In Colorado, A Whole New (Green) Starbucks

When it comes to sustainability, there’s no denying that Starbucks has been taking some steps in recent years. Some of those steps are small: introducing compostable hot-cup sleeves, for example, and turning old baked good into plastics at its store in Hong Kong. Some of those steps are bigger, such mandating that all new stores be built to LEED standards, purchasing Renewable Energy Credits equivalent to 50 percent of its North American energy use and increasing energy efficiency across its stores worldwide. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Starbucks’ efforts to green its global caffeine empire is the way that these efforts tend to intersect with the company’s ongoing reinvention of the Starbucks experience itself. We’ve seen this at work in the store Starbucks opened not long ago in Amsterdam, which hearkens back to the Original Starbucks in Seattle in the fact that it is located a landmark historical building. Loaded with recycled and local materials — such as antique Delft tiles, bicycle inner tubes, and repurposed Dutch oak — this store is about as far from the average strip-mall Starbucks as you could imagine.

Starbucks, Denver

image via Fast Co.Design

Now Starbucks has a new green concept going, literally. The company recently opened a new concept store in Denver, Colo. where you won’t find any cushy leather chairs, nor any CDs for sale at the check out counter. This new Starbucks “modern modular,” LEED-certified is a drive-thru-and-walk-up-only shop that represents a new direction for the chain.

This 500 square-foot store building was constructed in a factory and delivered via articulated truck. Once unloaded and put together, the building was covered in old Wyoming snow fencing. It’s a winning model, as far as green construction goes: prefabrication helps to save on the resources used to create the core of the building, and the local materials used in creating that artistic, attractive facade can change based on the location, personalizing the building while helping to earn it those shiny LEED point for materials sourced within 500 miles.

Starbucks, Denver

image via Fast Co.Design

Oh, and because the U.S. Green Building Council also likes it when buildings educate visitors on their green practices and strategies, the building features signage announcing exactly where its funky facade came from. (Which, you know, isn’t good for marketing or anything.)

This new store model, like a number of others we’ve seen in recent years, bears testament to the fact that Starbucks doesn’t just farm out its store designs to various architecture firms. Rather, it develops all of its store designs from within, taking into account the questions the company as a whole seeks to answer as it expands: How to achieve market growth while reducing the environmental footprint of each store? How to create a standardized model than can be customized, based on its location?

Officially a “pilot program,” this new store poses some unique answers. By cutting the size and ditching its seating, the model not only reduces its carbon footprint over the average Starbucks, it can penetrate markets that might be too small to sustain a traditional store. The prefab aspect makes it easy to standardize, while the building’s facade leaves room for local materials, craftsmanship and even art in the form of “art panels” that can be filled with the work of local artists.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply October 5, 2012



    Drive-thru ≠ green.
    Fast food served in disposable containers ≠ green.

    Nice try. You can’t have American strip-mall car-culture fast-food consumerism and be green at the same time. You just can’t. American companies will try and try and try to convince themselves and the public that we can have both, but we can’t.

    The only thing we can do is scale back and consume less. But Americans are emotionally incapable of scaling back and consuming less. So the denial continues and blogs like this will continue showing us designs that look like they come out of Dwell magazine and telling us that we’re being greener… but it’s all a big lie.

    America is going to kill itself a lot like Elvis killed himself. Slowly, depressingly, disgustingly, sad sad sad.

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