An Americano With an Extra Shot of Guilt, Please

I recently wrote in praise of Salt Spring Coffee. So I was happy to patronize their charming UBC location during Northern Voice. I was a little less praiseful, though, after read the sleeve on my hot chocolate:

Ubc, 21-Feb-09

In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:

This cup travelled over 2000 kilometers from the forest to your lips. Slow global warming by using a travel mug.

Here’s how I read that:

We’re entirely comfortable selling you an environmentally insensitive product, but want you to feel guilty about giving us your money. Plus, [as filmgoerjuan points out on Flickr] we’ve been unwilling or unable to find a more sustainable source for cups.

I suppose this cheeky chastisement might work with the UBC crowd, but I think it just redirects blame away from the coffee shop to the consumer.

I was going to leave a suggestion in their suggestion box, until I saw this:

Ubc, 21-Feb-09


  1. Derek Miller, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    Darren thanks for posting this, it really shows how people (and companies, it seems) will warp their own sense of virtue to serve their needs.

    1. I disagree. If you frequent coffee shops with any sort of regularity, you likely own 3-6 travel mugs. Bring your own mug, or better yet, take a couple minutes out of your busy lives to sit down and drink a cup of coffee (Euro style). People will go out of their way to make sure their coffee is fair trade, organic, etc. but then buy it to-go in a paper cup. Kudos for this cafe saying it like it is.

      btw, I live in Seattle, for whatever group that might put me in that differentiates me from the average Vancouver coffee drinker.

      Thanks for the post.

      1. Shane, I think Seattle is the heart of West Coast entitlement, eco-snobbery, and expensive coffee…

        Your assumption is that everyone is packing a travel mug, and that is usually not the case.

        Don’t get me wrong, I am all about reducing waste (I do use a travel mug, everyday), but Darren is right to point out that the coffee shop has decided to place guilt on the consumer, rather than invest in more sustainable containers for the products they sell for profit.

      2. Indeed, I didn’t want to be protesting too much, but I buy a hot beverage about once every two weeks at the most. And it’s almost always unplanned. So it’s hardly practical for me to haul around a travel mug for the other 325 days of the year.

      3. Jeff – you mention that the company should invest in more sustainable containers for the products they sell for profit – I am curious what you mean here and what you would suggest?

  2. I have a different read on it: we have to import coffee, and given the ecological cost of doing so, consider minimizing the footprint with a reusable cup.

    I don’t mind the spirit of placing the use of the disposable cup in the context of the product it carries, though Salt Spring could put their money where their p-a mouths are by charging extra for the takeout cup and contributing the proceeds to carbon offsets or something along that line.

    @Jeff Almost all business is a warping of virtue to serve its needs. That’s why they hide behind phrases like “It’s just business” when they need an out from doing something that’s clearly wrong.

  3. I saw a tweet this week directing me to video footage of Bill Clinton with a disposable coffee cup. I was glad that what he had to say made me forget that I was supposed to go there and be aghast at his eco faux pas.

    That being said, I personally drink coffee where it is served. Servings are a lot smaller outside North America.

    1. Why is the company’s responsibility to supply the most sustainable product. You, the consumer, are the one consuming. I admire a company that may offend a consumer or two by pointing out the fact that the act of consumption has consequences rather than painting all green in Corporate Social Responsibility. Don’t kill the messenger … the coffee company may be bringing you the unsustainable product in an unsustainable container, but you, the consumer are the one consuming!

  4. What Todd said.

    Salt Spring Island has been trying to do a lot of good work to be more ecologically conscious. Their Carbon Cool page is directly on their landing page, it’s pretty much the very first thing you see. They also have been working a lot on carbon neutral operations.

    However, Darren (and everyone else) – since we are speaking about environmental issues, let me guilt you in a more visual way – producing one cup of coffee uses 140 litres of water. Only 0.38% of the world’s water can be used for drinking purposes. Producing coffee has a huge water footprint.

    Coffee consumption is not environmentally friendly in the first place 🙂

  5. funny ssicc has decided to move off salt because they could not find suitable roasting quarters after they were denied a rezoning application in a watershed.
    yes they have done some good as far as awareness of the plight of growers etc but to ferry beans to an island for roasting where they have to be ferried back off again seemed to be out of alignment of what they preached.

    Then to lay a guilt trip on folks who did not want them in the watershed seems to further smack of the ecosnobbery you are talking about.

    Good to know about about the 140 litres. I love coffee but know it is not good for me ( I do bring a cup) but now I think I’ll go for my matcha. How much water does that take to create a cup of?

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