After 35 Years Starbucks Just Made a Bittersweet Announcement
It’s most valuable brand asset is also one of its biggest problems.
The Starbucks white cup with its green logo of a two-tailed mermaid is one of the most iconic features of any brand. It doesn’t even have the word Starbucks in it, but you know exactly what it is. In fact, for many people, it doesn’t just signify the world’s largest coffee brand, it represents, well, coffee. Period.
That’s largely because, for the better part of 35 years, Starbucks has been what many people think of when they think of coffee. It was Starbucks, after all, that introduced and popularized espresso drinks, and those drinks were served–since 1987–in a white cup with some version of the company’s green logo.
Now, Starbucks has announced it wants to get rid of those cups. At least, the company is trying hard to get rid of the paper version.
When you think about it, that makes sense. Starbucks has already said it wants to reduce its waste by half over the next decade. While it’s good for the brand to have its logo on cups everywhere, those cups have to end up somewhere. Billions of them end up in landfills. So, Starbucks wants to transition people away from carrying around its iconic cups in favor of a more sustainable option.
You might say it’s a bittersweet announcement, and not because of the combination of dark roasted espresso and sweet two percent milk and flavored syrup. It’s bittersweet because, while Starbucks is trying to ditch the universal symbol for a cup of coffee, it’s doing it for a noble cause.
In fact, the truth is, Starbucks is making the changes in an effort to eliminate the billions of its white paper cups that end up in landfills around the world every year. Starbucks is trying to eliminate the disposable cup altogether in favor of more environmentally sustainable options. In the U.S. and Canada
To do that, the company announced it’s testing a few different environmentally-friendly approaches. Here’s how the company describes its effort:
“To help reach the company’s goal of reducing waste by 50% by 2030, Starbucks is shifting away from single-use plastics and piloting reusable cup programs in six markets around the world. By the end of next year, customers will be able to use their own personal reusable cup for every Starbucks visit in the U.S. and Canada–including in caf, drive-thru and mobile order and pay.”
In addition, the company is testing reusable cups under a pilot program called “borrow a cup.” The idea is that Starbucks will put your cup in a reusable cup that you take with you, and then bring it back to be professionally cleaned and used again.
And, if you’re planning to stay and hang out while you enjoy your drink, Starbucks will put your drink in what it calls “for-here-ware.” The company said that in a test in South Korea, its efforts eliminated 200,000 paper cups that would have ended up in the trash, in just three months.
Honestly, I prefer to have my coffee in my favorite travel mug. It stays warmer longer, and I’m less likely to spill coffee on myself. I don’t know if it’s just me, but my family can usually tell how much coffee I’ve had in a given day by the number of times I managed to drip some on myself.
If you think about it, it’s an interesting move by Starbucks. There’s no doubt that billions of white cups sporting the iconic logo helped to establish it as the default option for coffee for millions of people. Getting rid of those cups means there’s a cost to the company’s brand awareness. Still, the company is making an intentional decision that it’s more important to its brand that those cups don’t end up in landfills.
Of course, Starbucks will happily sell you a reusable white cup with a green logo. Walking into one of its stores today, I found racks and baskets full of reusable cups that look almost identical to the paper version. I guess Starbucks isn’t giving up on its most valuable brand icon. It’s just adapting it to fit its more sustainable vision of the future. That, after all, is a powerful lesson for every business.