Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Starbucks, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Palm Oil Is Destroying Our Planet

Food
Starbucks, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Palm Oil Is Destroying Our Planet

Starbucks has a bigger problem than the controversy over its new red holiday cup. The company is still buying palm oil and other agricultural products that might be linked to tropical forest destruction. Many scientists, environmental groups and labor organizations aren't happy about it.

Thursday, that coalition sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz urging him to strengthen his company's procurement policy to ensure it doesn't contribute to deforestation, a significant cause of global warming. The commodities in question include wood, paper products and palm oil, an ingredient in a number of Starbucks menu items, including its Java Chip Frappuccino drink and Cranberry Bliss Bar dessert.

Starbucks currently has a weak procurement commitment for palm oil, which comes mainly from Southeast Asia.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The signatories on the letter include the Center for International Policy, Forest Heroes, the International Labor Rights Forum, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, Sierra Club, SumOfUs and Union of Concerned Scientists. In addition to the letter, more than 300,000 consumers have petitioned Starbucks to go deforestation-free.

"Starbucks likes to promote itself as a responsible corporate citizen, but it lags far behind consumer and industry standards for protecting forests," Lael Goodman, a Union of Concerned Scientists analyst, said. "To maintain its do-gooder reputation, Starbucks should permanently sever any connection to forest destruction by adopting a strong procurement policy that clearly spells out a timetable for implementation."

The company currently has a weak procurement commitment for palm oil, which comes mainly from Southeast Asia. Irresponsible growers there routinely destroy tropical forests and peatlands for plantations, producing fires that emit tons of carbon pollution. They also threaten the health of area residents, and endanger elephants, orangutans and tigers. This year, the haze from annual agricultural fires is the worst in 20 years, affecting more than 43 million people across the region. There have been 19 haze-related deaths in Indonesia so far and hundreds of thousands of people have developed acute lung infections. But that's not all. Besides the damage the fires do to public health and the environment, plantation owners all too often appropriate land from local communities and exploit child and immigrant labor.

A mother and baby orangutan in the jungles of Indonesia.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

In July, after receiving a 10 out of a potential score of 100 in Union of Concerned Scientists's 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard and pressure from consumers, Starbucks responded. It promised "a stronger focus" on preserving forests and peatlands.

The company's pledge didn't impress the coalition. Its letter points out that "'a stronger focus' falls well short of the industry standard of a strict 'No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation' palm oil sourcing policy and time-bound implementation plan." Other fast food chains, including Dunkin' Brands, McDonald's and Yum! Brands—owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—have adopted zero-deforestation procurement policies.

Starbucks also vowed to only buy palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but the company acknowledges that RSPO certification is insufficient.

Indeed, RSPO standards address a number of key issues, such as pesticide use and labor conditions, but don't go far enough to protect the climate. RSPO certification, for example, still allows producers to clear forests and peatlands to create or expand plantations. Only pristine and primary forests are completely off-limits. The standards also don't restrict carbon emissions from plantation development. They only offer guidelines for reporting emissions from forest conversion.

Finally, Starbucks made a commitment "to pursuing zero net deforestation across our supply chain," meaning for all of the products it buys, not only palm oil. That didn't sit well with the coalition, either—for good reason.

The word "pursuing," as the coalition letter points out, lacks specificity. What is needed, the letter says, is a firm timetable for achieving that goal. Perhaps even more important, "zero net deforestation means that Starbucks is willing to do business with a company that clears forests, so long as it plants saplings elsewhere. Applying this approach to tropical forests would send even more [carbon] pollution into the atmosphere."

Starbucks' brand is "synonymous with sustainability and innovation," the letter reads. "We are sure that Starbucks ... does not wish to be further associated with these problematic issues."

Coincidentally, now is a convenient time for Starbucks to adopt a deforestation-free palm oil policy. As it turns out, most globally traded palm oil will be covered by deforestation-free commitments by the beginning of next year. So, Starbucks, wake up and smell the coffee.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Aziz Ansari Blasts Factory Farming for Cruelty to Chickens

AP Investigation: Supermarkets Selling Shrimp Peeled by Slaves

‘Top Chef’ Guest Star José Andrés Challenges Contestants to Cook With Solar-Powered Stoves

Thirsty (And Illegal) Pot Farms Stealing Water Amid California’s Epic Drought

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less