CSR in the Coffee Industry: Sustainability Issues at Nestlé-Nespresso and Starbucks

Stephanie Niemuth, Lisa Hamann, Kaya Luschnat, Paulina Smolarz, Svenja Golombek


The coffee sector’s active engagement with sustainability issues appears to be a relatively new phenomenon. Even newer is the necessity to deal with recycling and waste. Next to the waste produced by the “coffee to go” mobile drinking culture and coffee bars, the popularity of coffee capsules – i.e. single-use contrainers made of metal or plastics – is creating mountains of waste unknown to the traditional method of brewing coffee. The pioneer in this premium coffee sector has been Nespresso, a subsidiary and brand of the Swiss company Nestlé. Many other companies – from discount retailers to big-brand coffee shop chains like Starbucks – have copied Nespresso’s machine-and-capsule concept, adding to both the popularity and the waste problem. Next to the problem of waste production, coffee companies are addressing the problem of ethical sourcing. A key but by no means the only element is sourcing via “fair trade” schemes. Assuming that finding answers to these sustainability challenges can have a crucial impact on future sales, this article sets out to analyse and compare coffee companies’ sustainability programmes, using the examples of Nespresso and Starbucks. It finds that both firms engage in rather similar activities, but some critical differences can be identified. Both firms have a successful record in ethical sourcing. Both have not yet developed convincing waste solutions. Nespresso’s insistence on using aluminium for its capsules remains a critical issue.

Keywords: Aluminium, coffee, consumers, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), environment, ethics, Nestlé, Nespresso, recycling, Most Similar Systems Design (MSSD), sourcing, Starbucks, sustainability, waste

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Technische Hochschule Wildau [FH] - Technical University of Applied Sciences, Wildau, Germany