Catch Up and New Contributor

I’d like to do some catch up and introduce a new contributor who will write posts from time to time, as well help run the BYO*ToGo social media accounts (byotogo on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook).

Catch up. From writing the Coffee Shop Hop series, one of the most consistent things I noticed was customers sitting in shops with disposable cups when ceramic and/or glass cups were available. Set aside the environment, this is not cost effective. Shops have to pay for cup inventory and are charged by haulers for the amount of waste (volume or weight) they produce.


Some context. New York City set a goal to be zero waste by 2030. Research indicates 50% of trash in public waste bins is made up of disposable cups and takeout containers. If New Yorkers switched to reusable cups, a large amount of waste would be reduced from that action alone. Another (un)fun fact: over 100 billion disposable cups end up in landfills every year in America.


So I’ve decided this disposable situation needs to be dealt with and started Cup Switch (@cupswitch on Instagram). Right now it’s mainly an awareness campaign to permeate cultural change.

Having started Cup Switch, I’ve discovered a large supportive community of people promoting sustainable lifestyles. This is how I met Vik, who happened to have the same Instagram alias as this blog! I’ll let her introduce herself below. She’s very passionate about the BYO thing so we’ve decided to join forces and create content in this area.

Hey! My name is Victoria Margarita but I prefer Vik. I live on the central coast of California in San Luis Obispo. I work a 9-5 during the day in social media and have a fashion focused blog that keeps me creative in my spare time. I love photography and upcycling clothing. I wish I had more fun facts but I’m pretty much a workaholic, my idea of fun is getting things done! I became interested in the war against waste in middle school when I learned about the Pacific Garbage Patch. The more I learn about the fashion industry the more I see how unsustainable it is. I started adding writing about conscious consuming and ethical products on my blog but it didn’t feel like enough. I knew I could do more to reflect these values in my own life.

When I started thinking of creating an account for reusable togo containers my goal was just to remind people that disposables aren’t the only option and that we can take control and responsibility for our waste without skipping out on our beloved caffeinated drinks. The light bulb went off when I thought of a hashtag for the movement #BYOTOGO and to my delight it wasn’t being used by anyone online. When creating the username @byotogo it was already taken by what seemed to be an inactive account so I settled for @byo_togo. I started following like-minded accounts and came across an account featuring photos of trash on the streets of NYC that caught my eye. That account was @cupswitch. I left a comment saying that I loved the concept of photographing trash because the viewer has to really stop, see and process the image. Instead of walking by it on the street without a second glance. Shortly after following Cup Switch they sent me a DM. And to my surprise she was the owner of the assumed inactive @byotogo account! This is how I met Megan 😀

My vision of byotogo is to grow the ripple into a tsunami of actions. I just want fresh air, a clean ocean and a better planet for the future generations. You know, the basics.

Coffee Shop Hop #13

Some stuff coming down the pipeline for BYO*ToGo but had some unfinished business. A visit to Blue Bottle Coffee.

Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea. There are several people standing near the cash register waiting for their coffee. It’s sounds of light conversation and coffee grinding that fill the air. No music. Open, high ceilings – this place was once a loading dock.

I make my way up the stairs to survey the seating situation. I see a guy starting to move things to one side of a bar table. We make eye contact and indicate my interest in the spot. He says, “yes! I’m consolidating”. We both laugh and I tell him I’m usually the one sprawled out. He’s on a quick break from shooting for Video Fashion.

I head back down to the front of the store with my reusable and order the drip coffee that they prepare fresh (pour over). I begin telling a tall, friendly baristas about the various projects I’m involved in as I wait for my coffee. He mentions I can speak with the manager who happens to be in today. A flood of  people trickle in so I step aside to let him take the orders and move over to the counter where the other barista is making my coffee.

A few minutes later, my coffee is handed to me in a PAPER CUP! *breath in aaaannnd out* A surge of panic mixed with utter dejection rises in me. I Blue Bottled it. I forgot how vigilance is really important for avoiding the use of disposables.


I pour the coffee into my reusable and put the the paper cup in my bag. “I’ll find some use for it” I say to console myself.

An hour passes. I see a silver bearded man with a striped black and white shirt walk up the stairs. Immediately I know it’s Pedro, the store manager. He has a warm smile and greets me in his Spanish accent.

I begin with full-on information blast of everything I’ve been working on. Pedro remains quiet, patiently and intently listening to me. After this info session, I’m told about what the company is doing around sustainability, which is one of their three values (deliciousness and hospitality are the other two). All cups AND straws are biodegradable. They don’t waste their roasted coffee, sometimes using leftover for cold brew.  All the New York stores have in-store composting for customers except for the Chelsea location (building management doesn’t use a hauler with this option).


Pedro also highlights the company’s efforts on sustainable coffee packaging and sourcing, farmer education programs, and mentions the charitable work with their Blue Bottle Coffee Foundation (was trying to find more info on this with little luck, but read here how it was described as “a way to champion and fundraise for various causes, connecting each coffee shop with a local charity”). A sense of warmth envelops my chest hearing about these efforts. I can see and feel Pedro is deeply invested in this commitment to sustainability and charitable work.


As we close our conversation, Pedro turns and says to me, “this made my whole day.” Another hit right in the feels!

I’m walking away with a greater appreciation for what this company is doing, and hoping they’ll be able to find an effective way to raise greater awareness among their customers of their efforts and actions, as well as increase their use of “for here cups” for stay in customers.

FYI, the bathroom inspection is non-existent because there wasn’t one. No drink discount for bringing your own cup (at least not yet ;), but they are happy to make your drink using it, regardless of size. Also, if you you happen to be around the area with your furry friend, they’ve got your him/her covered with a bowl of treats!


