Amanda Sawit

Pumpkin-spiced drinks and red cups may be in season, but Starbucks’ LEED-certified stores offer its customers sustainable, healthy spaces that are optimized for the enjoyment of coffee year-round. 

Starbucks reached a huge milestone in its commitment to build high-performance, sustainable stores last month with the opening in Iowa of its 1,000th LEED-certified store.   

The Starbucks at Lincoln Way and Lynn Avenue

Located in the campus town of Ames, this 2,000-square-foot store sits at the intersection of Lincoln Way and Lynn Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the Iowa State University campus. It was awarded LEED Silver under the Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) rating system and posted notable resource savings, including a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption over baseline figures through the installation of LED lighting. 

John Harrison, store development services manager, and Suzanne Sullivan, project manager for Starbucks’ LEED execution team, shared their thoughts on the new store milestone and their experiences with certifying spaces on a massive scale.

The Ames location in particular demonstrated exemplary performance in water efficiency. Tell us a bit about the strategies you used to reach that goal.

Suzanne: Starbucks employs many savings measures in order to reduce water use in our stores. In addition to typical water-efficient fixtures, we concentrate on our much larger use footprint in processed water use. By eliminating continuously running dipper well rinsing faucets, improving our water treatment standards and utilizing water-efficient equipment, we have reduced our water use by more than 50 percent over baseline figures. 

Starbucks has demonstrated that it knows how to build both efficient and aesthetically pleasing spaces where people want to gather. What do you think is the single most important thing that makes a green building project successful?  

John: Teamwork and accountability are the keys to our success. Internal partners on our store development team, outsourced architects/engineers and contractors all work together to make sure that our stores are efficient, healthy and inviting. LEED provides us with a framework to build sustainably by keeping everyone involved with the project's design and construction accountable for measurable results. 

Scaling up the benefits of green building

Early on, Starbucks was a key developer in the LEED for Retail program to adapt green principles to new construction and commercial interior strategies for retail businesses. Since then, the company has been quite busy. Starbucks stores currently make up 20 percent of all LEED-certified retail space globally, and there are LEED-certified Starbucks locations in 20 countries and U.S. territories (the company was the first retailer to open certified buildings in France, Germany, Spain, Thailand and the Philippines.) 

The company was also one of the first to pilot USGBC’s LEED Volume Certification program, which streamlines the LEED certification process by focusing on similarities in building design, operations and delivery. Under the pilot program, Starbucks executed 10 successful store design and construction projects in six different bio-regions and have used the knowledge gained from those projects to inform its strategy and decision-making within its broader sustainability efforts. 

Starbucks uses a unique strategy-based approach in its volume building program, forgoing a traditional prototype design for its stores. This approach has allowed the program to be applied internationally, where design and construction means and methods vary from within the United States. Applying LEED strategies has, in turn, helped define store design and construction standards globally, which has allowed Starbucks to build more sustainably overall. 

Starbucks has partnered with USGBC for more than a decade and has been a member since 2001. At Greenbuild 2016, Starbucks corporate architect Tony Gale was named a 2016 USGBC Leadership Award winner, honoring his years of dedication to expanding the company’s sustainability model.