Thursday, May 22, 2008

Battered Starbucks Attempts to Reinvent Itself by Going Green [w/ Original Video]

Selling Recycling and Web 2.0 Community with Coffee

at a starbucks coffee tasting house blend coffee beans and someone rinsing a tasting spoon in water
Rinsing the coffee tasting spoon between sampling of various blends.
Photo: Brian Clark Howard/The Daily Green

Though still one of America's most globally recognized brands, Starbucks has been taking a beating in the marketplace. It's still true that one can often see at least one, if not two, Starbucks locations from the inside of one of their iconic shops (at least in major world cities), but the java chain is experiencing some growing pains.

Starbucks' stock has been hammered, down from $47 to today's price of below $17. It's not too surprising that fewer folks are willing to pony up $4 for a designer latte in a time of stymied economic growth, especially when quality coffees (and home brew implements) are becoming more widely available at supermarkets, not to mention at such outlets as Tim Horton's, Caribou, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts.

Starbucks has reportedly been eliminating and reshuffling jobs, retraining and shuttering some under performing locations.

The company is also embarking on a campaign of trying to reposition its image to the coffee-swilling public. This isn't too surprising, given a recent history of cash register exorcisms, smashed windows, labor disputes, a lawsuit over tip sharing, and so on. Much of the heat has centered on the iconic Starbucks itself, as a sort of stand-in for modern global capitalism, whether that has been fair or not.

Check out this original Daily Green Video taken during a Starbucks demonstration coffee tasting. Much like wine, coffee is a rich and complicated beverage, and the tasting process is central to the business.

But much of the turmoil brewing in the coffee world is based on the complexities of the commodity. Americans and Europeans may consume it as a luxury good, a daily staple, or even as a kind of drug, but for millions of people in poor, coffee-producing regions, it is literally a lifeblood. Coffee's economic and environmental impacts (as well as competing certification systems) are so complex that I was barely able to scratch the surface back in 2005, and I had more than 8,000 words!

Part of the issue is that well-managed coffee farms can be havens for endangered birds, many of which migrate to North America, as well as other wildlife. Yet full-sun, chemical coffee plantations can be literal ecological deserts, resulting in polluted run off, poisoned workers and lost habitat.

I've interviewed coffee buyers who told me they know of indigenous growers who were routinely cheated out of any payment, and others who told me stories of families who had to abandon their ancestor's land after coffee prices dropped so low that they couldn't afford to ship their beans out.

To be fair, Starbucks has never been implicated as a worst actor. In fact, the company has always bought high quality coffee, has long paid more than rock-bottom prices, and has supported the Fair Trade movement -- although many activists have also long charged that the company has not done nearly enough considering their brand power.

As part of this recent re-envisioning, Starbucks says it is giving more effort to continuing to green up its operations. A spokesperson pointed out that anyone can now enter any Starbucks on the planet and ask for used coffee grounds, which make excellent garden compost (the company says 35% of its garbage is nutrient-rich grounds, so that's something). The company says it is researching upping recycled content of packaging (many cups now have 10% recycled fiber), offsetting carbon and sourcing more green certified coffee (largely through the Starbucks-developed CAFE program, but adding some more Fair Trade as well).

A spokesperson also explained that he is encouraging baristas to suggest to regular customers that they opt for ceramic mugs. However, he stopped short of saying that the company was prepared to instruct employees to ask all customers if they want their fix "here or to go," which fast food goers are already used to. (Hey, if a Starbucks barista can donate a kidney to a customer, the least customers can do in return is agree to drink out of a mug!)

What's perhaps most exciting is that Starbucks is trying to leverage the power of web 2.0 to address some of these complicated issues, and better serve their customers, as well as (hopefully) the planet. Anyone can log on to My Starbucks Idea and make their voice heard.

As my friend and social media guru Muhammad Saleem explained in Read Write Web, the goal was a "socially driven marketplace for Starbucks-related ideas that will help the company reinvent itself." Sign up for a free account, then post an idea in one of various categories. The ideas appear in a queue, where the community can vote on them a la Digg or Yahoo Buzz.

If your idea garners enough votes, it goes under review by Starbucks employees, and may eventually help drive corporate direction. It's an idea that Muhammad points out has worked very well at Dell, and it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

Log on, and tell the mermaid what you think she should do!

The Daily Green Heartburn of Green award winner Reverend Billy brings the fight over consumerism and fair coffee directly to Starbucks with his colorful street theater and activism.

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High growth for nanotech

Nanotechnology is expected to be worth $27 billion in five years time, according to a report issued by BCC research.

