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Design for Good

Winner of the BetaCup Sustainable Drinking Challenge

Last year, betacup extended a challenge to the creative community to rethink the coffee cup from a sustainable angle that eliminates the 58 million disposable cups America tosses in the (non-recycle) garbage in an average year. This week, betacup announced the winner, which beat out 430 entries for the $10,000 prize.

Karma Cup was actually an unlikely contender – an incredibly lo-fi solution, it's not even an actual cup. Instead, Karma Cup offers a simple incentive model for coffee-drinkers – a chalkboard at the coffee shop that charting the use of reusable cups, then rewarding each 10th eco-conscious patron with a free drink. Essentially, Karma Cup's plan completely eliminates, rather than redesigns, the disposable cup.

Partly sponsored by Starbucks, the competition aimed to address one of the biggest environmental liabilities of the beverage business – the 20 million trees cut down each year to produce disposable cups and the 12 billion gallons of water used in the manufacturing process. Cumulatively, that's enough energy to power 53,000 homes for a year.

Though the effectiveness of incentives remains a hotly disputed topic in consumer psychology – just ask Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, who argues against the "carrots and sticks" model of motivation and distills an incredible amount of research indicating "carrots" actually reduce people's capacity for creative solutions to problems – Karma Cup does offer an alternative to an ecologically dreadful habit, and any alternative is a better alternative.

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.

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