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Starbucks Sponsors Eco-Friendly Cup Contest -- Then Ignores the Winner

When Starbucks' announced back in April that it was sponsoring a contest aimed at finding solutions to its disposable cup problem, the chain looked as if it was engaging in a giant stalling tactic. Why does Starbucks need to have random people solve its environmental problems?

Now the whole operation looks to be little more than a gimmicky PR stunt.

The winner of the so-called "Betacup Challenge", which was partly sponsored by Starbucks, is not even an actual coffee cup. Called Karma Cup, it's a coffee shop chalkboard that charts each person who brings in a reusable mug. The 10th person to order a drink with a reusable cup gets his or her drink free, thereby turning the whole thing into a communal endeavor and creating incentives for everyone to embrace reusable mugs.

It's a cool idea, but don't look for it to appear at your favorite Starbucks. The coffee giant isn't actually adopting the Karma Cup idea, or at least it hasn't made any commitments to do so yet. Jim Hanna, Starbucks director for environmental impact, called the contest a "huge opportunity" for "product development and market research," adding that Starbucks will look over all the ideas submitted and take them into consideration, which sounds a lot like an HR person who assures you they're going to keep your resume "on file."

So let's review: Starbucks sponsors and promotes a contest to find a solution to one of its big problems -- "one of our greatest environmental liabilities in our customers' eyes," says Hanna -- but then the company ignores the winning idea.

Starbucks' efforts to improve its environmental profile and stop sending 2.7 billion cups to landfills every year would appear much more credible if the company actually took some action. The best time to announce the winner of a contest is when you're actually going to do something with it.

Starbucks has promised to have all of its cups "recyclable or reusable" by 2015 -- an ambitious and admirable goal. But so far most of what the company has generated, besides more landfill-ready cups, is a lot of talk. Currently only 1.5% of all drinks in U.S., Canadian and United Kingdom company-owned stores are sold in reusable cups, probably because the chain has mounted no concerted effort to get people to use them.

There's no doubt that making coffee cups recyclable is no small undertaking because it depends on limited local recycling systems. But until the big problems are solved, some smaller steps would go a long way towards making people believe they actually care about what happens to their cups.

Image from Betacup Related:

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