Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Cup O' Joe

Cold snow and piping hot coffee, can't beat that!
Did you see that stocky, forty’ish guy in the Starbucks queue? Stupefied. Thinning hair with worn Carhartt jeans and a threadbare button-down chamois shirt. Perplexed by terms like half-caf, tall, short and venti. He approached the counter apologetically muttering “I’d like a medium black coffee” to muffled sniggering by the barista’s and sharp looks of disdain from surrounding patrons? That may have been me.

I’ve eliminated much clutter and complexity from my life. With few vices left, coffee remains a ritual. I’m not sure whether it’s an indulgence, a staple, or real addiction. I yearn when it’s gone.

Not a complete Java ignoramus, I have sampled many coffees with enticing names from, and in, exotic places. Lately I prefer the Hazlenut Creme blend from New England Coffee. When it’s on sale I buy up as much as I can and brew it daily for my long commute. The label tells me it has “Rich, nutty overtones in a special blend of medium-roasted South and Central American beans” to which I respond “Sure, whatever...it tastes good, does the trick, just like the comfy old T-shirts I refuse to part with.”

A Mug’s a Mug

This past holiday season my wife surprised me with a small, expertly wrapped gift box on Christmas morning. She rocks, you can learn more about her here. With great care I opened the package, just like you’d see in one of those commercials where the guy unwraps to unveil the key for a shiny late model luxury car. I was delighted to find a new 16 ounce travel coffee mug. Could not have been happier. Simple, functional, utilitarian, durable...years of use ahead. Easy to please? Not so much.

Like many coffee drinkers, I’ve used dozens of travel mugs, some bought, some freebies. Some were dishwasher safe, some melted. Some stainless steel, some ceramic or plastic. All held coffee well, some kept it warm, some leaked immediately, many with time and use. Most imparted no change to the flavor. Most were misplaced or made their way to the landfill.

The new gift mug had simple, pleasant lines; the right amount of “heft”; a very secure cover; and a dual liner to help keep liquids hot or cold. Sure signs of a good product, right? Well, yes, good functional design but that’s just the beginning of the story.

The Big Attraction

What attracted me most was how this cup was designed. Not its shape and function, but how the designers set to the task of creating it. In my hand I have the result of Eco-designed gear. Conceived using Product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a practice I believe in and increasingly pursue in products that I buy.

Using LCA, designers are compelled to invent in non-traditional ways. Their challenge goes far beyond fit, form and function, becoming a cradle-to-grave, or better yet, cradle-to-cradle effort where thought and consideration is given to embodied energy, that energy consumed in production, use and disposal of a product. Affects on users and our environment are paramount and managed by considering toxicity. Durability is deliberately improved, and end-of-life recycling planned for rather than presuming “final destination landfill.” We, consumers, end up with a solid coffee mug that works well, lasts a long time, doesn’t cost more than you would expect to pay for a travel coffee mug, and the system minimizes impact on humans and our environment. Little to dislike here.

Kudos to Aladdin PMI for doing the hard work up front on their Sustain® product line. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am not compensated in any way for this write up...just one guy giving credit where it is due) In an age of rampant green-washing, Aladdin produces product with valid green claims. Here is why:

  • They start by using 100% recycled food-grade polypropylene material, no new elemental extraction is used in the production of this mug.
  • They state that the material is free of PBT...good for my longevity and durability.
  • They plan for disposal, making a product that is easily recycled...from previously recycled materials.
  • Packaging is eco-friendly, minimized and recyclable.
  • They educate consumers on why we should reuse a mug rather than tossing out disposable cups daily...it all adds up. Is this educational resource self-serving? Yes, they are in business to sell coffee mugs...nothing wrong with that.

Back to My Mug

The product does what it is intended to do, and it does it well.

  • It keeps my coffee piping hot.
  • It fits in my hand well.
  • It’s cup holder friendly.
  • The cover, with just a few threads, closes quickly and securely, it’s not press-fit with a tendency to become loose like many other travel mugs.
  • It’s dishwasher safe...I’ve washed it a dozen or so times...not leaking yet
  • The spill resistant flange on the cover is wider on one end so I don’t have to fumble around trying to figure out which way to turn it as I drive.
  • It’s microwavable
  • It’s durable...I’ve bounced mine off the garage floor already and it hasn’t leaked.

Whether you roast, grind, and brew your own; or drop by your local gourmet coffee joint for a daily cup, think about using one of these new tankards from Aladdin. Plan for your mug to be reincarnated as a useful product for the next generation.

Sustainable design. ‘Nuff said!