Designed by Kengo Kuma, Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Tokyo is designed to conserve resources such as energy and water. Customers can also take home upcycled coffee grounds to fertilize their gardens. (Matthew Glac)

Starbucks handles a lot of problematic products in terms of sustainability, waste and carbon emissions. First of all, its grab-on-the-go image equals mountains of takeaway vessels (according to CNN Business, Starbucks distributed 3.85 billion paper cups in 2017 alone). Then there’s the milk, the coffee, the food wastage, the plastic, the packaging. The brand has been quick to move on some issues, stating for instance its intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws across its global stores by 2020. Combating food waste is underway thanks to its FoodShare programme, which to date has seen 10 million unsold meals donated back to the community. And many will be pleased to know that Starbucks is attempting to tackle the cup-to-landfill debacle. Last year it sent 18 truckloads of old paper cups to a paper mill in Wisconsin to prove they can be cost-effectively recycled and transformed into new Starbucks cups – a cup-to-cup circle of sorts. The company is also partnering with McDonald’s to develop a compostable cup. Such strategies are all well and good, but they’re still rooted in disposables. What’s more, they necessitate complex systems for collection and/or composting to make them more than a mere marketing ploy.

Starbucks’ big move, however, lies in brick-and-mortar. Late last year, the company announced its Global Greener Stores Commitment (GGSC), a pledge to design, build and operate 10,000 environmentally friendly stores across the globe by 2025 (see page 149 for the commitment’s focus points). Since the announcement, the brand has been developing an accredited programme to audit all existing company-operated stores in the US and Canada against performance criteria. This means the figure of 10,000 will encompass pre-existing stores as well as new builds and renovations.

The question is: How can large companies operating a store on every corner avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing? Starbucks has a few solutions. First, it sought external eyes, developing the GGSC together with experts including SCS Global Services (a leader in third-party environmental, sustainability and food quality certification, auditing, testing and standards development) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). And in a bid to encourage other retailers to act, Starbucks has open-sourced the framework. ‘When » companies step up and demonstrate leadership,’ says Erin Simon, director of R&D at WWF US, ‘other businesses often follow with commitments of their own, driving further positive impacts.’

Kengo Kuma’s stacked-container Starbucks in Hualien, Taiwan, is made from 29 recycled shipping containers, a structure the brand has used in over 45 other outlets. (Courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates)

Two aspects of the GGSC relate directly to how future Starbucks spaces will look and feel. The focus is shifting from productivity and performance to health and wellness, considering how lighting, noise, air quality and temperature can best enhance the experience for customers and staff. But will guests be tempted enough by the atmosphere to trade in their takeaway cup for a seat at a table, and sip from a washable reusable porcelain mug? All stores will also employ responsibly and sustainably sourced materials and products. Recent projects such as Kengo Kuma’s stacked-container Starbucks in Hualien, Taiwan, hint at the shape of what’s to come. The store is made from 29 recycled shipping containers, a structure Starbucks has used in over 45 other outlets.

Although the GGSC was announced only last year, Starbucks did an about-face much earlier. In 2001 it collaborated with the US Green Building Council to develop the LEED for Retail programme, opening its first LEED-certified store four years later. Today it operates more LEED-certified stores than any other retailer in the world.

Let’s not pretend such initiatives are selfless acts – they’re also economical. ‘We know that designing and building green stores is not only responsible,’ says Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of Starbucks, ‘it is cost effective as well. The energy and passion of our green apron partners [Starbucks calls its employees ‘partners’ and has teamed with Arizona State University to develop Greener Apron, a voluntary certification programme on sustainability] has inspired us to find ways to operate a greener store that will generate even greater cost savings while reducing impact.’ The GGSC is expected to save Starbucks an incremental US$50 million in utilities over the coming decade.

The Commitment also includes investments in renewable energy and water conservation, efforts that don’t come cheap. (Plus it’s sinking a cool $10 billion into the development of the aforementioned compostable cup.) Starbucks has the luxury of capital: in the US and Americas alone, sales at stores open for at least a year grew 4 per cent during Starbucks’ fiscal fourth quarter (2018), beating analysts’ forecast of 2.7 per cent. It’s now an $80 billion business (source: Money, or lack thereof, does play a role in environment-related decision making. Many people may want to travel by train, for instance, but are swayed by the convenience and often lower cost of flying. It will be interesting to see how smaller, younger companies can adapt and apply the lessons of the big guns.

At the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center pop-up, customers could bring in their second-hand shoes to be donated or processed into Nike Grind, which is reborn as new footwear and apparel or sports surfaces. (Dorothy Hong)

NIKE As the global fashion market makes moves towards circularity, Nike shows how interiors can act as billboards for ecoconscious efforts. At the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center pop-up, for example, customers watched their old sneakers be sent off for recycling – and saw the results on the literal shop floor.

