- What if instead of cutting down millions of trees each year, you didn’t cut down any?
- What if you found a source of carbon conservation instead of carbon consumption?
- What if you didn’t need to worry about recycling, because you just extended the natural cycle?
- What if the coffee cup became more than just a regular cup of joe, it became a status symbol?
Watch the full video first for the full experience if you haven't already…(click here to go to youtube)…if that fails, then here is the video converted into scribd without any fun animation or moving music.
Lastly, there’s a detailed proposal here for the keen people (hello jury!).
This proposal goes well beyond just an alternative material for the coffee cup, it provides Starbucks with a new approach to the way the coffee drinker engages with their daily fix, as well as a comprehensive plan for Starbucks to make the most of it – design, scaling up, marketing and communications.
I’m an Australian living in the Solomon Islands, a small but beautiful poor nation in the Pacific. One day, after wandering around the jungle, I noticed that a particular palm leaf looked robust, strong and fibrous. Often coming up with wacky ideas, and in this case, with the idea of development and the environment in mind, I thought immediately, how could this substance be used as a resource?
My research led me to India, where the areca leaf is used on a limited basis to make bowls and plates…but I thought that you could aim bigger, much bigger. People definitely use disposable plates for picnics. But they use disposable coffee cups a whole lot more.
1. So what is my alternative to the paper coffee cup?
We assume the cup is here to stay, because an intravenous drip just isn’t sensible. So let’s talk materials.
You may have heard of the material I am proposing, in fact, it may have even been mentioned in another entry. I’m going to go much further though and take you all the way through to the business process.
- The areca leaf is a by-product of the areca palm tree, growing widely across the Asian and Pacific tropical zones. The tree’s main product is the fruit, used for traditional purposes, as a local version of their coffee- it’s a part of their social ritual.
- The material can be used to make the coffee cup, which relies on a living tree, rather than chopping it down.
- It already exists in large plantations, and doesn’t involve mass land clearing to get production up and running.
- It doesn’t require large amounts of processing, so it is also saving on other resources that would otherwise go into manufacturing the paper cup.
In a nutshell, ‘It’s a neutral resource’.
2. What are the properties?
Here are the properties of this product:
- chemical free
- biodegradable and compostable
- naturally grippy
- visually intriguing, with a beautiful texture and composition
- microwave proof
- waterproof for up to 6 hours (much longer than you’d hope coffee would be in there!)
Due to a lack of adequate research and development, and perhaps a lack of opportunity from a company that has the right motivations, we haven’t yet seen the cup hit the market in India…
3. So how will it reduce waste?
- Instead of chopping down millions of trees, let’s not chop down any.
- Instead of pumping in mega litres of water to break down wood down into pulp, the material is already in a usable form, just requiring heat pressing and cutting to shape.
- Instead of piles of used cups mounting up in landfills, the last phase of the life of the cup follows the natural phase that the leaf would have gone through- natural decomposition into the land.
- Since it is able to insulate heat, the innovative but awkward and pricey ‘sleeve’ used by Starbucks would no longer be needed.
4. Let’s get practical – are there resources in place to make it happen at the Starbucks scale?
There’s no point in pursuing an idea if it can’t be scalable to the needs of Starbucks. So let’s do the math….
- We need to hit a total of around 2.3 billion cups per year to meet Starbucks’ US demand.
- Let’s assume that the typical areca nut leaf can produce two grande coffee cups.
- Each tree produces 10 leaves per year, so that means 20 coffee cups per tree.
- Now, one hectare contains 1,500 trees. Meaning that one hectare produces 30,000 coffee cups per year.
- India alone currently has 290,000 hectares of plantations, or the equivalent of 8.7 billion coffee cups. That is already more than four times the amount required to produce the coffee cups to supply the US.
There’s also plenty of room for expansion. The rest of Asia combined can currently produce almost 5 billion further coffee cups per year. The Pacific also has the climate to harness its resources to produce even more, creating valuable export markets that this poor part of the world is craving.
How much is it going to cost?
Based on the equivalent data gathered on bowls and plates we’ve got the following:
- Let’s say one leaf produces two grande coffee cups. That’s the same output as the 10 inch plate typically produced.
- Raw material is at 0.25 Indian rupees per piece, so that’s USD 0.0053 per cup.
- Labor sets you back a huge 0.19 rupee per cup, or USD 0.0040.
- Lastly, energy used to work the heat press, costs 0.08 rupee per piece (USD .0017)
- Total: USD 0.011 per coffee cup for basic variable costs. Cheap.
5. A pilot production programme
- India has the most plantations, infrastructure, high levels of education and ambition.
- The region alone would cover Starbucks USA’s demands.
- So we host the Third Cup Summit in Bangalore, Karnakata
- Cup manufacturers will innovate with the plate/bowl makers, Starbucks, suppliers and logistics gurus. They’re likely to come up with a two piece construction- one piece isn’t yet structurally proven.
- The lid would probably be PLA, so it’s biodegradable.
- If more waterproofing is needed, then a biofilm could layer the inside, as with PLAnet’s product.
….So how does it fit in with the Starbucks experience?
6. Give the customer what it wants and then give them status for it…
The customers have been studied and Starbucks found they want:
environmentally friendly - uses natural colors - is textural, stylish, and distinctive
The plain paper cup just isn’t good enough for the customer.
This new cup ticks all of those boxes, but then it goes further…
- Status is here to stay, and this cup looks different. Time to celebrate that difference. People can’t show off they’re drinking ethically sourced coffee, but they can show they’re drinking from an ethically sourced cup with this distinctive look.
- A key message for Starbucks: If so much effort is going into ethically sourced coffee isn’t it about time that Starbucks starts to ethically source coffee cups?
7. How can we convert more customers into believers?
If the exoticism and functionality isn’t enough, here are some more ideas…..
- “I’ll have a grande skinny double latte, to go friendly please” So let’s add one simple word, friendly, to that special Starbucks ritual. See the detailed proposal for related ad campaign.
- Freebees The My Starbucks Rewards Programme will offer a ‘green card’ to entice users over to the ‘go friendly’ option, offering a free coffee after 10 ‘go friendly’ purchases instead of 15 with the paper cup. That’s equivalent to the offer of a 10% discount to mug users.
- Making it fairer Year round, but with a focus on the holidays, the Starbucks Gift Card will include the option to support community level growers or sponsor-a-child programmes in areas where the leaf is produced.
- Lending a hand On achieving certain levels of conversion to the ‘go friendly’ option, Starbucks will contribute to kiva.org or similar microfinance groups to make loans to support coffee growers and leaf producers.
- The second life For the urban gardeners and suburban green thumbs, the continued campaigns to compost will be enhanced. It is the ideal container for nursery sized plants, and instead of transplanting, you can just plant the cup in the ground, and the material will biodegrade away as the plant grows in size.
Concept by Aaron Levine Copyright All rights Reserved 2010. Thanks to Crew972 for the prototype cup.