One final fun fact. The name Blue Bottle is in honor of the first coffee house that opened in Europe (Vienna, Austria). The story of how that came about which involved this this dude Kolshitsky and some 007 work to drive out the Turkish Army in the late 1600’s is worth a read!

Transitioning focus. Experience at Round K Coffee.

My focus is transitioning (though I still can’t help throw in my 4 cents if I see something that could be more sustainable in a coffee shop!). I’m ending the typical “Shop Hop Series” and sharing more from talking and meeting with people about interest in developing an infrastructure to eliminate disposable cups in NYC.

Round K Coffee, Manhattan. I stumbled across this place a month ago. I’ve been wanting to visit it since. I finally made it back there today (November 30, 2017).

I enter into what would otherwise be mistaken as a bar if it weren’t for the roaster in the front window (they do bottle serve spiked coffee and other alcoholic drinks I learn later).


I introduce myself to the owner, Ockhyeon, who I met briefly when I peaked in to the shop the first time I saw it. I don’t know if he remembers me. Ockhyeon has calm domineer, but from my conversation with him, I see glimpses of a dynamic personality, extroversion and a hint of rebellion that burst up like the compressing and releasing of a spring.

I ask for a taste of the drip. He starts grinding some coffee, comments quietly how good it smells, and then takes an order from a customer asking for a cappuccino. Feeling a bit confused, wondering “Why was he grinding coffee?” and “Did he forgot my order?” I decide to head to leave telling Ockhyeon I’ll be come back another time. Ockhyeon responds saying he just starting to make our coffee. “Oh wow! He’s going to prepare something!” Feeling horrified I might have offended him, I apologize and decide to look around while he finishes preparing the customer’s drink.

There’s a back room full of seating, hidden behind a curtain. I push aside the white canvas which reveals an intimate space with that iconic New York brick wall, wooden beams, and miscellaneous vintage pieces.


I return to the front. Ockhyeon brings out a glass brewing vessel. He begins pouring hot water slowly over the freshly ground coffee. It foams up, forming a small dome – an aroma dome (the technical term) – which I’m told holds flavor and and you want to avoid it bursting. Ockhyeon also says he’s careful to make sure the water does not spread to the paper filter, which can effect the flavor.


At this point, I realize the level of seriousness in coffee preparation at Round K, and for Ockhyeon. It’s an art, a craft. This is not really for a grab-and-go, but to be savored and experienced in full.

Observing this conjures a memory of the type of culture I witnessed at the NYC Coffee Festival. I ask if Ockhyeon went there. He did and had run a workshop on Japanese and Korean style brewing.

I ask Ockhyeon how long he’s been doing this. Thirteen years. He was in Korea, then Italy, and moved to America five years ago.

They roast their organic, Biodynamic coffee weekly. The machine is heated to 185°C, meaning the beans are at 175°C – just below the temperature caffeine content begins to reduce.

Ockhyeon pours me this beautiful dark brown coffee, in a tea cup. I hadn’t remembered to specify this, it just happened. I tell him this is great, environmentally and for business (saving costs on inventory and trash). He silently ponders these words, and says he agrees, but his reason for serving drinks this way is for the flavor and experience.


A man in a black turtleneck and dark hair walks in. “Espresso?” Ockhyeon asks. “Yes” the man says.

I’ve observed Ockhyeon do this with several customers. He knows their preferences. He had started a drink for one guy who hadn’t even set foot in the the store, and when that customer left, he hit a gong above the bar. I laughed watching this, asking if it was a  tradition. He smirked and said he does this for fun for some people he knows. The gong came from a friend who brought it from Korea.

The man with the espresso – who I’m going to call Matt because that’s the closest sounding thing I can get to the Russian version he told me – sits down at the bar, and asks for water, which Ockhyeon serves in a stainless steel cup. I naturally praise this action, and transition to talking about my interest in reusable cups. Matt joins in and all three of us enter into a conversation that lasts for almost an hour.


Ockhyeon again explains he uses the stainless steel cup for the flavor. I ask why coffee is served in tea cups. He mentions something about  it being light, easy to sip and have a conversation. It’s also related to Japanese and Korean culture that he wants to bring to the store. Matt, also comments that he learned from his dad (who was an engineer) that  thicker material cools drink down faster, this thinner design is best if the cup isn’t heated up first. I noticed Ockhyeon had heated up the cup – I’m impressed at the level of effort that goes in to make a cup of coffee.

Matt says to me at one point when discussing how to reduce disposable cups, “You know what the solution is to change?” I give him an inquisitive, eye-brow lifting look. “If coffee wasn’t served with milk.” I am caught off guard. I know this would solve other issues, like health problems (apparently the chemical combination of milk and coffee creates a glue substance – not so great for the arteries!), but changing drink preferences to reduce disposable coffee cups? He continues on, saying if people didn’t put all that stuff in their coffee, changing their tastes, and were drinking it for the taste and experience, they’d want to sit down and enjoy it, for-here.

I realize what Matt is getting at. Changing peoples’ habits and attitudes around consuming (drink/food). He drinks his espresso for here, not because of the environment, but the experience. He contrasts his attitude towards with his wife’s, who prefers eating on the go, in the car. For her, it gives the feeling she’s saving time. Convenience is something Americans value.

This discussion with Matt brings up another interesting insight. Different places in Europe less than in North America, but for varying reasons. Nordic countries may be motivated to reduce waste for altruistic reasons (e.g., wanting to be environmentally responsible), while southern countries, like France, Italy, and Spain produce less waste simply because of their lifestyle (such as valuing the dining experience, eating “for-here”). So tapping into altruistic motives and promoting an experience-driven culture might target different types of people, but produce the same desired outcome when it comes to reducing disposable cups.

