A Cup for Joe

Starbucks can save the world, if it has the balls.

I was reintroduced to Chris Jordan though his TED talk, Picturing Excess, in which he uses images to demonstrate to the enormity of American’s subconscious behaviors in aggregate. The results are staggering and the implications are catastrophic. Worse yet, Americans are apathetic to their own, marginal impact. So, what’s the fix?

Start with paper cups.

Americans use 16 billion (with a ‘B’) paper cups every year. You’ve likely used one or two today to transport your Caramel Macchiato and thought nothing about the aggregate impact. Neither does anyone else, nor do most people care– therein lies the problem:

  1. Bringing your own cup is inconvenient, albeit cost effective.
  2. One paper cup has virtually no impact. 

Solution: Starbucks should stop serving beverages in disposable cups, driving change through ubiquity.

Starbucks should take a cue from the milkmen of yore and dispense beverages with a meaningful (say, $10) container deposit. Any container can be returned to any Starbucks, and Starbucks will sterilize any returned container for reuse. And it’s not that inconvenient: Starbucks is everywhere. (And, if they’re fully committed to their containers, they can include RFID to track customer coffee drinking habits and share that information with them… but I digress.)

Immediate Effects

  1. Overnight 15% reduction in paper cup usage.
    [Starbucks printed 2.3 Billion (again, with a 'B') paper cups in 2006.]
  2. Increased awareness that local efforts have global impact. 

Secondary Effects

  1. Increased acknowledgement that local efforts have global impact. 
  2. Increased local action.
  3. More companies will follow their lead.
  4. The homeless (and other financially challenged individuals) will ensure these containers are returned or recycled.

For many Americans, coffee is the alpha and omega. In ridding Starbucks of disposable containers, it’s a constant reminder that our local actions do affect global change. 

Unfortunately, I suspect SBUX stockholders might sue. Admittedly, this is a risky plan; though, I would hope that corporations with the power to affect change would, instead of merely “protecting shareholder value”.

Maybe Dunkin’ Donuts, a privately-owned company, will have the chutzpah.

I hope someone does.

More: B-Corporations, Sustainability is Sexy.