‘Sustainable fashion’ feels like an oxymoron. What’s in vogue one day can be out the next, a phenomenon only compounded by fast fashion: clothing that moves at a lighting pace from catwalk to retailers to, inevitably, the rubbish bin. As in other retail genres, it’s difficult for consumers to measure the impact of their actions. Clothing production typically requires rivers of water and chemicals – not to mention contributing serious amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that making 1 kg of fabric generates an average of 23 kg of greenhouse gases, and reported that the ‘sustainability impact of clothing continues to mount after consumers leave the store with newly purchased apparel’. Washing and drying 1 kg of clothing over its lifetime using typical methods creates an estimated 11 kg of greenhouse gases – ‘an amount that companies could reduce by altering fabrics and clothing designs’. And that’s only up until the point that apparel is unwanted or irreparable. Current technologies aren’t yet up to speed with recycling clothing castaways into new materials. As stated in Fast Fashion: Inside the Fight to End the Silence on Waste (BBC), ‘it is estimated that only 1 per cent of our clothing is ultimately recycled into new garments’.

So what exactly is being done to combat such issues? For starters, at the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Global Fashion Agenda urged the fashion industry to sign – and more importantly, to act upon – the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment (now known as the 2020 Commitment). By May last year, 12.5 per cent of the global fashion market was on board, including such big names as Asos, Gap and Nike. The latter had already made strides in the field, having won the Accenture Strategy Award for Circular Economy Multinational at The Circulars awards programme in 2017, an accolade it shared with Patagonia. And Nike is now signing on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, a commitment under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The com Nike proudly proclaims that 75 per cent of all its shoes and apparel now contain some recycled material. And those end products can be recycled again into Nike Grind: old shoes and surplus manufacturing scraps reborn in such forms as new footwear and apparel or running tracks and sports courts. While it’s unclear how long it took for the company to realize – or develop – yet another application for Nike Grind surfaces, all was revealed in the House of Innovation. The New York store, which opened late last year, featured a staircase made entirely out of recycled Nike shoes. You can literally test out new shoes by walking on old ones.

Things have advanced from there, with a recent pop-up becoming an entire canvas for Nike’s ecocentric ethos. At the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center – which was open for a month in the middle of this year and designed with Virgil Abloh – Nike Grind wasn’t just underfoot – the mottled material formed the store’s stools and mannequins, too. Walls were lined in reused shoebox paper, and banners made of recycled Nike Air bags. And here, the brand brought its clients in on the recycling action. The pop-up doubled as a recollection depot by encouraging customers to bring in their old kicks. Those in good nick were donated to other causes, while the unsalvageable were sent down a conveyor belt to meet their (re)maker, adding to a tallied display of shoes ground to date.

But here’s the rub: many sustainability specialists are critical of recycling for its heavy burden on both energy and resources. Will encouraging customers to bring in their old goods – which may not be that old at all – simply prompt them to purchase more, free of guilt? Instead, consumers and companies should be moving towards reduction. While the public can simply choose to buy less, Nike and others of its size can continue to reduce waste, water and, ultimately, their overall environmental impact.

Flooring, mannequins and seating were made from the remains of old sneakers, while reused shoebox paper lined the walls.

IKEA Radically rethinking its entire way of working, Ikea has set ambitious sustainability goals towards 2030. But, as seen in its latest breed of stores, it’s not just about what the company itself does, but also how it educates its customers.

Ikea has long been on the receiving end of purchasers’ tongue-in-cheek pessimism. Couples joke that if they can survive a trip to the blue-and-yellow behemoth, they can survive anything. Its stores are likened to casinos: once inside, you can’t discern the hour of the day, and you’ll inevitably emerge having spent much more time and money than intended.

But beyond the quips lies a greater issue. To many, Ikea represents a thorn in our throwaway society, its cheap-cheaper-cheapest furniture more likely to wind up in landfills than as family heirlooms. Plus, its warren-like store layouts promote last-minute quick-grab purchases, only increasing the likelihood of unnecessary items ending up in shopping carts.

The good news is: Ikea is self-aware. In 2012 it launched a strategy called People & Planet Positive, a series of challenging goals to tackle sustainability across the board, from business practices to value chain to product usage. But times have changed since 2012, with ‘climate change’ recently relabelled ‘climate crisis’. Late last year, the UN issued a report calling for urgent action against our planet’s so-called ‘expiry date’ of 12 years (now 11). Ikea revised its strategy in response, devising even more ambitious objectives towards 2030 in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (see page 157 for Ikea’s three focus areas). The 2018 People & Planet Positive report also states that ‘the strategy will be reviewed annually to secure alignment with the total Ikea strategic framework’.