As our conversation wraps up and I’m getting ready to leave, I hear an order for an egg cappuccino. It’s a popular menu item. The ordering customer also tells me about their matte black latte, another signature (its vegan too!). Well, now I’m going to have to come back to try this.

Semi Shop Hop, Potential Collaboration

I recently met with the communications director, Mia at Think Coffee (November 20, 2017). I had reached out to earlier about a project I’m starting (Cup Switch). She was super receptive to the idea. We set up a meeting at the 8th Avenue store. Here’s a little excerpt of my experience

A few minutes after noon. I walk into a lively, large store (the cover picture is deceptive!) and approach the barista asking if Mia is in. The barista tells me she doesn’t think so. I tell her I have a meeting at 12:30 and had received a message Mia was there. A senior barista steps in, offers to go downstairs and check.

I move off to the side, wait a few minutes. I take a double look at someone standing in line. It’s a friend I had texted earlier. I call out his name as I walk over to meet him. We hug. He offers to get me something. I tell him I’m fine with my water, but touched by his gesture.

“She’s not here” I hear the senior barista tell me. I’m guessing Mia will come in at 12:30 when we originally had planned to meet.

My friend and I decide we’ll catch up in the meantime. I spot a free bar table near the back and we head there. He just got married. I started Cup Switch. We have a lot to catch up on.

Midway through conversation, a woman with short bleached hair, contrasted with dark roots, and those trendy clear glasses walks up and asks me if I’m there for the meeting. We introduce ourselves and I give her a few minutes to go and get ready.

Ten to fifteen minutes later, Mia returns. Though not physically tall, she has a certain presence that makes you forget that fact. “I’m ready when you are” she announces, sitting down at the bar table behind me. My friend says he’ll do some work and that we can talk later, so I swing around and begin conversation with Mia.

Oddly, I feel more like I’m meeting with a friend, catching up on things. We start off talking about her recent trip with her sister to Connecticut, talking about the travel time. I eventually get around to telling her my background and interest in helping to support NYC meet its 2030 zero waste goal.

I notice Mia has a small little turquoise for-here cup with black coffee. “Good job!” I point to her drink. She smiles. “We’re going to get a long” I think.

Talking more with Mia reinforces this thought. She’s aware of all the waste with cups – even though they use compostable cups, people still throw them out. In the store, most people are sitting with disposable cups I notice, not unlike my observation from the other time I visited the Broadway store. I mention the cost of this, the waste generated and the amount of inventory this takes – she knows.

We start talking about ways Think could improve their operations. Though my intention for this meeting was to see if Think wanted to be part of this other pilot project I’m working on, participating in a loyalty program for an app being used in a corporation, I start to realize there is an opportunity to do almost what I’ve been doing with blogging, but work with them over a sustained period of time – enough to make a change. This partnership (for lack of a better word) can be documented, content can be shared on social media to show the transformation of Think Coffee and used as a model for other stores wanting to become zero waste.

We are both excited by the prospect of this idea. We talk about the various approaches, like more signage, such as advertising the 25 cent discount for bringing your own cup, and engaging customers on social media by producing content to bring awareness about issues of waste.

Mia tells me she’s from the West Coast. I grew up out there too. We have a moment. We get the eco-mentality. She then comments on her insight about living on the East Coast, at least in NYC. She says it’s almost  like people are proud to be wasteful – continual disposal of things gives a sense of affluence, luxury, like you can afford to waste.

An hour passes. We emerge from our engaging discussion on the potential for change and how we can achieve that. I’m on a high from the excitement. I can tell Mia feels inspired as well.

We plan to meet again after the holidays, when she’s had the opportunity to present the ideas to her boss. I’m looking forward to this partnership and being able to share the progress that is made.


*I went to Greenpoint later that week on the Sunday. I was leaving one of the piers, speaking on the phone with a friend who is helping to document the Cup Switch process. We were talking about possible video content we might make with Think Coffee. Right after I hung up, I passed by a holiday market and decided to go in. As I moved towards the back, I saw a woman with dark-haired roots contrasted with bleach blond tips. I recognized the face. It was Mia! She does a pottery gig on the side – Paperclip Pottery – and was selling her work (which are great Christmas gifts btw ;). Life is funny, isn’t it.

Coffee Shop Hop #12 – Update!

Starbucks, New York (Delancey Street). This Shop Hop wasn’t intentional. I live with a Chinese family – the mother, doesn’t speak English very well and from what I gathered through back and forth translation with her children for almost a half an hour, she either forgot to and/or decided not to pay because her family didn’t use the service that much. Long story short, I needed internet so decided I’d work from the neighborhood Starbucks. Let me disclose something. I used to work at Starbucks. When I was living in Toronto, I had previously lived in Washington state where this  giant coffee company was born. To me, working there helped with the nostalgia of the West Coast.

So here is the hop session and how I switched from work to investigatory mode.

I see a free spot at the wooden high table overlooking the street. I’ll take that, thank you! I make eye contact with a man sporting a full beard, wearing dark frame glasses and a blue shirt. It’s a brief encounter, he then immediately turns back to his laptop and I look in the direction of where I’ll be parking myself for some time. Sometimes I feel I should talk and connect with someone – I felt that but didn’t.

I don’t see a single for-here cup. That’s strange. When I worked as a barista, the first things that would come out of my mouth after taking an order were, “would you like that for-here?” Not everyone would – they’d want to walk around (I worked at a shop in a bookstore), but some people would say yes who otherwise would have accepted a paper cup.

