Winner of Starbucks' Coffee Cup Challenge Isn't a Coffee Cup

Could a simple chalkboard eliminate the use of disposable coffee cups? The creators of Karma Cup think so.

Starbucks Coffee Cup Challenge Karma Cup

If you could earn free lattes by helping save the environment, why wouldn't you? That’s the philosophy behind Karma Cup, the winner of the Betacup Challenge announced today.

Betacup Challenge is an open design competition partly sponsored by Starbucks with a mission to reduce the waste from to-go paper coffee cups. Having beat out over 430 entries, Karma Cup will receive $10,000.

The Karma plan: A chalkboard at the coffee shop will chart each person who uses a reusable mug. The tenth person to order a drink with a reusable cup will receive his or her drink free. By turning a freebie program into a communal challenge, Karma Cup would create incentives for everyone to bring reusable mugs. (After all, the more people participate, the more free stuff is given away and the more likely you are to get something free.) That, in turn, would eliminate rather than simply redesign the nefarious disposable cup.

"Our paper cups really represent our icon and unfortunately they also represent one of our greatest environmental liabilities in our customers’ eyes," Jim Hanna, Starbucks’s director of environmental impact, said at the announcement. "By 2015, we want all cups to recyclable, compostable, or reusable."

Every year, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away, 20 million trees are cut down to manufacture these cups and 12 billion gallons of water are used in the manufacturing process. We could also power 53,000 homes with the energy we consume with paper cups.

Karma Cup was among three other honorees that received honorably mentions. The three runners-up were Band of HonorThe Betacup & The Betacup Campaign and the Champion Cup.

The Band of Honor plays into customers need to be recognized for their environmental deeds by placing a band, similar to a Livestrong bracelet, around the top of the cup. The Beta Cup & The Beta Cup Challenge proposes a biodegradable reusable cup made out of corn husks with interactive sustainability campaign behind the product. The Champion Cup allows users to chart their use online and see the good deeds accomplished by each use of a reusable cup.

The competition took place on the jovoto community Web site, and community members also selected five winners, each of which received $2,000 of the overall $20,000 put forward by Starbucks. Five-thousand ratings were made on the Web site, and members made 13,000 comments on the entries.

Starbucks partnered with, Core 77, Denuo, and Good Day Monsters to create the Betacup Challenge, and the competition opened for submission on April 1. Popular online T-shirt designer Threadless also launched the Threadless Loves Coffee challenge alongside the project.

Although there are no firm plans to implement Karma Cup at coffee shops yet, it was selected primarily on its viability and ease of implementation. It’s a low-risk program that doesn’t require creating any new products, and Starbucks also didn’t want to change the coffee-drinking experience.

(We assume this is why the Cookie Cup didn’t make the grade. Who wouldn’t want to eat their cup after enjoying a nice cup of joe?)

Add New Comment


  • Tena Hartwig

    This is a very interesting campaign and my hat goes off to Starbucks for generating ideas from its fans! However, I wonder if the campaign would have garnered more responses if it had been on Facebook. At Bulbstorm, we’ve seen time and time again how leveraging ideas from fans and engaging with target audiences can increase brand loyalty. We recently ran a campaign on Facebook where fans submitted 5,753 ideas and 231,528 votes and comments. More information about the campaign can be found here:

  • Aaron

    It appears that Bulbstorm and the jovoto platform are quite different. The jovoto platform uses the mass colaboration and global product design community, where bulbstorm is more about ideas and networking. Both great concepts, two different functionalities.

  • MikalFM

    It's been proven that you can encourage more sustained positive behavior by rewarding behavior randomly rather than systematic (Every nth)- so this would be a great example if they had a board that displayed the last time of the winner- and a said that 1:10 odds of winning a free cup of coffee.
    THat would prevent people from camping out hoping for the tenth cup and make everyone feel like they get a 1:10 chance of winning.

  • Tad Furtado

    For sure, this plan would reduce consumable waste. A lot of coffee shops already give you a ten cent or other small discount for bringing your own cup. But mass adoption by Starbucks would move the needle a lot. So hats off for that!

    I do want to take issue with the line in the article that "the more people participate, the more free stuff is given away and the more likely you are to get something free." Umm, no. The first part is true enough. But if the program is designed so that every tenth person gets the free coffee, then your likelihood of getting the free cup is 1 out of 10 no matter if even only ten people do it or if ten million do.

  • Jaque Cartie

    Sounds good in theory, but if the board is displayed to customers, someone will take advantage of it by sitting out in the lobby and waiting for the 9th personal cup to stroll in. Then they will get in line for their free drink. People are A-holes and will ruin something no matter how good of a cause it serves.

  • Michael Ehling

    Brilliant. Simple. And everyone wins.

    Now, how do we apply the thinking that created this to other problems?

  • linda lucchese

    What a silly system. Any barista will tell you that they're too busy to keep up some blackboard with a tally. Psychologically people are weak, they'll sit around until the ninth person walks up, is tallied, and then dive at the register to order the tenth, free, coffee.
    A barcode on a cup sold by Starbucks could tally that particular cup's usage and then that cup will receive the free coffee. Simple, yet it would work. I know I would buy a good venti-sized cup with the barcode and use it. It would be easy to wash it out, keep it in my car and have it ready to go next trip to Starbucks! Linda Lucchese

  • Irene Turner

    Well, I guess that's why it's Starbucks...they put marketing on the front burner and look where it took them, and us? Who would have thought we'd ever pay over $2.00 for a plain cup of coffee? And we do it a lot! Very hat is off on this one again.

  • Louann Oravec

    I wish McDonalds, and Duncan Donuts would do this; they both have better coffee than Starbucks.