For Dunkin' Donuts, better sustainability is about the cup

In its first corporate social responsibility report, the company outlines goals for reducing the impact of its packaging and testing new recycling best practices.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

The newly public Dunkin' Donuts has brewed up its first corporate social responsibility and sustainability report and, as you might expect from all the work that rival Starbucks is doing in packaging and cup recycling, one of its primary concerns is the impact of its foam cups. The company has also focused on sourcing more of its coffee from Fair Trade certified growers, according to the report.

Said Karen Raskopf, senior vice president of communications and co-chair of The Dunkin' Donuts & Baskin Robbins Community Foundation:

"We have made good progress in many areas, such as providing more nutritional information for our guests and decreasing the impact of our packaging on the environment, while recognizing there is still much more for us to do. This report represents not only our achievements from the beginning of our CSR journey, but more importantly our commitment to continuing to address the social and environmental issues that face our business."

As I already mentioned, as a convenience-focused food service operation, one of the biggest impacts that Dunkin' Donuts has to worry about is packaging. Right now, according to the report, approximately 15 percent of its packaging is sourced from recycled materials, 15 percent is from paperboard, 24 percent comes from foam, and 24 percent is from plastic resins. With more than 1 billion cups of coffee sold every year, one of the biggest impacts is from its foam hot cup. The company said:

"Over the past few years, we have reviewed or tested nearly every type of single-use hot cup available on the market in our quest for an alternative to the foam cup, and there is simply no single-use hot cup on the market today that meets all of our performance, cost and environmental criteria."

So, yes, the company has looked at lined cups (which are made from renewable sources), which are hard to recycle because special equipment is needed, and compostable paper, which is great but can't be handled by many municipalities simply because they haven't any policy in place to do so, according to Dunkin' Donuts.

Another hidden downside: while the foam cups that Dunkin' Donuts uses have disposal implications that are counter to it sustainability mission, the paper cups it would LIKE to use actually take more energy to produce. One small victory: the company has reduced the weight in both its hot cups and cold cups, which means it is sending 4.6 million fewer pounds to landfills annually.

Another focus that you will hear more about from the Dunkin' Brands group, which includes Baskin Robbins, is what the company plans to do about all those polystyrene pink spoons that it hands out with ice cream servings. The company said it is close to sourcing a recyclable version; it things work out, it will be in restaurant locations by 2013.

Overall, here is a synopsis of the Dunkin' Brands packaging goals:

  • Work with suppliers to make sure improvements trickle down consistently throughout the supply chain
  • Audit the waste and recycling practices at certain locations in order to build a better policy for "diversion"
  • Test reusable mugs for iced beverages
  • Come up with a test for an in-store recycling program of foam cups by 2013
  • Find a more sustainable material for its hot cups

You will also hear more about the focus that Dunkin' Donuts will put on helping franchisees adopt operational practices that are more sustainable. For example, the company touts the fact that its St. Petersburg, Fla., site was certified as Silver under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program in 2010. A second site in the same city will seek LEED certification this year.

Realistically, the company doesn't have a baseline of energy consumption across its restaurants, so it will work to develop one. Over time, it plans to create a set of best practices for energy efficiency, waste diversion and water management that can be shared across all is restaurant locations.

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