I’ve been here for a while. I feel I should buy something. I walk up to the counter when surprisingly only one other person is there (it’s a heavy traffic store). The baristas are laughing and enjoying themselves. I straight up tell them I’m working and would like to get something because I’m using their space. I ask for a short drip. The barista taking my order grabs a paper cup – I stop him mid grab. “Can I have it in a for-here cup?” The barista says they don’t have them. “You don’t have for-here cups?!” I exclaim in disbelief. I’m aware Starbucks has a whole slew of things about environmental responsibility.

Veering off from the hop here to share a few things I found researching “Starbucks sustainability”.

Starbucks worked with the United States Green Building Council to develop the LEED (Leadership in Environment and Energy and Design) Retail Program, which is essentially an evaluation system of building environmental performance (e.g., assessing things like building sites, energy consumption, and materials and resources). According to their website they have over 1000 LEED certified stores – the first of which included things like tables made from coffee grinds, using at least 10% of materials sourced from 500 miles (reminds me of the 300 mile rule limit Richard has for sourcing at Terremoto), and reducing over 45% lighting power with LED lighting.

This is great, but it’s not specifically about operations related to consumers. Then I came across this article, Greener Cup. It outlines Starbucks’s efforts to reduce waste, including recycling and promoting reusable cups etc., and highlights a challenge they are facing. As they put it,

Despite these efforts, we have learned that widespread behavior change is unlikely to be driven by one company alone. We will continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste but ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.

So at the corporate level, they get cups are a major waste contributor, but are expressing the need for cooperation from the consumer – a bottom-up approach is needed. This is where the strategizing seems to stop. I think this is because it’s not clear who it is that needs to step up to the plate and take action (e.g., the people, profit/non-profit organizations, local governments etc.). I agree work needs to be done at this lower level, but like I mentioned in my previous post a proper communication structure between bottom and top levels is also needed. This is something that I’m working on at the moment – Cup Switch (website forthcoming – progress can be followed on Instagram @cupswitch).

Ok. Back to the shop hop.

I tell the barista I’d like to get something because I’m working there, but I can’t accept it in a paper cup (it would be sacrilege). They don’t have anything to serve the coffee in for me. After realizing I wont be having coffee, I tell them I can leave the store if they like. The barista is really nice, and in that “don’t be silly” kind of way tells me it’s totally fine to stay.

Another two hours pass. I’m meeting someone in an hour and need to get my carrier service for my new iPhone before that (yes, I’ve now entered the modern world!). I pack up, and go up to the counter to get the manager’s contact details. He happens to be there. “The guy in the black apron” a barista sweeping the floor tells me. I introduce myself. His name is Dylan. He has an agreeable personality. I confront him about the cup issue, asking why they don’t have for-here cups. He tells me he has been trying to get some special mettle stand for the espresso bar to place cups on that meets Starbucks’s standards – they want them on the bar so customers can see them. I query further, asking why can’t they be ordered and stored somewhere else; baristas can still offer these cups in the meantime. I see he realizes that is a possibility, but I also gather there is backlog trying to get things approved and can appreciate the challenge of balancing store priorities.

I explain how having for here-cups could save costs on trash pick up. He says that’s a corporate expense so doesn’t immediately affect him. In this situation, I actually think it would be good for stores to pay for this expense, or at least be aware of it to help encourage managers to take greater responsibility for their store waste.

My attention has been directed to the condiment stand at the front of the store several times. I’ve seen someone pour coffee down the trash – right now I see a plastic water bottle brimming over the top. That pains me.

Dylan says there’s a recycling bin, pointing to the back of the store. Around this bin are line dividers, which are also used to keep people from going into an area. “What kind of message is this sending people in the store?” I think. Also, “Who the heck sees this?” I tell Dylan I’ve been in the store for almost 4 hours and wasn’t aware of the bin. If customers are already at the condiment stand, why are they going to walk all the way to the back to recycle something – that’s if they’re even aware of it. Also, how do they know what they can recycle? There’s no information displaying what can and can’t be put into the bin.

Photo on 03-11-2017 at 13.48 #2

As I was leaving the store, I thought about asking Dylan to remove the dividers around the recycling bin. I didn’t because I think I gave it to him pretty hard about not having for-here cups and he was trying his best to be accommodating. He even asked at one point if I drank cold coffee and offered to me, on the house, one of their plastic reusable cups. I thanked him but declined.

For the new direction I’m going in, I’ve thought about approaching Starbucks, potentially for sponsorship. I see that they want to “become the world’s greenest retailer” and are working to “promote and incent the use of “for here” and reusable cups”. These goals are aligned with the Cup Switch mission.


*UPDATE! November 15, 2017.

Since writing this, the store manager made an effort to respond to my concerns. I wanted to share this because I think it illustrates how change can be made by speaking up and creating a dialogue – discussion in this way may “tip” (I’m reading Melcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point right now) people to move in the direction they have intentions of going. Below is a snippet of the email I got from the store manager a few days ago.

I wanted to let you know that this passed weekend we put in a statement to get the rail guards for the espresso machines to display the for here cups. However regardless if approved or not we will be receiving for here cups this Sunday! I am definitely excited about that and happy to say you can now enjoy your beverage in a ceramic cup! I am also planning on relocating the recycling bin to a more noticeable location and will be ordering a surplus of reusable cups in efforts to up sell.

Well done Dylan!

Original visit November 3, 2017. Didn’t do a bathroom inspection.

Coffee Shop Hop #11

Black Brick, Brooklyn. Is there some tropical storm going on? I enter a glass door drenched, looking as if I’ve stepped out of a shower. Later on my bathroom inspection, I see my mascara has smeared across the side of my face. Nice. The state I’m in, it takes me a few minutes to get my bearings.

