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Peet’s Coffee – sustainability and social responsibility

Peet’s coffee was founded in Berkeley, California, by Dutch immigrant, Alfred Peet, all the way back in 1966. Peet’s changed the landscape of coffee in America, taking things up a few notches in terms of quality and experience. You can imagine what Berkeley culture was like in 1966, when Peet’s arrived on the scene, fueling conversations on free speech, civil rights, and the Vietnam war. And even though the company sometimes looks more than The Man than any kind of movement, locals are still very loyal to Peet’s, even going as far as calling themselves as Peetniks.

As normal, I’ve been writing ethical reviews of local businesses and posting them on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Maps, etc., and I recently reviewed Peet’s. My next post will be to announce another competition to encourage you, dear readers, to write your own review in which you include an ethical (Green Stars) rating. The prize for this next contest will be particularly fitting – a subscription to the UK-based organization, Ethical Consumer, which informs readers on issues related to ethical consumption.

So, I want to do a quick breakdown of my review of Peet’s Coffee, to help illustrate the process of evaluating companies for ethics (social and environmental impact). To show that there are multiple ways to tackle this, I’m going to do it in three slightly different ways. So, without further ado, I’ll get started with the first approach: comparing Peet’s to a coffee chain that I’ve already reviewed: Starbucks.

Peet’s versus Starbucks: which is more ethical?

I’ve written about Starbucks a few times – the first post looked Starbucks’ social and environmental impact and included a poll in which you voted (thank you!) with your ethical rating. In the second post, I looked at the poll results – the average rating was 2.3 Green Stars (out of 5) – and composed a review that summarized the ethical pros and cons of Starbucks. So, let’s round that score to 2.5 Green Stars (since I’ve decided that the Green Stars scale should run from 0 to 5 in half-star increments).

It often makes it easier to assign a new rating when we already have a point of reference, so the question becomes: is Peet’s more or less ethical than Starbucks? I’m not going to claim that this comparison is complete – in fact I’ll do it mostly from the perspective of my experience as a customer. Here are some relevant excerpts from my review:

Peet’s versus Starbucks: waste generation

The manager at my local Peet’s introduced some work-arounds that allowed people to bring their own mugs again, and Peet’s gives a 25 cent discount for this.

[This isn’t happening a Starbucks yet]

Peet’s has always had a policy where they’d give you your drink without a lid, allowing you to choose whether or not you needed that piece of plastic to cover your drink for 10 minutes.

[Starbucks staff usually give a speech on company rules / liability if you ask for a cup with no lid]

Peet’s disposable cups and lids are now both compostable. This helps quite a bit in terms of waste sorting, because everything can go into the compost bin. Let’s face it, at many coffee places (hello, Starbucks!) customers’ trash pretty much ends up in random bins. It would require a long discussion but I think compostable lids + cups are the best option (after ceramic or bringing yer own mug).

A compostable coffee cup lid from Peet’s Coffee, made from poly-lactic acid (PLA) by Ingeo.

Peet’s versus Starbucks: (plant-based) food menu

“The other thing I like about Peet’s right now is the Everything Plant-Based Sandwich that was recently introduced. It’s a sausage patty from Beyond Meat, combined with JUST vegan egg and vegan cheddar, all on a thin everything bagel. I don’t quite understand why coffee chains have been so slow to introduce vegan products. Starbucks introduced an Impossible Breakfast Sandwich that was a confusing combination of a vegan patty from Impossible Foods with real eggs and cheese. It seems weird that they didn’t make it fully vegan.

The completely vegan Everything Plant-Based Sandwich from Peet’s Coffee

[Two of my biggest problems with Starbucks are the company’s lack of progress in reducing waste and the lack of plant-based items on the menu. I can say that Peet’s is now doing better than Starbucks on both fronts.]

Peet’s versus Starbucks: coffee sourcing

Obviously, some kind of comparison between Peet’s and Starbucks on coffee sourcing should be included. Again, just looking at things from the simple perspective of my own experience, I can speak to that a little bit. Not all of Peet’s coffee is perfectly ethical, but my drip coffee was made from Yosemite Dos Sierras beans, which are organic and also certified by the Smithsonian as Bird Friendly. As I’ve covered previously, shade cover is an important attribute for sustainable coffee and the Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification is the best certification when it comes to coffee sustainability.

Starbucks, as covered in the previous posts, is about middling for coffee sourcing and have changed policies so many times over the years that it’s frustrating. The higher quality Starbucks Reserve coffees have almost disappeared and all stores brew drip coffee from a generic “Pike Place Roast” (unless you request a pour-over).

Peet’s versus Starbucks: overall impact

From the perspective of my own experience in that one visit, things looked pretty good in Peet’s compared to Starbucks – I was able to have organic, bird-friendly coffee in my own mug plus a vegan sandwich, made with a Beyond Meat patty. I had looked into Peet’s previously and I wasn’t convinced that the company was that much better than Starbucks, ethically speaking. Peet’s still has room for improvement but I would say that recent changes have been in a positive direction. Overall, I’d rate Peet’s 1 or 1.5 stars higher than the 2.5 Green Stars score that Starbucks received – so, between 3.5 and 4 Green Stars.

Peet’s Coffee sustainability and social responsibility – score breakdown

OK – that last section was longer than anticipated! (In my head, making the comparison wasn’t that difficult and didn’t take so long.) Now, for the second method for figuring out an ethical rating for Peet’s Coffee. It involves breaking down the overall score for sustainability and social responsibility into sub-scores that are each fairly easy to rate.

I’m using a table from a post on how to decide on an ethical rating for cafés that broke down the ethical score. I’ve attached an Excel file containing the table in case anyone would like to download it for use. It’s not fixed, of course – you can adjust it to suit your own priorities:

When I computed an ethical score for Starbucks using that table, it worked out at 2.5 Green Stars, which was very close to the average score (2.3) from the user poll. Calculation of the score for Peet’s is shown below. The column titled “Possible score” lists the maximum number of points that can be awarded for each feature and the “Actual score” lists the number of points that I awarded to Peet’s.

So, Peet’s scored 17 points out of a maximum of 24, which translates to 3.5 Green Stars (i.e., 17/24 x 5). So the score computed by this method is similar to the score obtained by the first method (comparison to Starbucks) and is an exact match for my next method!

Ethical rating for Peet’s – my normal method

OK, so now we’ve reached the third method for rating Peet’s on sustainability and social responsibility. This is the method that I use most of the time. Basically, I do some research on the company and then, after collecting it all, I’ll award a score that reflects what I’ve learned. The research involves a mixture of observation on site (which really helps my detective skills!) and some online research to fill in the gaps.

The process should actually be fun (and it often is) when it entails learning about new things. But even when it’s not so thrilling, I think it’s still a worthwhile investment of time. After all, if you’re going to go somewhere regularly, isn’t it worth spending an hour to know something about whether it’s a good choice or not?

So, here’s the “ethical rating” part of my Peet’s Coffee review, which I wrote before breaking it down using the table, above, so I was glad to see that they arrived at the same score!

I’m giving the Peet’s Coffee 3.5 out of 5 “Green Stars” for social and environmental impact, based on this:

So there you have it, 3.5 Green Stars for Peet’s Coffee.

Give some thought to writing a Green Stars review in advance of the contest, coming up next. I’m happy to help if you need it – just get in touch.

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