As You Sow is pleased to learn via news reports of Starbucks’ commitment to phase out plastic straws at all stores by 2020. A shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow in March, asking the company to phase out plastic straws, received the support of nearly 30% of shareholders, with shares worth $54 billion. The proposal was presented by Adrian Grenier, co-founder of Lonely Whale and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador. In addition, environmental groups collected 1 million signatures on a petition asking for similar action, which was presented to company CEO Kevin Johnson.
“We applaud this action by the company and actions taken to focus its design efforts on meeting this ambitious goal,” said Conrad MacKerron, As You Sow’s senior vice president. “This action is good news for global plastic pollution reduction and ocean protection efforts.”
“We look forward to learning more about the specific details of this commitment,” MacKerron added. “The company mentions using compostable plastic straws as well as paper straws. It is important that compostable plastic straws are used only in locations where there are composting systems in place to actually process them. Otherwise, these straws will continue to generate plastic trash.”
“I have been vocal in my requests of Starbucks to #StopSucking and start taking bold steps towards more sustainable business practices,” said Adrian Grenier. “This past March I had the opportunity to present, as a Starbucks shareholder, a vision for a Strawless Ocean. Today, I am thrilled to celebrate Starbucks’ bold leadership for Clean Seas with its commitment to phase out its plastic straws by 2020. Starbucks taught the world how to drink coffee, and I believe that this commitment will help teach the world how to embrace sustainable business practices—starting with the plastic straw.”
Experience has shown that more frequent public reporting and candor about the ability to achieve ambitious goals is necessary after corporate sustainability commitments are announced. In 2008, Starbucks pledged that by 2015, 25% of beverages would be served in reusable containers and 100% of paper and plastic cups would be recyclable at all owned stores. Today, less than 2% of beverages are served in reusable cups and only 60% of stores have cup recycling. As You Sow applauds this action on straws, but looks forward to future announcements from the company on renewed efforts to meet its original 2008 goals on recycling and reusables, which were also requested in our proposal in addition to action on straws. This is especially important since straws make up only about 4% of the plastic trash by number of pieces, and far less by weight. Straws add up to only about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9m tons of plastic waste that hits waters each year.
While the media often dismisses shareholder votes that receive less than 50% support as “failures,” this positive result by Starbucks is another example of how shareholder proposals can have strong impact even with minority vote results. The proposal presented at Starbucks’ annual meeting had an impact even before voting results were complete. The day before its annual meeting, the company announced a $10 million investment in designing a more sustainable cup that can be recycled or composted globally, in an attempt to respond to one of the requests in the proposal.