Two baristas are behind the counter. I make eye contact with them as I enter, saying I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m looking for a friend, Roman, a tall blond haired guy I met at the NAG Gala. We connected with our shared interest in sustainability and after going on for a bit, we thought it’d be good to find a time to meet, both admitting we could go on for hours.

I head to the back of the shop looking for Roman. Don’t see him. I put my stuff on a table and take a 360 degree look around. There’s this guy that might be him at the front of the shop. While I’m debating in my head whether to approach him, and seeing the scenarios of what will happen if it’s not him, I just decide “screw this” and go over. He’s looking down, deeply engaged in a book. “Roman?” I ask. His face lifts up, staring at me in confusion. Nope! “Sorry” I say, telling him I thought he might be someone I know and at the same time trying to subdue my embarrassment.

I walk back to my table. I then see an email from Roman. He’s at Devoción – where I did my first coffee shop hop. We were supposed to meet at Black Brick around 2:30. I arrived after 4. He had been there since then and moved to Devoción for a change of scenery.

I’m fighting internally whether to go home (I’m drenched and tired) or stay. Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to say yes to the opportunities before me, rather than dismissing them and thinking I’ll do it another time. No, the time to do something is now.  So I decide to stay to finish the coffee shop hop. I let Roman know I’ll be there for a little bit but not to worry about coming by.

I do the bathroom inspection first. TP has an eco-friendly certification. Paper towels are brown – they look eco. I don’t know the deal with the hand soap, but appears to be something cheap you could pick up at any general grocery store – not specifically selected for it’s environmental friendliness.

I’m back at the table with my things. I finally enter my observation mode. Vintage is the vibe of the place. Everything, from furniture to the interior seems to be up-cycled – nothing is new. The ceiling particularly captures my attention. It’s made of old crates. Lamps are birdcages. There’s some typewriters (I also saw these at Brooklyn Roasting Company and  Toby’s – I guess people like the nostalgia).

Photo on 29-10-2017 at 16.36.jpg

It’s a Sunday, so not sure if this is the typical crowd (I’m later told more tourist come through here on weekends and their regulars during week days). The crowd here is younger – I’d say 20s- 30s.

I finally decide to go up and talk to the barista. It’s just one guy working now. He’s got dark hair and eyes. As he’s talking to me, he is taking tea out of a glass jar – it looks like cannabis buds. I redirect my mind to focus on what he’s saying. At first, I don’t sense too much enthusiasm by him about the topic despite his willingness to chat with me. He tells me the place does not really attract overly concerned sustainable people – it’s a “cheap” coffee shop (I see drip starts at $2) – it’s more for the experience. The barista also informs me this isn’t really the mindset of the owner.

I notice most people at tables have paper and plastic cups, although there are a few people with ceramic. They use regular paper and plastic cups. I’m told they try to recycle paper cups. I interject saying that the wax/plastic lining sometimes interferes with the ability to recycle. He says they’ve been doing it and haven’t had any complaints from their carter. I’m told that because of the recent law that was passed, requiring now small businesses to recycle, they can only dispose of things two times a week. This is starting to give them appreciation for the amount of waste they produce.

I explain my thoughts about disposable culture and an interest to shift/create change – he seems to get the challenge and uses the phrase “out of sight, out of mind“. That’s exactly it. If people don’t see their waste, they don’t have the opportunity to realize what their contributing to.

The barista seems a lot more skeptical than other baristas I’ve met about behavior change. I get it. I also like hearing other perspectives, particularly where there is doubt or uncertainty. This is going to be where the greatest challenge lies – I think I had a bias sample, going to places where there’s more awareness about sustainability.

Roman walks in. The engine of inquiring has started. I give him a hug and explain I’m asking questions for my blog. He cordially tells me it’s fine and he’ll do some work while I finish up.

I continue talking with the barista, bringing up the idea of a loyalty program across stores. He mentions other local chains, like Joe Coffee (on my list!), Gregorys (heard the name – should check them out), and Cafe Grumpy – when they start doing things, other smaller shops seem to follow. So it would be good to start with them. The implication I’m getting from the barista is that this isn’t guerrilla warfare: bigger coffee stores, changes higher up in the industry need to guide consumer behavior. I have mixed feelings about this. I think both need to be tackled, and also a solid communication structure between higher (corporate) and lower (consumer) levels needs to be in place.

They don’t do cup discounts. Grinds are thrown out in the waste. They were, until recently, putting grinds in a bin without plastic liners (mostly just because of logistics, not really out of trying to be sustainable) but there was something about FDA regulations and now they’re back using plastic bags.

The barista makes a reference to a Texan company, bio-bean. I check out their website later – looks like they collect coffee grinds to make bio fuels. Cool!

The one thing the barista is aware of that is sustainable is the coffee packaging from Stumptown. I learned about that on my Coffee Shop Hop #5.

I asked the barista about the music – it’s almost contrasting to the interior of the place I say. It’s House. The particular songs playing seem to belong in a store with a clean, modern feel, accented with steel counter and table tops. Here I’d expect more indie rock or folk to be playing. The barista tells me he plays House because it’s “uplifting” and not “sad” like some of the other music that gets played throughout the week.

At the end of the discussion, I notice the barista is more animated and engaging in the conversation. I am given some of the drip. I bring this back to where Roman is sitting. Several hours pass talking with Roman. We share a lot of common perspectives about waste and both at a place in life trying to zero in on our calling. We plan to meet again. He has a few places he frequents – he suggests one in Park Slope for next time.

