increasingly turning to plant-based dairy alternatives and meat-free meals in order to lessen their individual carbon footprint. As Johnson notes, “the consumer-demand curve is already shifting.” 

Plus, with consumers getting more savvy in detecting instances of greenwashing, there is little choice for global brands such as Starbucks to ignore the demand for plant-based milks as a part of their sustainability efforts. 

Read: Beef & Dairy industries to collapse by 2030, says new report

All of this is starting to take a toll on the global dairy industry. Earlier in January, Borden Dairy became the second major American cow’s milk producer to file for bankruptcy, referencing “market challenges” brought on by the dairy-free trend. In New Zealand, Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, experienced its second year of losses in a row. While dairy has evidently taken a tumble, the sales of plant-based alternatives such as oat milk has risen sharply by an astonishing 636% between 2018 and 2019.

Given the clout that Starbucks holds in the food service industry, it is likely that more brands will follow suit. And it won’t just happen in the Western world, but here in Asia too, where 81% of Chinese consumers believe that non-dairy products are healthier and easier to digest than dairy products, which is unsurprising given that 90% of the Asian population is lactose intolerant. 

Lead image courtesy of Bloomberg.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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