Starbucks, ASU partner on new research and rapid innovation facility

Building on a long-standing partnership, Starbucks and Arizona State University are joining forces to create the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet – a new research and rapid innovation facility created to find new ways to design, build and operate Starbucks stores.

“Over the last several years we have been reinventing Starbucks for our future and transforming the way we drive innovation at Starbucks,” said Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO. “As we continuously focus on elevating the Starbucks experience, introducing new and exciting beverage innovation and reimagining customer experiences both in-store and through more personalized digital relationships, we constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways to give back more than we take, using our power at scale to create a better society in which we all live.”

Scheduled to open in December 2021 on ASU’s Tempe campus, the ASU-Starbucks Center will be built on the same principle as the Starbucks Tryer Center — bringing ideas to action — supported by ASU’s applied research and on-campus test store ecosystem. The Tryer Center, located on the bottom floor of the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle, is an incubation lab where partners (employees) can quickly test, learn, and adapt ideas for more rapid decision-making. This space represents a mindset of innovation embraced across the organization, which will further propagate at the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet. 

“ASU and Starbucks are aligned in our missions to be of complete service to the communities we serve and build a better future for both people and the planet,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Through this new center, ASU will provide unique value in terms of research and transdisciplinary expertise in order to collaborate with Starbucks to develop, test and validate strategies that can ultimately be scaled to stores and communities globally.”

Mission and focus areas

Exterior photo of Starbucks store on campus

The nine licensed Starbucks stores on ASU's four metro Phoenix campuses, including the one at PV East (pictured) will act as innovation labs to test and evaluate strategies resulting from center research. In-store testing will include new plant-based food and beverage offerings designed to reduce carbon intensity, strategies to improve recycling and circularity (including reusables), and new technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning. Photo by Ashley Quay/ASU

Composed of a dedicated team of scientists, researchers, and support staff, including subject-matter experts from Starbucks and ASU, the center’s objective is to positively impact the future of our planet.

ASU is a leader in transdisciplinary research on pathways toward a future that allows life to thrive on a healthy planet. The recently launched Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is the focal point of these efforts and the home of the new center. Initially, more than 15 faculty and staff from across the university will support the ASU-Starbucks Center activities. As the center expands, its scope and capacity will increase, leveraging ASU's broad expertise and strength in innovation.

This project builds on a shared belief by Starbucks and ASU that the two entities have the power and the responsibility to forge a better future for both people and the planet. In the first year, the work will focus on:

  • Greener Stores: The center will build out and open source the Greener Stores program to continue to innovate solutions for Starbucks stores and to inspire others to design, build and operate portfolios of buildings that minimize environmental impacts throughout their life cycle. This includes developing a road map for Greener Stores education efforts, including a toolkit and learning library, to be made available for Starbucks stakeholders and other industry stakeholders via Starbucks Global Academy.
  • Food and wellness: To empower customers to make the right choices for them and to promote environmental practices, the center will explore alternative menu items, including plant-based offerings and protein sources. The center will also develop tools and trainings to improve environmental impacts and opportunities for current and new products.
  • Community betterment: In line with Starbucks' commitment to creating a warm and welcoming environment, the center will leverage the Third Place environment as a catalyst for positive change across local, national and global communities. This includes inspiring partners to become “Community Champions” by offering training, support, and a community-development playbook to help enhance civic infrastructure and activity in their neighborhoods.
  • Innovation Test Stores: ASU’s four campuses in the Phoenix metro area offer nine licensed Starbucks stores, run by Aramark, that will act as innovation labs to test and evaluate strategies resulting from center research. In-store testing will include new plant-based food and beverage offerings designed to reduce carbon intensity, strategies to improve recycling and circularity (including reusables) and new technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Long-standing partnership with ASU

A row of graduates listen to the commencement ceremony in May 2019

Participants in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan — identifiable by their green-lined stoles — stand during the May 2019 undergraduate commencement at Sun Devil Stadium. To date, more than 18,000 partners have participated in SCAP, and nearly 6,000 have graduated since the plan began. Through the program, Starbucks pays the tuition for benefits-eligible U.S. partners to earn their first-time bachelor's degree through ASU Online. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News

The Starbucks-ASU partnership is founded on a shared belief to uplift the communities we serve.

The relationship began in 2014, when Starbucks and ASU came together to develop the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), which creates an opportunity for benefits-eligible Starbucks U.S. partners to earn their first-time bachelor’s degree through ASU’s top-ranked online degree program with 100% tuition coverage. More than 18,000 partners are participating in SCAP, and nearly 6,000 have graduated since the plan began.

Since then, Starbucks and ASU have launched additional initiatives including Pathway to Admission, Starbucks Global Academy and a Sustainability Fellowship Program, which provides opportunities for ASU sustainability majors through SCAP to complete their required internship capstone experience in Seattle at Starbucks headquarters. In the last four years, the SCAP Sustainability Fellowship has hosted 13 partners from the SCAP program, with the next program offering being planned for fall 2021.

Learn more about the new center at asu-starbuckscenter.com.

Top photo by Ashley Quay/ASU