Photo on 29-10-2017 at 17.10.jpg

Regardless of the sustainability issues, the atmosphere of this place is chill and pleasant for meeting up with people. I’d go Black, but I’d like to see them Brick up their game. I think they could push harder by offering for-here cups. Also, because they are a smaller store, I think there could be an opportunity to partner with a local community garden to donate coffee grinds rather than throwing them away. I understand offering reusable cup discounts is financially difficult, but in the future, they could join a rewards system that connects to many coffee shops (something I’m interested in developing), which would pool resources and allow them to offer things like free drinks (I haven’t fully expanded upon this idea, but wanted to toss it out there because things are moving fast in the background and this chapter of the investigation process may be coming to a close soon).


Original visit October 29, 2017.

Synergy Global Forum – A Master Class in Disruption

I’m shaking things up a bit. I decided to get a taste of sustainability at another type of venue – a business, entrepreneur event – a demographic that likes (needs?) their coffee. Here are a few things I learned and observed over the course of the two days (October 27-28, 2017).

Day 1

I ascend a set of marble steps, entering one of multiple glass doors of the front entrance of the Theater at Madison Square Garden, New York. I’m sent to a line to wait to go through security. I pull out my laptop, open up my bag, ready, trying to help with the flow. The security guard, a tall white bearded man sees my lunch (in a reusable container, of course) and tells me I can’t bring food in. I explain I have dietary requirements and want to be careful of cross contamination – he immediately backs off. Then he pulls out my glass water bottle, inspects it. I can’t bring in glass. I ask if I can keep it on the side of the bin to pick it up later. No, security will confiscate it. I tell him I’m willing to take that risk. No.

I don’t see separate recycling bins, just one big bin. I take several large swigs of water,  peer into the clear plastic lined trash can with it’s bottle-filled contents, and reluctantly release my trustee glass container – it will now have to go through a whole disposal cycle, eventually ending up in a landfill. Painful.

Eating my food later in the day, a guy commented “they let you bring that in here?!” He seemed a bit envious. I assume they took his away. They sell snacks at the event, but to get a meal you have to leave the building. This, in a way, is forcing people to buy on the go and accept whatever disposable packaging it comes in.

After collecting my ticket, I ascend more stairs to the theater entrance. I pull out my info pack and skim through it. Single-sided printed pamphlets. I count the number of pages. 42 (plus a folder). I heard the announcer say they hit a record number of attendees (7000), so multiplying this over the number of unnecessary pages (21 if printed double sided), is huge, not just in terms of waste, but also in costs.

Photo on 27-10-2017 at 16.29 #2

With the proliferation of cell phones, I think the event could have been entirely paperless. The event website could have an up-to-date program and/or QR codes could be available at check-in to scan for event information.

Later, I attend the event lunch, which is a few blocks away at the Hammerstein Ballroom. It’s packed. People with (VIP) tickets are being turned away. I enter a dim lit room with a heart-shaped light hanging on stage that reminds me a bit of a high-school valentines dance. I see wine glasses and ceramic dishware assembled around the circular tables – nothing disposable. Napkins are cloth.

There are several waiters dressed in black lined along the side observing, waiting to attend to guests. I approach several of them, asking about their observations on waste. One female waiter tells me, “honestly, there’s a lot of waste in this industry”. She mentions a recent fashion event she worked at. Food was hardly touched, she suspects  this was because”most of them were on diets”.  For this type of situation, I think there is an issue with portions – if there was some way (like an app?) to allow people to pre-select portion sizes of food, I’m sure a large amount of waste would be eliminated.

I learn catering is by In Thyme. One of the servers points out the manager, AJ. He’s in a nice suit with a pink tie. As he walks over, I briefly introduce myself and tell him about my focus on sustainability. I’m aware of his need to attend to the event so suggest we discuss things another time. He gives me his business card.

While I’m observing the lunch, I hop on the In Thyme website – Ray, a security guard with strong prescription glasses who I’ve been chatting a bit with let’s me use his cell phone wifi –  I didn’t see anything about sustainability.

At the lunch, I overhear a conversation between two guys, picking up something about app development. I approach them. One of the guys – really tall, in a suit, with 90’s style spiked hair – is walking away, so I mention my interest in finding a developer team to the other, who I later found out is Gerard Adams, Founder/CEO of Founders. Gerard calls back the tall guy, Ron, slaps him on the back, exlaiming how he already is getting him leads. Ron works at The Real Start and explains to me they’re more than a developer team – they also do biz dev and consulting. They’ve done some work with the Synergy brand (who are running the event), along with several Russian spin-offs of things like Airbnb. It’s not what I had in mind, but I’m open. Maybe greater support will help accelerate the idea and lead to faster product development.

I attend the After Party, also at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The tables from lunch are cleared and there’s a square bar at the center of the dance floor. The dress of people is a range of Halloween costumes, business suits, cocktail, and semi-causal (the category I’m in). Drinks are served in plastic cups. When living in England, I found out about waste-free solutions for serving drinks at venues (e.g., Green Goblet, Stack Cup, and Ecocup) –  a deposit is paid for a branded cup with the purchase of a drink; the cup is returned and either a new one is used with the purchase of another drink or the deposit is returned. People who want memorabilia can keep the cup, in which case, they do not receive their deposit back. This type of system would help move Synergy towards a zero waste venue.

I don’t have any water. One of the servers I’ve been speaking with offers me an unopened pouch of HFactor water – there are many left on the table. I’m super impressed by the hospitality. I’m not a seated guest and yet asked if I’d like some food. I had eaten earlier, so declined, but accepted a cup of coffee.