Worth an estimated $11.6 billion in 2007, the market is forecast to increase to $12.7 billion in 2008, reaching a value over double this amount in the next five years at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.3%.

The market comprises the applications of nanomaterials, nanotools and nanodevices, with nanomaterials accounting for 87% of the market. This segment is predicted to be worth $10.8 billion in 2008, rising to $18.7 billion in 2013 for a CAGR of 11.7%.

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The Ultimate Blend- How Blendtec Crafted the Perfect Viral Ad Campaign

It’s no secret that the Internet has completely revolutionized the world of advertising. However, the digital medium is still relatively young, and only recently have businesses really cracked the code on how to effectively reach millions of people at an extremely low cost. Of all the online ad campaigns I’ve seen, and considering that I spend most of my day watching YouTube, I’ve seen them all, “Will It Blend?” by Blendtec is the best by far.

This campaign successfully incorporates every single marketing tactic known to man. The result is incredible. I didn’t feel like adding together the number of views for all of their 71 videos, but a quick count of just the top 15 videos shows that the company has well over 30 million views on YouTube alone. Here is how they did it.

Total Search Engine Optimization

A core component of “Will It Blend’s” success is the brilliant use of keywords. In each video, Tom Dickson (founder of Blendtec) uses one of his high end blenders to destroy something. That something is usually a common or popular consumer product with a valuable keyword. Some of the valuable keywords that “Will It Blend” has cashed in on include IPhone, IPod, Halo 3, Wii, Chuck Norris, Transformers, Baseball, and Spam. The immense collection of valuable keywords allows Blendtec to literally suck traffic from all over the internet. The campaign is infinitely adaptable and able to incorporate almost any pop-culture reference.

Human Psychology

We humans don’t respond well to television advertising. It’s pushed on us while we are in the middle of watching our favorite shows. We see it as an intrusion and we try to ignore it.

“Will It Blend” is nothing like normal television advertising. Blendtec never tries to sell us blenders. The focus is always on if the object will blend. Each segment behaves more like a television show with blenders included as product placement. “Will It Blend” comes in under the radar, and we don’t raise any of our advertising defense “shields.”

Also, when we watch videos on the Internet, we are watching them by choice. When you click on something, you are choosing to watch it. We are psychologically much less likely to resist something we chose to look at.

Primal Appeal

There are two basic themes that will always trigger an intense fascination in human beings. You would be correct in guessing that those two themes are sex and destruction. While Blendtec hasn’t incorporated sex (at least not yet), there is no arguing that the central appeal of “Will It Blend” is mindless destruction.


“Will It Blend” is funny. Tom Dickson sports one of the world’s goofiest smiles and his cheesy advice, (“Don’t Breathe this”) could be described as “pretty ridiculous.” Dickson also makes jokes about pop-culture, which only strengthens his use of powerful keywords.

Catchy Theme and Powerful Branding

The retro music at the beginning of each video, (did this come from an old ad campaign?), Dickson’s personable demeanor and the consistent format have all worked together to build a memorable and powerful brand for Blendtec. Every single video reinforces positive things about the company.

  • Blendtec doesn’t take itself too seriously.
  • Blendtec makes powerful and high quality blenders.
  • Blendtec is innovative.

I could go on to talk about how incredibly cost effective this campaign must be but I won’t. Instead I raise the question, what can you do to get creative and start using rich digital media to promote your business? Also, check out this interview with Tom Dickson.

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Oil Crosses $130 For The First Time, Heading $180

Crude oil futures pass $130 a barrel for the first time on supply concerns, weak dollar.

Crude oil prices are shooting further into record territory, breaking above $130 a barrel for the first time on persistent supply concerns and a weaker dollar and heading for $180 a barrel.

The July contract for light, sweet crude rose as high as $130.30 in electronic trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange late afternoon Wednesday in Singapore.

Concerns that OPEC won’t increase its crude production before September fed some of the buying. Also, the dollar has been weakening against the euro and yen the last two days after appearing to be on a recovery track.

Oil futures are now selling for about twice what they were just a year ago.

In the short term — say, the next two years or so — we’re looking at bad news about global oil supply that could take the price of a barrel of crude to $180.

Needless to say, today’s $3.50-a-gallon gasoline would look cheap if oil prices hit $180 a barrel. At that price for a barrel of oil, gasoline would cost somewhere north of $5.50 a gallon.


The good news is that’s about the price, experts now say, that would send global consumption tumbling and oil prices into retreat, as drivers scrambled to find ways to conserve.

