Cup deposits, Tesla patents and verified McDonald’s cows

Coffee cup sharing

It’s hard to separate New Yorkers from their on-the-go lifestyle. In an effort to challenge the single-use cup conundrum, fellows at the international DO School for social entrepreneurs partnered with the design and consulting firm Pilot Projects.

The DO School helps educate and train social entrepreneurs to get projects off the ground. Eighteen fellows from 16 countries, in an initiative called the Challenge Lab, set themselves a 10-week deadline to explore the complex social and economic context of the single-use disposable coffee cup, propose a viable alternative, and implement the solution as a pilot programme.

“The single-use coffee cup is what we call a ‘wicked’ problem, tangled in layers of social and material problems,” says Scott Francisco, founder of Pilot Projects, who served as the director of the
Challenge Lab.

The team researched a host of coffee cup alternatives, including recyclable and biodegradable single use cups and reusables. The best solution the group ultimately identified was a hybrid between reusable and single use: for a $5 fee, people could buy membership in a coffee cup sharing programme at the pilot testing site Brooklyn Roasting Company, and keep the lid as their membership card. Participants were at liberty to take the cup wherever they wanted, and return it back to the coffee shop whenever they wanted, where it was subsequently cleaned for the next customer.

The pilot proved so successful that it became the Good To Go brand. Francisco says they will continue refining the programme and expand it to other locations. “Sustainability innovation and social entrepreneurship, perhaps even more than other types of innovation and entrepreneurship, require a very delicate blend of ‘systems awareness’ – market, regulation, technology and culture,” says Francisco. “For something like Good To Go to work, we have to have all of these working together, but authentic culture change is always our main goal on the path to real sustainability.”

Google and Sainsbury’s fight food waste

Sainsbury’s has joined up with Google to launch Food Rescue, an interactive online and mobile tool designed to provide practical tips and inspiration for consumers on how to use leftover food, instead of tossing it in the bin. According to the non-profit Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap), 4.2m tonnes of food and drink are thrown out every year in the UK, representing an average monthly waste of £60 per household.

The Food Rescue tool aims to combat that trend through fun features that harness Google’s voice recognition technology, so users can simply say the ingredients they have left in their pantries or fridges, and the tool will pull relevant recipes from a library of 1,200 meal options.

The Food Rescue seeks to capitalise on the popularity of gaming by keeping track of the amount of food and cost saved per recipe via a public leaderboard, which will also track the food savings by region across the UK, as well as the most rescued ingredient and most popular recipes. “We know that confidence and know-how can really help people reduce the amount of food they throw away,” says Sarah Warby, marketing director at Sainsbury’s. “We’ve created Sainsbury’s Food Rescue with Google to inspire people to turn the food items they already have into something delicious.”

Tesla opens the door

Electric car innovator Tesla Motors made a bold industry move by opting to make its patents available to the public. Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, made the announcement via the company’s blog, stating: “If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property land mines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”

Like many companies, Tesla initially used patents as a means to protect its technology from the competition, fearing rivals could rush into its territory. But the reality proved different, as the big car manufacturers continued to focus on diesel powered vehicles, with electric cars today constituting less than 1% of total vehicle sales.

Musk hopes that releasing Tesla’s patents will incite the big players to use its technology to create more electric vehicles and tackle today’s carbon crisis. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly evolving technology platform,” says Musk.

Coke turning the tide

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest drinks company, is on track to meet its 2020 water replenishment goal, which aims to return to communities and nature the equivalent amount of water it uses in all its products and production.

To date, the company has replenished an estimated 109bn litres of water through 509 community projects in more than 100 countries, representing roughly 68% of the water used in its finished drinks, based on 2013 sales volume. “We have seen a pervasive uptake across the entire Coca-Cola system with 80% of our business units on track or ahead of pace to meet their 2020 water replenishment goals,” says Beatriz Perez, chief sustainability officer at Coca-Cola.

“We are proud to report that all are making progress in replenishing this important resource we share with communities and nature.” Each community initiative addresses at least one of four key objectives: to improve access to water and sanitation; to protect watersheds; to provide water for productive use; and to educate and raise awareness about water issues, including engagement on water policy.

Coke’s initiatives rely on the on-the-ground expertise of its myriad partners such as WWF, USAid, The Nature Conservancy, Water for People, UN-Habitat, and the United Nations Development Program. Take the case of India, where Coke surpassed its goal to replenish 100% of the water used in its manufacturing operations by creating a “replenishment potential” of more than 130% of the water it uses through an array of projects that have provided safe water access and sanitation in schools, created rainwater harvesting structures, restored ponds, and improved water efficiency in agriculture.

Other project highlights include a new bottling plant in Peru that qualified for LEED certification, efforts to restore two river habitats in the UK, and the construction of additional water pipelines in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, alongside WaterAid and the local water utility, to increase access to safe drinking water.

McDonald’s and sustainable beef

Fast food giant McDonald’s has announced that it will use region-specific standards to implement the company’s January 2014 pledge to start sourcing verified sustainable beef by 2016.

McDonald’s is one of the largest buyers of beef in the US, but there is not yet a universal definition of sustainable beef. Enter the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), a multi-stakeholder group consisting of producers, processors, civil societies, roundtables and retailers such as McDonald’s, Cargill and Wal-Mart, that are working to develop global principles and criteria for sustainable beef.

The GRSB drafted guiding principles and best practices for sustainable beef in March which, it says, “deliberately lack more context-specific levels of indicators, metrics or practices”. According to Jeffrey Hogue, McDonald’s senior director of global corporate social responsibility and sustainability, the broad nature of the guidelines leaves room for his company’s suppliers to determine their own metrics to achieve sustainable beef, based on regional needs and environmental conditions.

Come 2016, the GRSB plans to launch several sustainable beef pilot projects to measure the social and environmental impact of raising cattle in major beef producing countries. Thus far, only Canada has been named as a test market.

coca-cola  coffee  food waste  google  McDonald's  patents  Sainsbury's  Tesla  water management 

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