This post is about coffee.
And, it’s about coffeemakers.
And, it’s about the single-serve coffeemakers and the little non-recyclable pods or cups that go inside them and then are discarded after seconds of use.
In an article by Scott Kirsner in today’s Boston Globe, the subject of the Keurig coffeemaker and their “K-Cups” is discussed. Green Mountain Coffee owns Keurig (they bought it in 2005 – read about that here). The article discussed the quandary Green Mountain finds itself in as a ‘responsible’ company with a conscience. In fact they do work hard on fair trade for the coffee itself.
But the K-cups are another story. They are made from non-recyclable materials. And although the cups themselves are small, their numbers are huge. Last year alone, over 1.6 billion (yes, billion!) cups were used. My calculations say that this is enough K-cups to circle the earth one and a quarter times. And they all go into landfills after their seconds of use and stay there for hundreds or thousands of years. And that’s just Keurig. There is also Tassimo, Senseo, and others. Further, the forecast for K-cup sales are 3 billion in 2010 and 5 billion in 2011. So now we are talking about a chain of K-cups from 2009, 2010 and 2011 made up of 9 or 10 billion units and circling the earth eight times!
Here’s Keurig’s environmental statement:
Keurig’s Environmental Statement:
Sharing Our Commitment for a Better Planet
All of us at Keurig are citizens first and employees second! We are committed as a company to responsible business practices that sustain our environment for all.
In fact, our parent company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR) is a leader in developing Fair Trade/Organic coffee blends that are great for coffee lovers, coffee growers, and our planet. Also GMCR is repeatedly cited for best practices in business ethics.
As such, we’d like to share what we are doing at Keurig and what we are doing in cooperation with GMCR to build a better world for both gourmet coffee lovers…and lovers of best practices in corporate responsibility.
K-Cup® Portion Pack Packaging is an area of major environmental concern for all consumer product companies. As the single-cup coffee market and our Keurig brewing systems grow in popularity, we understand that the impact of the K-Cup® Portion Pack waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges. The K-Cup package is made up of three main elements — the cup itself, a filter and an aluminum foil top. The polyethylene coating of the foil – as well as the process of heat-sealing the various elements – makes recycling difficult.
However, this packaging approach prevents oxygen, light and moisture from degrading the coffee. Without the barrier the packaging materials provide, we could not maintain the quality and freshness of the coffee, which means that all the resources and effort put into growing and roasting great coffee would be wasted. Finding a more environmentally-friendly approach to this packaging challenge is a big priority for us. We are working on a few different fronts to improve the environmental characteristics of the K-Cup® system, as well as to mitigate its impact.
Here’s what we are doing
- We are actively researching alternatives to the the K-Cup® Portion Pack’s petroleum –based materials
- We are conducting a Life Cycle Analysis to help us understand the overall environmental impact of the K-Cup® Portion Pack as compared to the use of a typical drip- brewer.There are environmental considerations at every step on the road from “tree to cup”. By studying the K-Cup over its entire life cycle, we can more clearly understand how and where we can reduce its footprint.
- We are working to identify the right definition of “environmentally friendly” for all our packaging, including the K-Cup Portion Pack. For example it could mean carbon-neutral, made with renewable materials, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, petroleum-free, all of the above, or something entirely different. We are researching what is possible today and tomorrow, taking into account the current state of packaging technology, consumer preferences, community infrastructure, performance requirements, and the demands of the marketplace.
- We also continue to offer the My K-Cup, a reusable filter cartridge assembly that can be refilled by the consumer, is easily cleaned, and is compatible with all Keurig home brewers sold today.
For project managers, there are some interesting things to consider (perhaps over a cup of coffee)…
-Note the reference to the Life Cycle Analysis. This is something we’ll be discussing in detail in our upcoming book. Project Managers can gain from this type of analysis of the project and the product of the project.
-Note the possible number of projects that this has already triggered:
—The Life Cycle Analysis itself
—The development of a recyclable K-cup
—The introduction and advertising and deployment of the “My K-Cup”
This is another good example of how green practices make opportunities for projects and therefore opportunities for PMs to contribute to environmental efforts in a way that pays off not only for the environment but for the PM.
We’ll update you here if we get any update from Green Mountain or Keurig.