Starbucks is just not trying very hard

by rubenerd on flickr
A recent article by Anya Kamenetz in Fast Company magazine highlighted Starbucks' efforts to reduce its waste stream.  It particularly looked at the problem of the billions of its coffee cups that are discarded every year--three billion according to the article.

Much of it focused on how to re-engineer the cup so it could be recycled or composted.  It's difficult to do so, because the cup has to be made of materials that will withstand the heat of the coffee and also be in contact with a potable liquid.

A few pilot programs are under way.  Blah blah blah.

Here's the sentence that caught my attention--way at the end:
Starbucks, to its credit, has made reusables part of its strategy; it sells tumblers and offers a 10-cent rebate for customers who bring in their own. Yet a paltry 1.5% of drinks are actually served in reusables.

That's 3 out of every 200 customers.  This writer, Andrew Teasdale in Vancouver, blogged about his local shop, where it was a much better, but still pathetic, 5%.  I might edit out the words, "to its credit," in the above sentence. . .or question the use of the word "strategy" to describe their ineffective efforts.

A few years ago Starbucks set this goal:
 - By 2010, increase customer use of reusable commuter mugs tenfold  (I learned this here, by the way)

No way.  Not even close.  In fact, I don't think they are even trying.

I virtually always bring my reusable mug with me, as I posted once. My point here, though, isn't to evangelize.  We've all heard that before.

Rather I think Starbucks needs to step up its game.  Perhaps the 10-fold goal is pretty high (although 15% doesn't seem out of reach), but doubling should be easy with relatively minimal effort.  Here's how I know they aren't trying:
by raffik on flickr
  • Although they offer a 10 cent discount for your own cup, they do not market it at all.  When it even appears on menus, it's way at the bottom in the smallest font.  Go ahead, look the next time you go and see how inconspicuous it is.
  • I've never seen any point-of-sale about this promotion: no signs, posters, stickers, buttons on barista's shirts. . .nothing.
  • I've never heard of them trying any kind of marketing or other effort to increase this.  I may have missed something, so let me know if you have.
  • The baristas do generally know.  Only about 5% of the time do I have to remind them to give me the discount.
So there you go.  Starbucks set a goal just a couple of years ago, which they have clearly abandoned without really even trying in my opinion.  Even if they come up with some sort of cup that doesn't have to be thrown out, reusables are still vastly superior, so they need to be promoting their use regardless.
Come back soon for a follow up post with some ideas about how they could boost that percentage.

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