Starbucks hires first sustainability chief from Levi's in environmental brand pivot

The changes will be 'fundamental to our brand relevance,' said Starbucks' CEO

Levi’s long-term vice-president of sustainability has departed to become Starbucks’ first chief sustainability officer, joining the coffee maker as it commits to maintain "brand relevance" with plant-based menus and a shift to reusable packaging.

Michael Kobori had worked for Levi’s for 22 years, taking up the top sustainability job in 2007.

He joins Seattle-based Starbucks as the brand makes bold announcements regarding its position of sustainability. Previously, the company has been singled out by environmental groups for its use of single-use cups and its lack of recycling facilities at its stores.

The brand’s chief executive, Kevin Johnson, set out his decade-long environmental vision today (21 January) in an open letter to stakeholders. He wrote how the company has earmarked 2030 as the year it becomes “resource positive” – storing more carbon than it emits and providing more freshwater than it uses.

Areas of turnaround will include “migrating toward a more environmentally friendly menu” featuring more plant-based options and shifting from single-use to reusable packaging.

The company also promised to develop more eco-friendly stores and invest in ways to better manage waste.

Johnson stressed to shareholders that the changes will be implemented with revenues in mind.

“... I want to reemphasize that the journey we undertake is not only the right one for Starbucks responsibility as a corporate citizen of the world but is also fundamental to our brand relevance and, therefore, our overall business results,” he said.

“As such, we remain committed to our long-term, double-digit EPS growth model and will continue to deliver targeted financial results by prioritizing the right investments across our partners, customers and planet in support of our “Growth at Scale” agenda.”

However, Starbucks has missed targets before.

Back in 2008 it aimed to serve 25% of its drinks in reusable cups by 2015. However it U-turned on the goal in 2011, reducing the figure to 5% by 2015.

“What we learned was that ... our results underperformed our high expectations and underscored the need for a different approach,” said Johnson today, adding the company will now conduct research in order to better understand consumer behavior and incentives regarding the use of reusable continaters.

Starbucks and Levi’s did not immediately respond to The Drum’s request for comment.

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