So why do I think oil prices will keep climbing for two more years at least?

A terrible coincidence of geology and geopolitics. Just when oil is getting more expensive to produce, the oil industries in three key countries — Mexico, Russia and Nigeria — find themselves short of cash. And without that cash, oil production in these countries, and global oil production in general, is headed into a decline.

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9 Sites That Will Save You Money

We've explained in the past what some of the Worst Money-Saving Tips were, but now we're showing off some of our favorite websites that can save you money.

These recession-like symptoms the economy is producing, look as if they will continue for a while, with some analysts predicting we won't see a bottom till the end of 2009. So prepare yourself by banking some extra dough with these 9 helpful sites:
1. Fat Wallet - This is a community of people constantly searching for hot deals to save you money. If someone heard that K-Mart is giving away $100 lamps for only $25, you'll hear it in the forums section. The site also offers a handy price comparison tool for purchases you are considering.

2. Flyertalk - Remember that guy who bought all that pudding and scammed a frequent flyer promotion?...He was all over the news for his genius plan back in 1999. Well he is a legend over at Flyertalk. This site will keep you up to date on everything frequent flyer related. How to combine deals and where you can get the most bang for your buck. It has also been reported that airline executives monitor the site to find out customers' chief complaints and desires. I have a feeling it has something to do with cheap tickets.

3. The Coupon Clippers - If clipping coupons makes you feel like an old granny, then this should help out a bit. Log on to the site and let them do all the clipping and finding deals for you. Just search for your favorite grocery items and order the coupons to be delivered. They charge a small handling fee for delivery, but this could be a good bet to save some time and money. Coupon proponents claim you can trim 50% of your grocery bill by using coupons.

4. - These guys own the coupon world, or at least just the domain name. If you're not into paying for shipping and handling fees at the Coupon Clippers, check this site. Great looking site with a lot of coupons in your local area which you can print out from home. There's just one annoying catch. You have to install this 'coupon printer', which I'm not a fan of.

5. Coupon Mountain - Maybe the best coupon site around. No registration required, and they provide direct links to where you can use the coupon to make the purchase online. That Coupon Mountain gold digger mascot is absolutely priceless too, look at his little hat and sack of money. Did he steal that?

6. Amazon Gold Box - You gotta love this, even a huge corporate retail site like Amazon is getting into the fray with a deal page. Their Gold Box feature will let you know about items that are selling at huge discounts. The side scroll button is also a great way to view dozens of items quickly with just a few clicks.

7. Absurdly Cool Freebie Finder - This site aggregates from a number of 'free stuff' sites on the internet and compiles their results for you with direct links. Free subscriptions to magazines are abundant, I even saw one for TV Guide. And who would want to pass up a free sample of Teddy Grahams? Have you no soul?

8. SlickDeals - Probably the most popular deal site on the internet. Similar to Fat Wallet, but claims to have livelier forums and more frequent updates. I like the new Deal Alert feature that allows you to ignore alerts you're not interested in. For the last time, no more Playtex/Midol coupons!

9. Travel Zoo - This page is one of the best places to compare flight and other travel options. Unlike all those other annoying travel sites, you don't have to keep reentering your travel info after each search. They also offer a cool newsletter e-mail sent each Wednesday listing some of the best offers on cruises, flights, and vacation packages. If you really like this site, you can even trade its stock which was going for $110 per share back in 2005.

Are there any other deal/money-saving sites you use regularly? Let us hear them in the comments section.

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Damage to Dams in China Leaves Millions at Risk

dam china earthquake

Many dams in Southwest China sustained significant damage after the recent massive earthquake.

The Min River and its tributaries have 30 dams upstream from Dujiangyan and 16 incurred significant damage from the recent earthquake. The Zipingpu dam is an example where a dam failure could have disastrous consequences.

Zipingpu dam threatens millions

The Zipingpu reservoir can hold a staggering 1.1 billion metric meters of water, but the dam wall was cracked after the earthquake. Dujiangyan, with a population of 600,000 would be devastated by a dam failure first. Within a couple hours, water would then hit the provincial capital, Chengdu.

“Dujiangyan would be hit first,” says Environmental sciences professor Ai Nanshan. “You can imagine water levels as high as two-story buildings within 10 minutes. Everything would be gone. There would be no time to rescue anyone.”

Hydroelectric Dams and Chinese Demand for Electricity

There is an increasing demand in China for electricity, meanwhile concern about global warming soars. Although hydroelectric power seems like a good solution, the quantity, locations, and scale of such dams may not be ideal.

