Coffee: An endangered crop
Take a deep breath, caffeine addicts: your daily cup ‘o joe may be in serious danger. As the impacts of climate change continue to ripple across the planet, the agricultural sector is poised to bear the brunt of its initial effects. Coffee is a particularly sensitive crop –coffee plants require a precise temperature and moisture content for proper growth, as well as predictable and stable weather patterns. As temperatures rise and rain patterns become more intense and erratic, global crop yields could plummet; even a 0.5 degree temperature difference can significantly alter growing conditions.  Warming climates can also give rise to diseases such as coffee rust (a fungus), and pests like the coffee berry borer (a beetle), which have already been found to cause coffee bean yield losses tallying hundreds of millions of dollars. 
The overall potential impact of climate change on coffee production is profound: a landmark study in the journal Climatic Change concluded that temperature variability from climate change could reduce the global area suitable for coffee cultivation by as much as 50%.  Low latitude and low altitude regions are especially susceptible to these climate change effects—a problematic reality, given that the majority of the world’s coffee production derives from these regions.
Figure 1: Projected Coffee Suitability Changes by 2050 
Source: Bunn et al, 2014
Starbucks: Skin in the game
As the world’s second-most sought-after commodity (after oil), and most frequently-consumed beverage (at an estimated 500 billion cups annually), coffee reigns supreme.  And in the land of coffee, Starbucks is the undisputed king, at over 25,000 locations and $21.7 Billion in sales. Needless to say, as the world’s foremost purveyor of coffee, Starbucks is acutely aware of the potential climate change has to roil production of its most-prized product.
In addition to its tremendous financial stake in climate change, Starbucks has long been a leader in the realm of corporate social responsibility, with a commitment to have a “positive impact on the communities [they] serve, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”. Since 2004, the company has implemented a comprehensive climate change strategy, including signing the RE100, a global corporate commitment to purchase 100% renewable energy, and has building over 1000 LEED-certified stores. The company additionally conducted a comprehensive inventory of its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. 
Figure 2: Starbucks Greenhouse Gas Footprint
Can Starbucks’ famed supply chain adapt to a new climate reality?
Starbucks’ vaunted global supply chain is a case study in what long-time CEO Howard Schultz termed “vertical integration to the extreme”. Spanning countries and continents, Starbucks exerts tremendous control over its supply chain, with direct ownership over nearly every component of the chain from roasting plants to warehouses to retail outlets, and enforcement of strict Coffee Sourcing Guidelines and social responsibility standards for all 3rd party suppliers. [9,10]
Amid mounting climate change threats, Starbucks has additionally ramped up efforts to strengthen the sustainability and adaptability of its supply chain at the level of front-line farmers. Examples of these programs include:
- The Global Farmer Fund, a $50 million fund to finance farm renovations to help producers pursue more sustainable practices. 
- Founding the “Sustainable Coffee Challenge”, a joint initiative to bring stakeholders and competitors throughout the coffee industry together to create a sustainability “roadmap” for the coffee industry. 
- Implementation of “Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E)” Practices for farmers, a set of sustainability standards including shade and tree conservation for crop protection, and pest and disease management strategies 
- Purchase of a company-owned coffee farm “laboratory” in Costa Rica to pilot new coffee-growing practices and to develop coffee plants capable of withstanding harsher environmental conditions [ibid]
All told, Starbucks has invested over $100 million to support coffee growing communities through its sustainability programs . Given that the vast majority of Starbucks’ suppliers reside in resource-poor nations and poor rural communities, the onus will be on the company to continue growing its material and educational support of coffee growers, to help them adapt to new climate conditions. As agronomic innovations arise, Starbucks will need to leverage its global network to rapidly disseminate and implement new growing strategies to combat changing conditions.
With its well-developed and integrated supply chain and positioning as an industry leader in sustainable practices, Starbucks is well-positioned to lead the charge in sustainable coffee production. Nonetheless, difficult questions still remain: Given the potential for shifting climate patterns, should Starbucks investigate new growing locales at the expense of abandoning existing ones? Could the company do so without violating its core values of community and farmer empowerment? And fundamentally, can a company like Starbucks truly reconcile its corporate mission to increase sales with its social mission to promote environmental sustainability?
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