The weather was typical for the middle of November in Seattle: gray and overcast. Inside the corporate offices of Starbucks, however, the atmosphere was abuzz with the creativity of 5,000 employees in a relaxed setting that was more reminiscent of a coffee shop than a workplace.
I was in Seattle attending the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s fall sustainability meeting, which brought together cooperatives, customers, government officials, advocacy groups and others. Among the activities during the two-day gathering was a visit to the offices of Starbucks, which are positioned in a surprisingly industrial and edgy part of the city.
When buses carrying meeting attendees from the hotel to Starbucks stopped near the entrance, we saw a playground that was busy with children who attend preschool in the same building where their parents work. Several apron-donned employees were strategically positioned throughout the hallways to guide us to a large but casual auditorium where Starbucks executives talked about their sustainability work in coffee-growing regions of central Asia, South America and Africa. Efforts in these areas are primarily focused on building schools and halting rainforest deforestation — issues that seem a world away from what the dairy industry faces.
Several times during the presentation, Starbucks’ procurement team emphasized the importance of dairy’s wholesomeness. Milk is central to many of the coffee maker’s best-selling products, and it’s the foundation for most of its seasonal favorites. Starbucks acknowledges that critical to the success of its coffee business is a strong and resilient dairy industry, of which sustainability is just one component.
Starbucks congratulated the dairy industry for the good work it is already doing and for the leadership it has taken to incorporate sustainability into the long-term success of the industry.
As the presentations came to an end and questions began to wane, rows of gift bags full of Thanksgiving blend coffee began filling a table near the exit of the auditorium. The audience filed out toward the buses, reflecting on the significance of the dairy-coffee partnership.