Follow the Leader: Starbucks Says Paper Is Renewable, Recyclable, Sustainable

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 10/19/2016

I love good coffee! So, I often find myself in a Starbucks, especially during my travels. These days the first thing I do when I walk in is check the napkins for environmental claims. The claim I see today at an Orlando Starbucks is “This napkin is made with 100% recycled content and a minimum 40% post-consumer fiber.”

Factual, verifiable and (hopefully) substantiated — the claim is simple and accurate. A year ago the claims were quite different and included inaccurate wording about “saving trees”.

Starbucks is one of the companies that has collaborated with Two Sides to adjust its claims. As a result of our discussions with their sustainability department, the company modified its message on napkins and paper bags. Their inventory across North America is now being turned over to the new message, which literally includes millions of impressions that are seen by millions of their customers.

But that’s not the best part. I order lunch with my coffee and it comes in a paper bag with a claim printed underneath the bag: “Renewable, recyclable, sustainable — contains minimum 40% post-consumer material.” Again, a very factual claim — Starbucks saying paper is renewable, recyclable and sustainable.

I know for a fact that the bag inventory in most Starbucks still has the old message about “trees being saved” — I have been checking! If you see a new and more factual message, please let me know. Snap a photo and send it to

It’s important for corporate marketers to notice what is happening here. Although the “save a tree” claim has been irresistible for many marketing departments as they cut costs and promote electronic services over paper-based communications — it also shows a disconnect between marketing and sustainability within large companies.

Examples like Starbucks have made me realize that most sustainability experts in the corporate world are very well equipped and effective at educating their internal marketing departments about the following:

  • the rules on environmental marketing (i.e., Green Guides published by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission) and the need to keep claims specific and to have credible scientific substantiation
  • the life cycle and unique environmental features of sustainable forests and forest products like paper
  • the causes and definition of deforestation (agriculture, urbanization, development — not sustainable forestry!)
  • the environmental impact of switching from paper to electronic
  • the fact many of their customers need and value paper

Starbucks was a great company to work with and we certainly hope more will follow their suit.

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Source: This blog originally appeared on Printing Impressions website on October 3, 2016.