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Restoring the Land, One Cup at a Time

Story by Mark A. Diaz

A crucial element in the business world is adaptation. Something that is working today is not guaranteed to work tomorrow and today’s hot viral hit may be tomorrow’s old cold. Reduce. Reuse. Grow. (RRG) is a prime example of a novel concept that has evolved into a sustainable business model.

Despite popular belief, disposable coffee cups are not recyclable. The paper-based cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic that allows them to retain liquid instead of deteriorating. Unfortunately, the plastic works too well and those cups tossed in the garbage could last up to 50 years.

Birthed from a senior project, RRG’s original idea was simple and novel. Embed seeds into coffee cups, so the waste becomes renewable instead of a pollutant. The idea garnered a lot of media attention and even pulled in a little over $20,000 from a Kickstarter campaign said company founder, Alex Henige.

RRG entered into the Cal Poly Hothouse, a startup assisting program created by Cal Poly in conjunction with SLO City and the local business community, and changed its method of replenishing the environment without damaging its mission statement.

“From there [Cal Poly Hothouse] we learned how to take a concept and create a growing sustainable business out of that,” said Henige.

RRG still sells biodegradable containers to local coffee shops, but instead of embedding seeds in the paper of the cups, the container company created the Buy a Cup, Grow a Plant Program. With this initiative, the company donates to local rehabilitation programs.

The first project was the Whale Rock Reservoir, located near Cayucos, which has been subject to erosion that weakens the dam as well as limits the amount of water it can retain. The California Division of Safety of Dams listed Whale Rock as “high-hazard” dam in June 2017. RRG now donates to over ten different rehabilitation projects including helping to restore parts of the Channel Islands.

“We’ve planted about 500,000 plants so far,” said Brooke Panian, public relations vice president for RRG, “We have 120,000 cups on the market every month, so we do a yearly planting.”

RRG has hopes of eventually generating revenue through the Buy Cup, Grow Plant program by licensing the program to larger corporations like Starbucks or Pete’s Coffee.

RRG cups can be found in coffee shops in SLO County and all the way to Los Angles. Spearhead Coffee, located on Paso Robles, was the first business to purchase RRG’s cups.

“It’s been refreshing partnering with Alex and the folks at Reduce Reuse Grow. Their quality products, sincere concern for the environment, outstanding customer service, and care for our local community make them a joy to work with,” said Co-owner and Roaster of Spearhead Coffee, Jeremy Sizemore, in a written statement.

RRG has recently partnered with Jordano’s Food Service, the second largest independent broadline foodservice distributor in California.

“They have been able to get us into 50 coffee shops and restaurants, and even concert venues.” said Henige, “We’re the primary cups over at the Santa Barbara Bowl.”

RRG is a for-profit business, but is registered as a Benefit Corporation. Adopted by California on Jan. 1, 2012, B Corp. is a legal status and should not to be confused with “Certified B Corp.” which is not legally binding. B Corp. status helps ensure the company’s vision and mission statement are integrated into the decision making process by providing legal protection to balance non-financial and financial interests.

For more information on Reduce. Reuse. Grow., visit https://www.reducereusegrow.org/

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