Photo on 27-10-2017 at 16.27 #2.jpg

Day 2

I’m back observing the lunch. Same set up. I meet AJ again. I have an opportunity to speak with him a little bit. He tells me how their company is multi-legged, and that in areas where they cater to corporations, there is a growing demand for biodegradable packaging so they’re moving in that direction. I later email AJ to set up a meeting, telling him I’d like to learn more about the company’s policies on local sourcing, packaging, left over food.

I notice they don’t have recycling at the lunch venue. There are plastic bottles and paper (that could be recycled) being tossed into the bin next to me. This is hard to see. I’m still not sure what happens with left over food and don’t know if food gets composted.

Photo on 28-10-2017 at 15.13.jpg

I also had the opportunity to meet with Alex, the CEO of Synergy. I tell him I’m interested in helping their venue be zero waste. New York is trying to go zero waste by 2030 (0X30). I tell Alex it would look good if they could get there before, and that this could be used as part of brand and event promotion. Alex expresses interest in working together. He gives me his contact and I’m also asked by another Synergy team member for my details to set up a meeting in a few weeks to see what can be done.

The event is almost over. I need a break. I head down to work at a table in the food court right outside the theater. I’m observing this guy in a baseball cap and gloves removing the trash. Why not speak to him too? I think. This isn’t Synergy event related, but I’ve been trying to understand the general business waste system since the NYC Coffee Festival. The worker tells me they have the recycling and landfill waste in separate bins in the food court, but when he brings them down in the basement, they all get crushed in the incinerator together and collected. He doesn’t think any of the waste gets recycled…

On the whole I sense that sustainability at this event (including catering) was not the main focus. However, I do believe there is interest in this area, and hope there will be improvements at next year’s venue.

*Thank you Alex for letting me borrow your iPad for the feature image. Phone acquisition with good camera pending!


Coffee Shop Hop #10

Think Coffee, Manhattan (Broadway Store). Space. High ceilings. Soft, bright light. Two baristas are behind the counter. It’s quiet. The indie/ambient music is subtle. Several people are seated at individual tables, a few are at the wooden communal tables, most on their laptops.

Before I came, I read the following about their perspective on the environment:

We are aware of the negative impact businesses can have on our natural environment. To lessen our footprint, we use compostable paper products, which do not have a petroleum lining and do not end up as landfill. If you dispose of them in one of our stores, they are picked up and taken to a nearby facility where they are processed and turned into compost. While more expensive than using non-compostable cups, we feel it is important to take the extra care to ensure that our business is as respectful of the environment as possible.

I approach the baristas and we begin talking. In addition to learning about their compostable cups (made by Vegware), their cutlery and straws are eco-friendly too. I’m told grinds are composted.

I ask to try some of the drip of the day – an Ethopian and Latin American blend. The barista reaches for a paper cup and I quickly interject to ask for it to be “for-here”. This makes me wonder if this is a default habit here, and goes back to my thinking that our behaviour is conditioned by a disposable culture.

Photo on 16-10-2017 at 16.28 #3

They have an “All-Gender” restroom (how progressive). No mirror. Soap comes from dispenser and didn’t see packaging for toilet paper. Hand blow dryer instead of paper.

I think there is general awareness in this store about waste, although from observing multiple people sitting with paper and plastic cups, they can do more to encourage the use of ceramic cups.

On a second visit to the store, I speak with another barista and happy to have discovered more information about their efforts to reduce waste. This barista tells me approximately 4-5 times a week the people on duty will take things like left-over bagels and baguettes to a local shelter. This, I’m told is a store-specific action. The baristas on duty do this voluntarily and have built a relationship with the shelter. I’m touched hearing about this. I don’t think most customers know about these good deeds (which also double as sustainable efforts), so feel compelled to share them.

Original visit on October 16, 2017. Second visit on October 25, 2017.

NYC Coffee Festival – Days 2 & 3

My visits on days 2 and 3 were shorter. I met a few people, learned a few more things. Here are some snippets.

Day 2

First stop, Dallis Bros. Coffee. I start talking with a bearded, middle-aged man. He mentions something that gives me greater appreciation for challenges coffee shops face. Stores have to pay for their own waste disposal in New York. I later find on the DSNY (Department for Sanitation New York) website that businesses must arrange for collection with private carters (commercial waste haulers) or register as a self-hauler. Searching through city approved carters, recycling is sometimes an additional service (an extra cost). Recycling is law in NYC, but it’s not clear how it’s properly regulated with all the collection modes.

I see Joe Coffee. I’ve heard the name. I’ll check them out. I begin talking with a tall man at the booth. When I mention sustainability, a woman with dark-framed glasses chimes in. Kendra. She’s a shift trainer based in Philly and tells me about an outstanding barista who has been a major influence at her store. Kendra tells me because of this barista, she no longer uses paper napkins; the barista has had a similar impact on others in the community. I want to meet her. Kendra offers to put us in touch.

A few days before the festival I was thinking about the direction I’d like to go in and new ways of communicating information. I’m considering video and maybe doing a podcast. I’m a visual learner and prefer listening to books rather than reading them – I’d like to reach people who have the same preferences. I learn from Kendra that this barista has a theater background. A light goes on. Maybe there’s an opportunity here.

As I sit down at an empty, long gray table near Joe’s booth to write down some things I’ve learned, I suddenly see Goat Mug across the way. A surge of excitement shoots through me. I’ve got to talk to them!

Photo on 14-10-2017 at 18.10 #2.jpg

I attended an entrepreneur meet-up in London a few months ago, around the time I decided to give up my academic career. I found out about the meet-up a few hours before. I had an instinctive feeling I needed to go to it. I dropped everything, cycled five miles through the Oxfordshire countryside and caught the next train to London.

