I kinda can’t believe how far we’ve come with the betacup project. One year ago, I was at Overlap ’09 where I met Toby Daniels and his craaaazy idea to change the way we drink coffee. I hopped on board, brainstormed at Overlap, wrote a little blog post…and suddenly here we are today, announcing the winners of a Starbucks-sponsored betacup design challenge! (Well, no announcement until tomorrow, technically).
I am honored to be a judge and advisor to this little product of ours, and I must admit I was skeptical we’d get such great community submissions from our call-to-action on jovoto!
Now, I didn’t feel like we had any one blow-away submission that by itself would address the paper cup waste problem. But the submissions were clustered in certain theme areas, that — if combined — might really start to make a difference, not just with reducing paper cup waste, but also with visibility into sustainability issues more broadly. Which was a goal of the project all along!
Plus, there were 400+ submissions on jovoto from people all over the world! How did our modest project garner such attention and concern from the community? I’m quite impressed, not only by the quality of the submissions but also by jovoto as a platform.
So, here’s how I saw the submissions clustering around a few themes:
- Change the cup, not people’s behavior. We know that people get stuck in habits that are hard to break or unrealistic to try to change. So one solution is to let people keep doing what they do, but solve the paper cup waste problem along the way. To me, the best way to do this is through affordable biodegradable cups (period) — not through a redesigned travel mug.
- Incentivize people to bring their own mug. Part of the reason we’re having this design challenge is that people forget to bring travel mugs with them for to-go coffee.
- Encourage people to purchase drinks “for here”. The idea here is to reduce waste by using ceramic mugs at coffee shops — but I don’t believe this will work at scale, especially with people’s hectic, rushed, multitasking lives. Sadly, we drink our coffee t0-go.
- Move to a borrow and deposit model. This was a popular theme — that we could borrow a reusable mug from one shop, carry it with us, and return it to another shop when we’re done.
- Provide smart rewards card (e.g., embedded in RFID chips, bar codes). We’re adding technology to all other parts of our lives — why not to our coffee too? But really, the idea here is that we incentivize people to move to a different model of to-go coffee if, say, the cup remembered your favorite drink, had your debit card, and automatically “punched” your reward card. And maybe tweeted and checked you into Foursquare on your behalf too!
- Share the community’s behavior publicly. This could be done by creating some visual of how other people in the community are contributing to less waste (from an art installation to a chalkboard with a tally of paper cups saved per day). Another interesting idea was one where your free coffee comes after 10 other people have brought travel mugs with them today. So you benefit from the community’s good behavior — in a pay-it-forward model.
And from all these awesome ideas I had to vote on my top three! It was a difficult task, but I was looking for solutions that would work across coffee purveyors (e.g., not just for Starbucks), for a wide audience of people with different backgrounds and daily habits, and that would encourage sustainable behavior beyond just coffee drinking (like through providing visibility into community efforts to recycle, reduce, reuse.)
I was just one judge among many (about 15-20), but altogether I feel good that we decided on winners that captured the spirit of the contest. The winners will be announced at our awards ceremony in NYC on Thursday, June 17 at 3:00 EST (21:00 CEST). Join us live at http://bit.ly/betacuplive where we’ll be announcing:
- the top 5 ideas as selected by the community
- the top submissions and overall winner as selected by our jury
As always, thanks for your support and, please, drink sustainably!