ACE Champions Set Their Sights on K-Cup Extermination

A competition in one of our Work Green Champion offices on campus has helped highlight wasteful coffee practices on campus.

Coffee Competition Sparks Conversation

A Work Green Champion group on campus is continuing an important conversation on everyday waste on campus by questioning our coffee habits.

For Zehra Rizvi and Sandra Duarte in Advancement and Community Engagement's Thorvaldsen group, the conversation about Keurig K-Cup coffee cups is a sensitive one. Both employees are members of the Office of Sustainability's Work Green workplace champions program, and both have brought expressed concern over the amount of waste caused by the single-use coffee dispensers that have become common sights in office environments everywhere. Like many consumers -- including John Sylvan, the K-Cup's own creator -- Zehra and Rizvi have come to the conclusion that the convenience offered by these unasssuming little coffee cups is far outweighed by their high price and enormous environmental impact. Last year, The Atlantic featured a piece titled A Brewing Problem which gave the issue some much needed metrics: while amassing nearly $4.7 billion in revenue in 2014, Keurig Green Mountain produced 9 billion non-recyclable K-Cups (that's enough to circle the globe at least 10.5 times) while selling the coffee at $40 per pound. 

“I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” - John Sylvan, creator of the K-Cup

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The Atlantic's piece was just one of many viral news articles that brought consumer concerns over K-Cup waste to media attention. As individual awareness increases on the issue, the questions becomes one of how consumers can help make an impact beyond their own personal choices. Zehra and Sandra, taking a cue from another Work Green Champion in Financial Services, decided to use friendly office competition to encourage behaviour change in their workplace. "The environmental issue is extremely important to us, but we also really wanted to highlight the higher costs of K-Cups to grab colleagues who may be swayed more by economic decisions", says Zehra. "The average office worker can save up to $400 a year drinking regular brewed coffee instead of K-Cups, and yet that goes totally unnoticed because K-Cups are just seen as the easier choice". Using Work Green workplace grants, the two were able to purchase reusable K-Cup pods for each member of their office who was willing to participate in their K-Cup Challenge, which called for employees to skip the disposable pods and go reusable for an entire month. Participants were entered in a draw where 2 winners were chosen to take home a pound of sustainable, fair trade coffee and a french press. At the end of the month, the small group of Thorvaldsen employees were able to divert 90 K-Cups from the landfill, recover the cost of the grant in coffee savings alone, and discover new sustainable options that will carry themselves over into their personal lives as well.

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Dayna Lozowchuk and Kris Foster, the winners of the Thorvaldsen ACE K-Cup Challenge, have both stated they will continue using their reusable K-Cups both at the office and at home.
Zehra and Sandra's competition is just one of many ways employees can get involved in reducing coffee waste around campus. This month, the FMD Work Green team was able to replace its own K-Cup dispensing coffee machine with an eco-friendly unit from Saskatoon-based Generation Java. Their office coffee machines are free to install and use (Generation Java covers all maintenance, refills, and only takes money from the price of coffee), feature 100% fair trade coffee bean with no plastics or pods, and deliver delicious freshly ground coffee at the same price as the previous Keurig machine. It's an exciting new way to support local business and reduce the environmental impact of our daily habits.
Remember that the Office of Sustainability is always available to facilitate your workplace's ideas to help make the university more sustainable. If your office does not yet have a Work Green Champion, visit our Work Green page to learn more and sign someone up. Grants of up to $300 are available to any champion looking to improve their workplace, and with more than 50 offices now taking part the list of partners and resources is ever growing. Join Work Green today and start bringing your vision of sustainability to life at the University of Saskatchewan.
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