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How a Dr. Seuss book inspired Starbucks’ commitment to sustainability

March 17, 2020, 9:00 AM UTC

When Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson was asked by his 4-year-old grandson to read The Lorax together, he had no idea the tyke had picked an allegorical tale. Johnson was struck by the parallels in the Dr. Seuss book to the story of environmental sustainability today. The next week Starbucks launched an internal initiative with a fitting code name: The Lorax Project.

CEOs like Johnson—ones who are fundamentally redefining the relationship between business and society—are the subject of Fortune’s new weekly podcast Leadership Next. They’re answering the call not just to turn a profit but to prove they are doing good in the world. Johnson is the guest on our second episode, hosted by Fortune president and CEO Alan Murray. New episodes are released each Tuesday. 

Starbucks was founded in 1971. (Coincidentally, The Lorax was published the same year.) The global coffeehouse chain is using its 50th anniversary next year as a milestone to make a new major commitment to the environment. As Johnson considers how to steer the company through its next 50 years, he’s clear that sustainability will be an integral component. Murray and Johnson speak at length about Starbucks’ bold, multi-decade aspiration to be a “planet positive company.” 

Johnson says at the six-minute mark: “In a lot of ways our political infrastructure is not serving society as well as it needs to, and that creates an opportunity for the private sector to step up. I think, actually, businesses going forward are going to have to have a mission that goes far beyond the pursuit of profit, a mission that somehow contributes back to society in a way that creates a positive dynamic.”

Later in the podcast, Murray is joined by strategist Andrew Wanliss-Orlebar of Futerra, a U.K.-based company that helps businesses shape their sustainability policies. With many companies starting to make public their plans for environmental issues, Wanliss-Orlebar commends Starbucks for having a more comprehensive plan than others, saying, “It’s not just a carbon commitment. They are looking at carbon and water and waste… Only when you start looking at those together can you start getting to strategies that go beyond offsetting.”  

Listen and subscribe to ‘Leadership Next’ now:

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