The idea behind the change in design came from a goal to recycle, said Alisha Damodaran, spokeswoman for Starbucks.
"We use a lot of shipping containers to transport merchandise, coffee and tea all around the world," she said. "A container has about a 20-year life span, and after that, there's no use for them. Our design team was inspired by a desire to help keep items used throughout our supply chain, like old shipping containers, out of the waste stream."
Starbucks goes further. Stores are LEED-certified, a rating system for energy efficient buildings. In addition, the design of each store is meant to reflect its surroundings.
"There's lots of room for innovation when it comes to the way we design our stores," said Damodaran. "Our global footprint offers many possibilities to replicate and scale our green building efforts."
The small South Salt Lake site is particularly suited for cargo containers since there's not a lot of room for construction crews. The containers can be assembled elsewhere and then lowered onto the commercial site. Modular outlets also can be disassembled and moved as needed.
At just 386 square feet, the Utah store's tiny footprint also allows the company to enter high-traffic locations. It is built from two containers: One is 40-feet long cut into 24- and 16-foot sections while the second is an 8-foot mini container.
"We were excited to see Starbucks present a great design that included innovative architecture and sustainable construction materials," said South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood. "We love the walk-up window that serves pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. Most importantly, Starbucks proved that, with enough vision and creativity, you can redevelop a former gas station on a small lot at a busy intersection into a great use and a community landmark."
The store's containers are painted brown and set off by steel and wood. One of the containers is decorated with more than 70 words starting with "r" that describe recycling, beginning with regenerate and reuse and ending with regain and revive.
The container-as-coffee shop model is part of Starbuck's push into drive-throughs, according to Fortune magazine. About 900 or 60 percent of the 1,500 new U.S. stores planned for the next five years will be drive-throughs. And a good portion of those outlets will be made from shipping containers.
Starbucks using shipping containers in its buildings has brought the market to a higher level. The chain anticipates having 20,000 stores on six continents by 2014, according to its annual report.
"The container is no longer a fad," SG Blocks chairman and CEO Paul Galvin told CNNMoney. "It's a mainstream instrument of construction."
The New York-based SG Blocks is one of Starbucks' partners in repurposing old containers for construction.
Starbucks operates more than 18,000 stores in 61 countries, employs 200,000 people and posted annual sales of $13.3 billion.
Starbucks shipping-container drive-through
Where • 3300 South West Temple, South Salt Lake
What • Third store in chain built with recycled containers
Hours • 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday