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Ski industry swag that avoids the trash heap
A coffee mug with a brighter future.

Ski industry swag that avoids the trash heap

By Tom Boyd

November 17, 2009 —  Marketing people long ago mastered the art of allowing little logo-bearing gifts to slip in and out people’s life. Here on my desk, for example, I have a pen from USBank, a matchbox from The Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington D.C., and a removable zip drive from Copper Mountain.

These items wont’ last long. After they leave my presence they’ll take on secondary work. The matchbook will probably soak itself into oblivion in a sidewalk puddle. The pen will leak and languish in a landfill. The zip drive will become as outdated as a floppy disc.

This will not be the case, however, with an inspirational little gift which came my way the other day: a coffee mug. It has a sleek black design and is fit for hot and cold beverages alike (I’ve so far tried hot coffee and an iced cocktail with equal success). It’s lid is secure and spill-proof. It’s insulating abilities rank high among its peers. It slides easily into any and all automobile drink holders. It’s girth is appropriate for comfortable hand-holding … but these multiple beneficences are not the reason this item merits a special place in my sphere of attention, nor is it the reason I’m putting down its qualities for posterity here. It’s not my style to ruminate too long a mere coffee cup, no matter it’s functionality, no matter the elevated level of my addiction to caffeine.

No, the reason this mug is special is because of what is printed on its back in small, friendly letters: “Compost me. I’m biodegradable.”

I read these words at the Denver REI, at a little shindig being held by Vail Resorts. The room was full of congenial, good looking representatives of the company. They were happy to see everyone. We exchanged multiple pleasantries. Free coffee was lavished upon the guests, and it was served in these sleek, black little conveyances. As a coffee aficionado, I was already pretty heavily taken in by the whole scene, but when I read those little words it was love at first sight.

How, I wondered, can a plastic cup be biodegradable? Is it really possible that I can put this cup in a pile of dirt, banana peels and coffee grounds, then use it for soil in my garden?

The answer is yes … yes I can. Well, kind of. Believe it or not, the cup is made from a corn-based form of plastic. If you’ve ever been to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, or a CU football game, or an environmentally-friendly coffee shop, you’ve already seen versions of this coffee cup. To the naked eye, they are indistinguishable from the normal plastic beer or coffee cups.

This mug, however, is taking it to a new level. Thicker, longer lasting, and insulating, this mug is indistinguishable from its non-recyclable, non-biodegradable brethren. It is sturdy and reliable, a spill-free model of fidelity in a world full of potholes. It can be composted at a commercial facility (not exactly in my backyard, though).

Vail Resorts was not always the most environmentally aware company known to mankind. In some of its past incarnations VR has alternated between green-washing and grudging acceptance of imposed environmental standards.

This is no longer the case. Under Rob Katz, the company has become aggressively eco-friendly, doing its best to do everything better, large and small … from partnering with the Forest Service to help restore the ecosystem devastated by the Hayman fire, to seeking LEED certification on the EverVail project, to increasing the ease of recycling on the mountains, to delivering their company swag on compostable plastic.

There is more they can do. Abandoning the wind-credits trade-off was puzzling. The company could boast, for a few years, that all its electrical needs were offset by wind credits. That policy was abandoned in favor of helping restore the land devastated by the Hayman fire.

I also think the company should throw more weight into finding a more environmentally-friendly way of transporting its Front Range guests to its ski mountains. Interstate 70 is still the very blight of the Rockies – and a large portion of its weekend traffic is due to tourism. With friends in the Denver Capital and Washington D.C., no one is in a better position to make a light rail (or heavy rail, for that matter), happen in Colorado.

In coffee mugs, at least, VR is doing it right, and that’s something. Take a closer look at your coffee mug today. Imagine where it will end up when it cracks, or you lose the cap, or (as so often happens) it simply disappears from your life. Where will it go? What will it accomplish in its next life?

Mine, I’m happy to say, will likely become a bed for next year’s radishes.

Learn more about compostable coffee mugs by clicking here.



Comment on article  1 Comment on "Ski industry swag that avoids the trash heap"


Reid — November 17, 2009

Great article Tom, don't forget to thank VR's environmental guru Luke Cartin, the guy who never gets mentioned for great ideas involving the environment.



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