Friday, August 31, 2012

What's in your cup?

This morning I walked into my local Starbucks for a triple shot of decaf espresso before work. It’s my usual drink when I’ve fallen off the no coffee wagon, and since the wagon’s wheels left me in the dust some time ago, I had my nifty spillproof Contigo travel cup with me.

Conservation is a no-brainer to me. It takes building a new habit, but humans are great at that (when did you last glance at your smartphone?) The way I figure it, I would not want 365 used coffee cups in my bedroom, so I do my best not to live with a mystical belief about where things go when I throw them “Away.”

My Starbucks is full of locals (you can tell, because it’s right in the heart of boy’s town and the bicep quality is well above par) but it also gets some tourists from the hotel just down the block. The mother with her two adolescent daughters before me in line was clearly of the second variety. She was fitting three drinks into a cardboard carry tray as I screwed the lid onto my travel cup, when I heard her say “Now, that’s a great idea!”

Um. “Yeah,” I said, with no detectable sarcasm. “It is. I save a few hundred cups a year, I figure.”

The usual barrage of judgmental thought was staunched along with the sarcasm, with just a tiny bit of effort. As I stood there and saw her regarding my cup with a smile, I realized, in a way that was completely unrelated to her charming Midwestern accent, that on this Friday morning in the year 2012, it occurred to this woman for the very first time in her life that she had an option not to use a disposable cup. She had the option to conserve. She had the option to save trees and plastic and space in the landfill, as well as all the unaccounted pollutants generated behind the scenes for anything that’s mass manufactured and distributed world wide to deliver a hot cup of creature comfort to us in the morning in whatever city we may find ourselves waking up.

That was what really woke me up this morning. I realized how I sleepwalk through my worldview, which presumes that everyone, everywhere knows what they can do to help our planet get a little healthier.

When I set aside my assumptions for a second, I had the opportunity to share a great idea with someone else. This woman didn’t deserve scorn for flaunting what I consider one of the simplest measures of personal environmental responsibility. Quite the contrary: she gave me the gift of being inspired by an action that I take almost without thinking about it. I paraphrase George Bernard Shaw:

If you have caramel frappucino and I have a triple decaf and we exchange cups then you and I will still each have one tasty beverage. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

And that idea tastes much, much better.

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