In addition to millions of people being displaced from the construction of dams, they also inhibited rescue efforts following the earthquake. Soldiers could have used boats, but dams eliminated this option.

“Here’s the contradiction: The country needs power for development,” says Professor Ai, chairman of the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association. “You open a map of China and you see that almost all of its rivers have been dammed. There are almost no rivers that flow naturally.

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BBC News on EpicNoseGuy's court summons

State Media: Myanmar Won't Accept Aid Delivered by US Military, Fears Invasion

State Media: Myanmar Won't Accept Aid Delivered by US Military, Fears Invasion

Myanmar will not allow U.S. naval ships and helicopters poised off its shore to deliver aid to cyclone victims, according to state-controlled media Wednesday which cited fears of an American invasion aimed at grabbing the country's oil reserves.

The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece for Myanmar's ruling junta, said that such assistance "comes with strings attached" and referred to an article on a Web site saying that Washington wants to overthrow the country's government and seize its oil.

The United States, as well as France and Great Britain, have naval vessels loaded with humanitarian supplies off the Myanmar coast, and had been waiting for a green light to deliver them. The article did not mention the French and British navies.

Myanmar's xenophobic leaders have long feared an invasion by the United States, a concern that some analysts believe prompted the junta's abrupt decision in 2005 to move the country's capital from Yangon to the remote city of Naypyitaw, which is equipped with bunkers.

Despite Wednesday's announcement, the junta appeared to be slowly relenting to foreign pressure to accept more outside help for an estimated 2.5 million survivors faced with hunger, loss of their homes and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was headed to Myanmar, said the world body had received permission from the junta to use nine helicopters to carry aid to stranded victims.

"We have received government permission to operate nine WFP (World Food Program) helicopters, which will allow us to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible," Ban told reporters in New York on Tuesday before departing for the Southeast Asian country. His announcement was not immediately confirmed by officials in Myanmar.

"I believe further similar moves will follow, including expediting the visas of (foreign) relief workers seeking to enter the country," Ban said, warning that relief efforts to save survivors of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis had reached a "critical moment."

"We have a functioning relief program in place but so far have been able to reach only 25 percent of Myanmar's people in need," he said.

So far, the few foreign aid workers allowed inside the country have been banned from the areas of the worst devastation in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta.

The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis was over 78,000 with 56,000 more people missing.

Ban was expected to arrive in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand, on Wednesday and to fly on to Yangon on Thursday. In Myanmar, he was expected to visit areas devastated by the cyclone and to talk with officials and aid workers.

He was also scheduled to attend a meeting of aid donors in Yangon on Sunday. Myanmar, one of the world's poorest nations, claims losses from the disaster exceeded US$10 billion (€6.39 billion).

At U.N. headquarters, Ban welcomed the junta's "recent flexibility" in saying it will allow relief workers from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations - of which Myanmar is a member - to begin distributing aid.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who left Myanmar on Tuesday after paving the way for Ban's visit, told Myanmar's leaders the wants to support aid efforts, "as we would do in any other country in any disaster of this scale, where clearly the size of the tragedy outweighs the capacity of any country to deal with it by itself."

The New Light of Myanmar article thanked the United States for airlifting in aid, an apparent reference to continuing relief flights of cargo planes from Thailand to Yangon.

The U.S. is sending about five such flights a day using C-130 cargo aircraft. American officials are required to hand the aid to Myanmar authorities upon landing in Yangon, from which it is a difficult journey to the Irrawaddy delta.

The four U.S. warships in the region were seen as a major potential boost for the relief effort with the capacity to deliver supplies to inaccessible areas of the delta, with 14 helicopters, two landing craft vessels, two high-tech amphibious hovercraft and about 1,000 U.S. Marines.

The news report gave no explanation why the regime was willing to accept aid flown on U.S. planes, with U.S. military personnel on board, but would not allow the warships and helicopters to deliver relief supplies.

It referred to an article on an Internet site called Workers World Web titled "US hostility hampers relief" in which the author reportedly said the United States wanted to topple the regime and sought access to the country's large oil deposits.

Myanmar's leaders began three days of mourning for the dead and missing on Tuesday. Flags at government offices, schools and large hotels flew at half staff, but shops opened and many people in Yangon said they had little idea what the official mourning entailed.

Others expressed anger.

"I don't think flying flags at half-mast is going to help. If they are sincere, they should welcome help from everyone," said Zin Moe, a 32-year-old clothes vendor in Yangon. "They are not letting in aid quickly enough and people are angry."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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