||The Great Coffee Give Away
Posted: 4/15/2010 6:48:29 AM
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Here's what the company is saying on its website link dubbed, "Make a Difference":
Join the movement. On April 15th, bring a reusable travel mug into your local Starbucks and get a free brewed coffee.
One person can save trees, together we can save forests.
For the good of the planet, Starbucks is encouraging everyone to switch from paper cups to reusable travel mugs. One day in March thousands of New Yorkers made the switch. Join them now by taking a pledge to do the same.
So, Starbucks is asking us to join a movement, and it is encouraging everyone to switch from paper cups to tumblers. Good stuff. But what is really going here? What does this say about how consumption and politics works and intersect?
My sense is that Starbucks has it wrong here. The movement has already started. Grassroots groups and green advocates have for a longtime been calling for the wider use of resusable cups. Starbucks' programs on this front are, then, a response to these calls and an attempt to shore up its green credentials for Bobo customers who care about the planet or want to look like they care about the planet. In the process, Starbucks wants the credit as a do-good -- see yesterday's post -- movement starter, when it is actually a movement follower.
But this also says something about the new -- or possible -- democracy of consumption. As I have said a number of times here, there is a dwindling faith in the formal political system in this country. Yet people still want solutions to big problems -- problems like global justice and environmental degradation. Increasingly, they speak their minds through what they buy and sometimes -- like in this case -- corporations are forced to listen. And sometimes when they listen, they take credit for the original idea.
So here's the problem. When companies take credit -- and mobilize their formidable PR resources to do so -- it downplays the energy and power of that grassroots action, everyday efforts and the power of ordinary people to make change -- and by making change, I don't mean simply saving a tree as an individual act, which of course is important, I mean changing the political agenda by putting issues on the table and forces those with power to deal with those issues. That is real power, the power to ACT and to FRAME discussions.
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