By tinychoices | December 11, 2009
Karina posted about TheBetaCup.com earlier, and Toby agreed to answer a few questions for us for more background!
In early 2009, I was chatting with a close friend about my frustration with paper coffee cups, in particular how many I threw away due to my spiraling coffee drinking habit. Not only was my caffeine addiction a concern (I’m a ‘three-a-day’ sorta guy), but I was also troubled by the environmental impact this might be having, especially since the cups could not be recycled.
My friend was quick to point out that a reusable cup or flask was probably a better alternative. A fair point, but I had tried this approach before and while bringing my own cup to Starbucks (or where ever I purchase my coffee) made sense, it wasn’t convenient.
Like a lot of people I spend my time going from one meeting to the next, grabbing the occasional coffee on the go. The likelihood therefore, of me carrying a bulky flask or coffee mug on my daily outings, was slim to none.
This issue of convenience got me thinking and with a kernel of an idea and fire in my belly, I began researching coffee consumption and the impact that paper coffee cups are having on the environment.
As I picked my way through mountains of research and data I was struck by some fairly alarming facts:
- 58 billion paper cups are thrown away (not recycled) every year
- 20 million trees are cut down in the process of manufacturing paper cups
- The amount of water used in the process is approximately 12 billion gallons
What amazed me about this data, was what it represented in terms total energy used. According to the Environmental Defense Organization, we could power 53,000 homes with the energy we consume through our paper cup consumption.
Another alarming fact that I uncovered was the amount of water used in the process of creating one single cup of latte, which according to the World Wildlife Fund is more than 200 liters (52 Gallons).
So, the facts (problems) as I understood them when I began this process were threefold:
- Paper cups create massive amounts of solid waste and consume vital natural resources in the manufacturing process
- Drinking coffee uses large qualities of water from harvesting to distribution
- Reusable cups do not represent a convenient solution and are not being widely adopted by consumers
In a chance meeting with Shaun Abrahamson and Marcel Botha from Mutopo I threw out an idea of launching an initiative that aimed to reduce the impact paper cups were having on the environment. They were equally astonished by the data, and being hardened coffee drinkers, felt compelled to help me figure out a better and more convenient solution.
Mutopo are an incredibly interesting company. In the past few years they have been working on a strategy that applies mass collaboration to large scale business and design problems. They suggested applying these methodologies with a view of launching a global design competition to generate ideas for how to solve the problem.
Do you have a general idea of what end result you think will come from the competition?
None, and that’s great. What you have to understand is that the problem is not just about cups. You have to take into consideration consumer behavior, which is entrenched at best and the systems within which coffee is served. With these in mind ideas could come in any shape or form, and we are looking forward to seeing the breadth and diversity of possible solutions.
How did you arrive at the community supported idea-raising concept?
Consumers are complicit and it’s a shared problem. With shared problems you can more easily activate large groups of people to participate in finding a solution. Plus, consumers want a solution, the trouble is, one does not currently exist. If you look on MyStarbucks idea, finding a solution to the throw away, non recyclable cup is one of the most requested ideas.
How do you like using kickstarter.com? It’s a new presence out there, have you supported other projects on it previously?
We love Kickstarter. It’s still very early and the product needs some refinement, but the way it empowers individuals to think creatively about how to fund their ideas is really exciting. We especially love what they are enabling for independent artists. Being able to fund the production of an album through the financial support of your existing fan base makes so much sense.
Did you previously know all of your board members, or did you blindly solicit them to participate?
Some. Graham Hill is a friend and in many ways the catalyst for me thinking about the problem. Through him I met Courtney Nichols and through Courtney I met Rob Kramer, both of whom are already doing incredible things in this space. The other board members have joined through Marcel and Shaun from Mutopo. They have a phenomenal network within the design space and as MIT graduates they bring so much weight and experience to the project.
Do you personally carry a reusable mug, even though it’s such a pain?
I started this project because I was frustrated that the existing solutions were not catering to my needs. Needless to say I am still just as equally frustrated.
If you had to pick one thing in particular that ticks you off most about disposable coffee cups, what is it?
I hate hate hate it when you’re given your coffee in two cups, because the barister thinks you can’t take the heat, or when they pour your coffee into a paper cup before serving it to you in your reusable mug.
Thanks Toby! If y’all are so inclined, head over to the betacup kickstarter page to check out ways to help fund the project!
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