And progress is afoot. In 2016, four years ahead of schedule, Ikea sent zero waste to landfill in the UK for the first time. Beyond that, the company is striving to produce more renewable energy than it consumes by 2020. ‘We know we need to move faster – to look at the materials that go into making our products,’ says Helen Aylett, manager of Ikea’s Greenwich branch, the UK’s leading sustainable store, which opened in February. Since raw materials are responsible for the majority of Ikea’s carbon footprint, the goal is that by 2030, all products will be developed to be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold or recycled – all while generating as little waste as possible and using only renewable and recycled materials. Already in circulation are products such as modular sofa Vimle. If a section is damaged or more space is needed, customers can switch out or add single units instead of replacing the whole thing. Aylett highlights Ikea’s need to change the way products are viewed in general, too. One example » is the expansion of furniture rental programme tests to locations as diverse as China, the US and India. While it’s too soon to tell if such changes will affect the design of Ikea stores and the customer experience surrounding it, ‘the tests are designed to understand what customer experience and operational aspects can best support these new endeavours’, says Pia Huusfelt, circular business leader at Ingka Group, which operates 367 Ikea stores in 30 markets.

Since raw materials are responsible for the majority of Ikea’s carbon footprint, the brand is finding renewable and recycled alternatives. The Musselblomma collection – a bag, cushion covers and tablecloth by Inma Bermúdez – is made from recycled plastic. (Courtesy of Inter Ikea Systems B.V.)
Ikea Greenwich’s Learning Lab hosts workshops on how to grow food at home, a skill that will be supported by a range of products developed with Tom Dixon due to launch in 2021.
It was paramount that the Greenwich store’s Learning Lab be glass-fronted and located in a high-traffic area to attract the attention of passing customers. (Teri Pengilley)
A campaign by Mother encouraged the most sustainable method of transport to Ikea Greenwich: on foot. (Courtesy of Mother London)

Ikea recognizes that as a leader in the affordable-furniture category, it has a responsibility to critically address its entire way of working. But the brand also believes it should act as an enabler. ‘The Planet Positive Strategy not only gives us key targets for how we’ll change ourselves to tackle challenges of unsustainable consumption and climate change,’ says Aylett, ‘but how we’ll do that together with co-workers, customers and external partners by 2030.’

The Greenwich branch Aylett manages is the first full-sized Ikea to open in London in 14 years. It forms part of a city-centre approach to stores, a response to the growth of urban living, the shift to a circular economy and changes in the way people live and shop. Finding the right spot was important to increase opportunities for sustainable travel with public transport. ‘A key part of the opening market campaign was encouraging people to leave their cars at home,’ says Aylett. On a more global level, Huusfelt speaks of the ‘commitment to 100 per cent of home deliveries being zero emission by 2025, an example of how we are working on integrating sustainability into all services’.

Transport also helped the Greenwich store reach BREEAM certification. Aylett proudly tells me it’s only the second retail environment in the world with a rating of over 90 per cent, a figure bolstered by scoring 100 per cent in the transport and travel category. ‘None of my co-workers drive to work. We recruited locally to make it happen – everyone has accessible public transport to the store. We decided as a team to do so. When talking about changing our attitude to sustainability, we have to reflect on how we ourselves behave.’

The brand’s approach to retail design is also shifting. Once brightly coloured blots on industrial landscapes, the stores are moving towards site integration. ‘Through our planning and design processes we’re searching for better physical and visual connections with surrounding areas while remaining true to our blue-and-yellow branding,’ says Aylett. ‘We also wanted a much better shopping experience for customers and a nicer working environment for employees. You’ll notice far more natural light than in any of our previous stores, for example.’ The Greenwich store also incorporates a number of renewable construction materials and green technologies including solar panels, rainwater harvesting and geothermal heating, and is lit solely with LEDs. Shoppers who may have once wanted to hightail it to the exit as soon as possible are encouraged to linger and – more importantly – to learn. Some Ikea stores (Greenwich among them) now hold workshops on sustainable living. Topics include prolonging the life of products, growing food at home, upcycling and waste reduction. The idea is to educate consumers to make better choices and thus live healthier and more sustainable lives once they leave the shop floor. At Greenwich, it was paramount that the Learning Lab be glass-fronted and located in a high-traffic area. ‘That way, if you’re not participating you can still see what’s going on,’ says Aylett. ‘We want to rouse curiosity so customers might join the next event.’

Ikea’s international presence makes it difficult to put specific frameworks in place for future stores. Aylett says the company is ‘constantly learning and evolving, as what we do is very dependent on the market’. Huusfelt echoes this sentiment: ‘Different issues – water scarcity, food waste, energy saving – all have different relevance and prominence from community to community. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainable retail.’