Starbucks’ Ethos is My Ethos

Dear Starbucks,

I love your coffee. While puffing away on my morning cigarette, your Pike Place beans skip caffeinated pleasantries across my tongue like a still pond on a bright spring day. I often wonder what I’m more addicted to – your coffee or nicotine? I know I need both to consider myself a functional human being, so I hope to never have to choose between the two of you.

It barely matters to me that your practices in acquiring coffee beans are typically corporate in that you monopolize specific markets to the point where farmers are forced to sell to you for less than is fair. Or that despite past marketing efforts, your Ethos Water seems fairly unethical as it barely lives up to its supposed goal of giving children access to clean water. Though the latter is old news, nearly 5 years has passed since you were pummelled by the press for the ploy and you’ve yet to even attempt to rectify it.


The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as seen in its beliefs and aspirations.

Doesn’t the name itself imply that by purchasing said bottled water, we are helping a culture in need? Then again, perhaps I’m missing the point. Perhaps, the ethos in Ethos Water is the community created within our own local, civilized nation. The taste and warmth of your Pumpkin Spice lattes when that fall chill hits the air or the month of discounted cold Mocha-Frappy-type beverages you offer when air conditioning just doesn’t cut it in the blazing summer heat. Despite the near-immediate need to visit the loo after any of your pumpkin products and the Big Mac-esque calorie count in your LattaFrappa-whatnots, I know the right motivation is there. You do offer low-fat and soy options, after all. Lest we forget the genuine pleasantry that your servers exude over that of the staff of Timmy Ho’s across the land. It’s simply a pleasure to be inside you.

(Pic via

 Still, the unsustainability of this sustainability project befuddles me.

  • How only $0.10 of every $2.50 bottle of Ethos actually goes to the disadvantaged communities we’re supposed to be helping.
  • That it’s bottled by Pepsi; one of great the figureheads of less-than-ethical corporate behaviour in the third-world.
  • That bottled water most often takes H2O from rural areas where the natural precipitation caused by lakes and springs is cycled back through the local ecosystem (thereby perpetuating the cycle we know as life), and dumps it to the sewage drains of cities, where concrete does not, in fact, grow when watered.
  • Also, why isn’t the bottle made of recycled plastic?

I can’t help but occasionally ponder how against your public image as ‘responsible’ this is, not to mention how little it affects my choice to visit you.

Thankfully, through the process of writing this letter, I have seen a new light, Starbucks. I only submit (it) to you now so that you can follow my train of thought and perhaps share it with others who may contact you with uncertainties of your ethical behaviour…

I should really stop complaining. You are providing all of your friends with a comfortable environment in which to feel special. You keep your prices within reason for us in the middle+ class and your apple fritters are quite simply delicious.

The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as seen in its beliefs and aspirations (or ethos) you are promoting is actually our own.

We believe that when we pay too much for bottled water, we should be thinking about all of those poor dehydrated people in Africa. That’s why you give… to them! Sure, you didn’t quite meet your goal of $10M (out of a projected $151M profit) for disadvantaged communities from 2007 to 2010, but you’re still sitting pretty at a slick $6M. Don’t worry, only economists were predicting a recession, and who can prevent bad press?

We believe that farmers shouldn’t be bullied. That’s why you’re much less of a bully than most of the other coffee conglomerates! You have a catchy acronym for ethical behaviour in C.A.F.E. Meaning that a whopping 84% (226 million pounds) of the coffee you buy meets the very standards you helped to establish with the environmental group Conservation International (and they’re a real thing). While we all know that the “Fairtrade Certified” standard is overrated, you still manage to have nearly 8% of your stock live up to it. Way to go, friend!

It’s hard not to be concerned about the environment these days. Which is why you help sustain our planet by purchasing an unholy 14 million pounds (5% for those keeping track) of organic coffee beans every year.

We believe in paying for what we get. You give us quality, right? So, when we pay $15.99 for a pound of coffee, we know that the gap between the $1.56 you’ve incurred is all legitimate administrative/transportation/etcetera cost we probably shouldn’t bother thinking about. I mean, you paid $0.09 more per pound from 2009 to 2010 and you only increased the price per Grande (16oz) cup of coffee by $0.21 last year in Canada. You’re always looking out for us!

The more I ponder it, the stupider I feel for ever having any doubt about enjoying my morning brew. Corporations are out there to make profit, I’m out here to enjoy a nice cuppa’ joe, and you provide.

To expect that you would go out of your way to adhere to my personal ethical beliefs that people should always be treated fairly and have the facts presented to them accurately is just that. My belief. How can I call myself a true friend if I want you to change who you are so that I can enjoy myself more? You’re always taking care of the experiential existence that is being a patron of your fine establishment. It is, in fact, a truism that Starbucks is superior to other coffee shops… or is it a truthiness? I always mix the two up.

See you tomorrow!

– Séamus

About Seamus Gearin

Séamus once found a $100 bill and gave it to the first person who passed by. He's regretted it ever since.