Starbucks and REI Share Environmental Commitment

Two very different retailers—Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) and Starbucks Coffee Co.—came together in June at

Starbucks: Although Starbucks is widely seen as one of the nation’s greenest retailers, its environmental program had a somewhat rocky start.

“In launching an environmental program at Starbucks, the lesson we learned was that we weren’t very good at it at first,” Hanna said. “In fact, we nearly sunk our green strategy.”

One of the main problems, according to Hanna, was the chain’s early focus on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental) certification.

“We started talking about LEED from the get-go,” he explained. “There was a lot of distraction about the certification process. Our mistake was that we should not have been talking about LEED certification, but about energy conservation.”

The chain learned its lesson, and today conservation strategies and green design are pervasive throughout the company. Beginning in 2010, Starbucks hopes to reduce in-store energy use by 25%, and to power 50% of its consumed energy by wind. Hanna noted that Starbucks initiatives in this arena give it a hedge against future energy instability.

For Starbucks, sustainability is a long-term business strategy.

“It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, even though it is,” Hanna explained. “Because the ‘right thing to do’ doesn’t fly at Starbucks. Reducing operational costs is key, greater customer loyalty is key, longer-term employees is key, and future energy stability is key.”

REI: Environmental stewardship is part of the DNA of REI. Architecture and design manager Laura Rose provided an in-depth look at REI’s sustainable initiatives and philosophies.

“Our goal is to tread lightly on this earth as we open stores and go about doing our business,” Rose explained. “As a brand, we have always had an important connection with the environment.”

Continued growth and evolution in its green practices have led the company to think outside the box. REI introduced an entirely new lighting package—metal halide and T5 incandescents—and added a community meeting space in the middle of its store in Boulder, Colo.

REI has introduced a passive solar lighting system from Solatube in its stores, which provides uniform daylighting and conserves energy.

“We anticipate 20% savings on lighting based on daylight harvesting and Solatubes,” Rose said.

In addition, REI is using building-integrated photo-voltaics (BIPV). Although the panels caused a significant permitting challenge for REI, the resultant conservation is worth the extra effort, Rose said.

“BIPV combines electricity generation with natural daylighting,” she added.

One of the key lessons REI has learned along its green journey, said Rose, is that more technology takes time.

“If you go cutting-edge, give yourself time to work through it with your local building department,” she said.

Rose advised retailers to be willing to let go of strategies that deliver low value but require lots of effort, and take time to weigh operational impacts.

Not everything REI has tried has worked, but Rose noted that the REI team has learned from its mistakes.

“It’s OK to fail,” she said. “At least you know you tried.”