When it comes to sustainability, there’s no denying that Starbucks has been taking some steps in recent years. Some of those steps are small: introducing compostable hot-cup sleeves, for example, and turning old baked goods into plastics at its store in Hong Kong. Some of those steps are bigger, such as mandating that all new stores be built to LEED standards, purchasing Renewable Energy Credits equivalent to 50 percent of its North American energy use, and increasing energy efficiency across its stores worldwide. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Starbucks’ efforts to green its global caffeine empire is the way that these efforts tend to intersect with the company’s ongoing reinvention of the Starbucks experience itself. We’ve seen this at work in the store Starbucks opened not long ago in Amsterdam, which harks back to the original Starbucks in Seattle in the fact that it is located in a landmark historical building. Loaded with recycled and local materials — such as antique Delft tiles, bicycle inner tubes, and repurposed Dutch oak — this store is about as far from the average strip-mall Starbucks as you could imagine.

Now Starbucks has a new green concept going, literally. The company recently opened a new concept store in Denver, Colo., where you won’t find any cushy leather chairs, nor any CDs for sale at the check out counter. This new “modern modular,” LEED-certified Starbucks is a drive-thru-and-walk-up-only shop that represents a new direction for the chain.

This 500-square-foot store building was constructed in a factory and delivered via articulated truck. Once unloaded and put together, the building was covered in old Wyoming snow fencing. It’s a winning model, as far as green construction goes: prefabrication helps to save on the resources used to create the core of the building, and the local materials used in creating that artistic, attractive facade can change based on the location, personalizing the building while helping to earn it those shiny LEED point for materials sourced within 500 miles.

Oh, and because the U.S. Green Building Council also likes it when buildings educate visitors on their green practices and strategies, the building features signage announcing exactly where its funky facade came from. (Which, you know, isn’t good for marketing or anything.)

This new store model, like a number of others we’ve seen in recent years, bears testament to the fact that Starbucks doesn’t just farm out its store designs to various architecture firms. Rather, it develops all of its store designs from within, taking into account the questions the company as a whole seeks to answer as it expands: How to achieve market growth while reducing the environmental footprint of each store? How to create a standardized model than can be customized, based on its location?

Officially a “pilot program,” this new store poses some unique answers. By cutting the size and ditching its seating, the model not only reduces its carbon footprint over the average Starbucks, it can penetrate markets that might be too small to sustain a traditional store. The prefab aspect makes it easy to standardize, while the building’s facade leaves room for local materials, craftsmanship and even art in the form of “art panels” that can be filled with the work of local artists.

— Susan DeFreitas

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.


  1. Beau
    United States
    October 18, 2012, 12:27 am

    My Starbucks here in Miami will collect the coffee grounds and give them to you IF you ask, otherwise they just go to waste. Also here they dont recycle their used plastic cups, even tho there is a recycling bin 20 feet away.

  2. Christina Nunez
    October 17, 2012, 4:23 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, Floyd. I have reviewed the article and made some fixes.

  3. Floyd Evenwrite
    Portland, OR
    October 17, 2012, 2:59 pm

    There are (at least) three obvious grammatical errors/typos in this article. I would urge National Geographic to at least read articles that it republishes from other sites.

    Interesting article, though.

  4. ami p
    October 16, 2012, 10:13 pm

    so expressive, i hope it will be goverment policy, starts from all peoples

  5. mary
    October 16, 2012, 7:02 pm

    wow love star bucks

  6. constance bennett
    chicago il
    October 16, 2012, 6:32 pm

    what about the throw away cups and lids,,,I prefer my home,fair trade brew,,I dont need to look like a cookie cutter and carry another starbucks cup,, they need to take care of enviorment ,offer discounts on filling you countainer, even 7-11 promotes purchasing you cup,,,

  7. Jonathan Karp
    October 16, 2012, 2:39 pm

    The re-purposing of an architecturally adventurous Del Taco building in St. Louis is another example of the commitment to green renovation practices and local aesthetics. It seems that the Starbucks Reserve initiative is branching out into organic, fair trade coffees, but that said, I’d like to see a full adoption as well.

  8. Pat Hill
    October 14, 2012, 8:54 pm

    It’s good they’re building sustainable shops, but their coffee growing is not. Where’s the shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee? That’s the only kind I’ll buy.

  9. bert Piraino
    Lake Superior
    October 13, 2012, 8:41 am

    Thats just great for starbucks, my only lament is that the original concept of starbucks was not only to sell coffees and teas, but to host a place where people could talk and engage in proactive community activism. You can’t do that in a kiosk. Now, if they would only buy fair trade coffees…