I arrived late. This was due to travel time and deciding to stop and watch what I found out was the shooting of the final scenes of The Mountain Between Us, starring Kate Winslet (yes, I saw her). The set was a recreation of the streets of NYC, where I would be moving a few weeks later. The meet-up was in the basement of a modern cocktail bar, the Slug & Lettuce. I walked in during the introductions. I stated my interests (sustainability, building some type of online social infrastructure to reduce waste etc.) and the type of co-founder I was looking for (someone in tech, a computer programmer, app developer etc.), and once introductions were through, I had the opportunity  to “mingle” and “network”.

The last person of the evening I spoke with was a computer programmer, working at a VC firm in London. I didn’t get the impression he was looking to work in the area I was focused on, although he expressed interest in the ideas. At one point he asked if I had heard about a Slovenian start-up, Goat Mug. I hadn’t. He told me these guys marketed their product really well, catering to serious (hipster) coffee drinkers. The Goat Mug team’s commitment to and execution of an idea was inspirational, and pivotal in encouraging me to pursue my own ideas related to waste reduction through cultural change.

Standing in front of the Goat Mug booth, I’m  bubbling with enthusiasm, which pours out as I introduce myself to Anže, one of the co-founders. He’s a young, friendly, brown-eyed guy. He’s preparing coffee using their limited edition G-Drip brewer. I try to slip in some context as I explain my interest in sustainability so he gets were my excitement is coming from. He listens attentively. He shares the story behind their cleverly designed, horn-shaped cup – a tribute to the goat, which helped lead to the discovery of coffee (here’s their fun video illustration of the story).

Some people approach the booth during our conversation. They appear to be big fans too and ask about purchasing their Brown model. They’re sold out. I continue talking with Anže after the people leave, expressing interest in potential collaboration. He reassures me he’s 100% on board with sustainability and open to exploring projects. He gives me his business card – I plan to keep in touch as things progress.

Day 3

I arrive at the very end of the festival. About a half an hour remains. I’m here to connect with some people after. As I’m chatting with a guy who works at Califia Farms (a newly discovered plant-based milk alternative that has rocked my world), an upbeat, energetic gal swings by. Ruth. She has an English accent. I find out she’s one of the event organizers. I had left my email with staff the day before and emailed them about my interest in helping to plan next year’s venue. This is perfect. I can talk to her. I tell Ruth about the idea of running a sustainable venue, incorporating reusable branded cups in ticket sales to use for sampling, and finding a community garden group to dispose of coffee grinds. She’s totally into the idea and says how her boss was wanting to bring in outside perspectives and expertise. I get her contact details so we can work on improving sustainability of the 2018 festival.

Photo on 13-10-2017 at 16.12 #2.jpg

Days 2 and 3 were on October 13 and 15, respectively.

Coffee Shop Hop #9

Toby Estate Coffee, Brooklyn. Bustling with people. Espresso machines and indie rock music mix, filling the sound space. Sun floods through the tall front window, spanning the front of the store. There are wooden communal tables and vintage trinkets scattered throughout the floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves.

Before I enter, an Ethopian man soaking up the sun on the long black bench stretching the length of the store front engages me in conversation. He tells me he’s trying to open a coffee shop. He runs a popup from his van right now and is working as an artist. He’s interested in sustainability and asks for my contact details.

Inside, there’s a line. As I wait, I look around. I see many for-here cups, but also a few plastic cups and water bottles. I’m greeted by a man with a gray baseball cup – Josh. He seems familiar. I ask if he was at the NYC Coffee Festival. He wasn’t. I told him I spoke with Jessica when I was there.

I ask about the store practices. Josh tells me management encourages them to ask customers if they want their drinks “for-here”. They don’t do cup discounts. Josh is not sure why. They sell branded reusable containers (Hydro Flasks), but are out of stalk right now.

They don’t compost their grinds. I find out (on a second visit – October 23, 2017) that their stores donate “old beans” to local charities – this shop donates to City Harvest – a food rescue charity.

I see a KeepCup behind the counter. “Good job for using your own cup” I say. The barista working the bar, Chrislyn tells me it’s hers. She says she’s been inching in, listening to our conversation. She’s right there with the sustainability thing. She expresses dislike handing out drinks in “to-go” cups and tells me she practices sustainability at her house.

I see josh drinking out of a water bottle, also commenting how that’s nice to see. He tells me these are given to all the employees. They are double insulated (so can be used for hot or cold drinks), personalized with labels, and are for store use only (they can’t be taken home). What a great idea!

Photo on 19-10-2017 at 14.28.jpg

In the bathroom inspection, I see eco-friendly soap (Method) and TP. There’s no paper towel, just a hand blow-dryer. I notice they have plastic reusable cups for customers by the water.

I am given a taste of the Brooklyn blend – a mix of Latin American beans. I head to a wooden communal bar where I park myself for the next two hours.

Photo on 19-10-2017 at 14.06 #2.jpg

What stood out to me at Toby’s, Estate they offer employees reusable bottles. This is a great example of effort to minimize waste within stores. I hope other shops take note. I like what they’re doing with their old beans, donating them to a local charity rather than throwing them away. I think they could do a bit more to encourage customers to bring their own reusable (e.g., offering a discount and making that offer obvious) and work on finding an alternative way to dispose of their grinds. Other than that, well done! I like this place. I’ll be here again.

*A note to the store owner. Nothing to do with sustainability, but three people have hit their head on the low hanging lamps since I’ve been here. Maybe you guys want to raise these? Also, myself and other people are pulling instead of pushing the front door. An eye-level “PUSH” sign might help this.

Original visit October 19, 2017.