A couple of years ago I was on the road in Richmond, Virginia and stopped in a Starbucks for access to wi-fi and a fill up of caffeine. While there, I asked the youthful barista, "Do you have recycling?," to which she replied, "...no, but will you fill out a comment card that tells the company to change that?" This made me smile.
I told them I'd be glad to, and I'd do one better, and write to the company management in charge of sustainability, I happened to have a business card. This was four years ago, and my letters were met with commitments to look into it, and I felt I had gallantly helped a few good kids get the recycling bins they wanted. Recently, I returned to this area and stopped in, and was disheartened to see that there still was not any recycling in this store. Its clear we've still got a lot of work to do to make recycling, including paper recycling, more available, even within the doors of companies with programs which are trying to do the right thing.
And paper coffee cups is a BIG issue. They are on the move and hard to collect, difficult to pulp and recycle, and we use a LOT of them. See this work of art from Chris Jordan. The 410,000 paper cups stacked together in the photo depict the number of disposable cups Americans use every 15 minutes. Jordan added a silhouette of two people as a scale reference.
That's why last week, Environmental Paper Network member organization, As You Sow and shareholders of Starbucks introduced a strong resolution at this years annual investors meeting to accelerate Starbucks' recycling initiatives. According to the Seattle Times...
"The measure lost, as expected, but about 11 percent of Starbucks shareholders voted in favor, which activists hope will get the company's attention.....
Conrad MacKerron, who helped write the measure for the As You Sow Foundation in San Francisco, said he was "happily surprised" at the 11 percent vote.To improve its track record on this issue, Starbucks is partnering with the betacup on an online contest to develop the best idea for redesigning the coffee cup and massively reducing paper cup use. Starbucks is sponsoring the contest as part of its stated aim to serve 100 percent of its hand-crafted beverages in reusable or recyclable cups by 2015.
Similar proposals that the nonprofit put before Coca-Cola and PepsiCo won less than 10 percent. Both companies started negotiations with the group as a result, and have announced major recycling initiatives.
MacKerron wants Starbucks to do the same.
In many ways, he said, Starbucks is "ahead of the game, like paying benefits even to part-time workers, but they're really not in a leadership position on this issue."
A couple of Starbucks officials told him Wednesday they want to keep talking, but were not specific. MacKerron hopes they will, and said, "One incentive is they wouldn't like this to be repeated next year on their proxy statement."
The contest will take place on the betacup's partner platform jovoto.com, a leading mass collaboration community for innovators and creatives. Anyone can submit an idea on how to reduce paper cup consumption and promote adoption of environmentally-friendly alternatives. Ideas will be open to the public for discussion, and community members and jurors will be able to provide feedback, allowing collaborators to refine and update their submissions through June 15, when the contest comes to a close.
Starbucks has provided $20,000 in cash prizes to be awarded for the most innovative ideas. The participant who submits the best idea, determined by an expert panel, will receive a $10,000 cash prize. In addition, participants whose ideas are among the top five selected by the community of collaborators will each be awarded a $2,000 cash prize.