Client

Starbucks is a coffee company and coffeehouse chain with more than 23,768 locations worldwide.

Goal

Develop a system to certify every Starbucks product under their stringent environmental and worker safety standards.

Outcomes

Tablet-based applications for inspectors in the field, and web-based applications to handle farm review, approval, and correction activities that have improved the working conditions of 5 million farmers.

We’ve got trust, honesty, and communication with Green River.

Julie Anderson

Senior Manager of Global Responsibility

Overview

Ethical certification processes have been kept almost exclusively in the domain of "social responsibility," either as separate entities (like Fair Trade), or confined within corporate departments. While it’s been vigorously debated (and often despite evidence to the contrary), corporate profits are still perceived to be at odds with environmental/social protection.

What Starbucks has produced, using the technology Green River provided, is a research tool like no other on the planet using data at a scale that can provide truly global findings. A platform that gathers and collates data that can be used to discover if or why women-owned coffee farms have worse working conditions and lower yield, or if annual insect infestation patterns are correlated with specific human activity.

Code that was written quietly on a couch in New England now provides tools for local inspectors on a steamy mountain in the southern hemisphere to access the global force of certification, and our software becomes an essential mechanism in doubling an older farm worker's pay, getting an emergency eyewash station installed in a mill, or providing critical shelter for laborers to prepare their meals.

Challenge

Starbucks created Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices to "evaluate, recognize, and reward producers of high-quality sustainably grown coffee." When Starbucks first approached Green River, their fledgling program was run like almost all new small operations are run, via email and excel spreadsheets. 

And yet, they had a very lofty goal of certifying everything they sell to meet their stringent environmental and worker safety standards.

With several thousand direct users of the system, managing millions of data points through hundreds of workflows, the project demands user interface efficiency and clarity. The certification standards are extensive, and each recorded point (from farm to mill to coop to distribution), its history, and its triggered actions, must be clearly findable and editable (all with detailed audit logs). 

Unlike other certification programs, C.AF.E. Practices are organized around change. If a farm or distributor fails or underperforms during an evaluation, the program is set up to redress their shortcomings and give them resources and opportunities to improve. 

This way, instead of refusing to buy from certain producers and leaving the interaction dead in the water, Starbucks can simultaneously ensure they purchase the best coffee while incentivizing and supporting all producers in their evolution. 

Process

Over the ten years that we’ve been working with Starbucks, the platform has evolved and expanded with the regular addition of new user constituencies. Every year, we embark together on a new improvement to the C.A.F.E. system. Today it functions at the core of their production operations. 

We’ve made inspector interfaces more elegant, improved bandwidth to deal with dropped connections in remote regions and much, much, more. With the support of sensitively calibrated technology, the consumer demand for sustainably grown, responsibly produced, and carefully distributed coffee that meets the highest standards of taste now guides grower practices. 

Simultaneously, the data collected and collated by our system provides crucial insights upon which Starbucks can base their future strategies. For an example, see the past and present Starbucks Global Responsibility Reports here. Running for upwards of ten years, the C.A.F.E. practices data store is now so large and so international as to be useful beyond Starbucks' own sourcing.

Currently, 99% of all coffee served at Starbucks locations has gone through the C.A.F.E. system that we helped create. We'll sip to that!

Starbucks Agronomy Report

Example client report

Solution

After a decade of continuous development, the resultant codebase is a premier global supply chain certification system. Beyond coffee, Starbucks is now certifying cocoa and manufactured goods—travel cups, T-shirts, etc—which each have unique supply chain mechanisms. What started out as a data management tool is now a global analysis platform.

All sorts of data – environmental conservation or degradation, patterns of human economic success or outright abuse, and patterns of quality bean yield or outbreaks of "rust" fungus – has become easy to extract for analysis. 

And with that power, the interests of coffee buyers, concerned with price, quality, and quantity, and the interests of organizations concerned with long-term human and environmental welfare can converge in one shared data system.

Thanks to C.A.F.E. Practices and the vision behind it, Starbucks is now on the leading edge of corporate production. Instead of practicing remedial corporate social responsibility, they have taken the apparent environmental limitations and human rights requirements around their biggest commodities and turned them into pillars of sustaining economic success. 

Environmental welfare and long-term human prosperity now converge in one data system.

Starbucks Manage Supplier

The system includes an offline tablet interface for inspectors in the field to author reports, a management system for verifier organizations, a statistical analysis system used by auditors, and a supplier interface.

Here, you see a management dashboard for third-party inspectors. 

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