Insights around the globe: OpenIDEO Chapters take on the NextGen Cup Challenge

Gathering local insights for a global problem, OpenIDEO Chapters hosted a series of 26 events to explore to-go cup ecosystems in 11 countries

In 2016, 250 billion to-go cups were distributed globally. While convenient for enjoying a hot coffee or cold beverage on the go, too many fiber cups end up in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and wasting valuable resources. OpenIDEO partnered with Closed Loop Partners and the NextGen Consortium—comprised of founding partners Starbucks and McDonald’s as well as supporting partners The Coca Cola Company and Yum! Brands—to launch the first phase of a $10 million dollar, multi-year, multi-industry consortium that aims to advance food packaging alternatives, starting with the to-go fiber cup. Through open innovation, we are pushing the boundaries of sustainable design to address global waste with the NextGen Cup Challenge question:

To better understand global nuance and complexity of this issue, we turned to our OpenIDEO Chapters. OpenIDEO Chapters are a network of volunteer-run communities in over 30 cities around the world. This network brings their local expertise and perspectives to elevate the way our community designs around OpenIDEO Challenges by hosting local meetups, hackathons and gatherings.

Through a series of 26 cross-sector industry panels, site visits, and stakeholder interviews, OpenIDEO Chapters surfaced local insights to inform the NextGen Challenge community while they design to-go cup solutions for both regional context and global applicability in 11 countries around the world—from Nairobi to San Francisco, and Istanbul to Lima. 

Here are three themes that surfaced, as well as a glimpse into a few of these events from featured OpenIDEO Chapters and the key insights from around the globe.

  1. Convenience matters: The convenience of to-go cups is the biggest perceived value-add that resonates with consumers and businesses. Many users expressed a desire to choose sustainable alternatives to meet their convenience and useability needs, in a variety of contexts and situations.
  2. Infrastructure and post-use considerations must be central to the design process: City infrastructure and systems that collect, process, and redistribute cups following use vary widely. The design of a cup solution should not only consider the consumer interaction during consumption, but also the collection and processing of that cup post-consumption.
  3. Awareness of supply chain: New material innovations applied to cups must consider how solutions will be manufactured and scaled within the current manufacturing systems. Considerations can range across the entire supply chain from distribution and delivery, to collection and storage.

Key Chapter Insights

Atlanta Chapter

OpenIDEO Atlanta Chapter hosted a one day event in collaboration with Pivotal Labs. The goals of the event were to provide the attendees with information about the Challenge while exploring topics of community-based research, circular ecosystem, and need-finding methods to build empathy with to-go cup users. The workshop was facilitated with OpenIDEO Atlanta Chapter members with cross-sector experience in design strategy and design research. The day began at a high traffic market, Ponce City Market, where attendees were divided into research teams to observe different behaviors of people interacting with to-go cups in various environments within a single geographic location. Research teams followed the journeys of to-go cup users in local coffee shops, to-go restaurants, and dine-in restaurants. The day ended with all attendees gathering as a group to synthesize insights, complete journey maps, and share reflections about their findings within the to-go cup landscape in Atlanta. This event has sparked community momentum around the topic of fiber cups, leading to Georgia Tech and Design Bloc building upon the OpenIDEO Atlanta Chapter’s research events with another workshop focused on ideation and prototyping.

Organizers: James Lytle, Richard Lee

"The participants noticed plenty of opportunities toward responsible actions but also realized that standard practices and our daily patterns stagger obvious solutions. The participant was excited to see how we can accomplish small steps by solving low hanging fruit before creating something large and grand."
OpenIDEO Atlanta Chapter Journey Map

Three Insights From Atlanta

  1. How might we empower users to properly dispose of to-go cups? People are unaware of how to properly recycle. Users actively expressed self-doubt in knowing how to recycle properly both in shops where beverages were purchased and beyond.
  2. How might we design for the simplicity of routines? Routines that streamline simplicity—or perception of simplicity—are very important to users. How a cup can also improve the simplicity of routine is important to consider.
  3. How might we support businesses in socializing to-go cup alternativess? Some shops do have disposable to-go cup alternatives, but they do not offer these alternatives initially to customers. Without having knowledge of other options which reduce waste, customers opt-into using fiber cups.

Austin Chapter

Check out Austin's Journey Map

OpenIDEO Austin Chapter hosted a three-part event series at the IBM Design Studio in Austin. The series kicked off with an expert panel that brought together a coffee shop manager, behavior change researcher, materials specialist, and a composting expert to discuss infrastructure, materials, and regulatory barriers to consider when designing cup solutions in this space. Over 30 attendees then divided into community research teams, and in the following weeks, documented coffee shop customer journeys in various neighborhoods across Austin. In the final event, Chapter members gathered to present insights, journey maps, and reflections with the Austin community. 

Organizers: Erin Makenzie Rainosek, Lesa Walker

"The events gave us amazing insights on the complexities of the disposable cup ecosystem—the lack of standardization among composting facilities; the difficulties of people knowing how to properly dispose of recyclables and compostables, even with lots of signage; the difficulties businesses have in using compostable cups, storage issues, and flaws in prior designs."

Three Insights From Austin

  1. How might we consider storage constraints in the cup design? Cup design needs to take into consideration the storage requirements (during transport and on-site) for the cups to function properly. Some current compostable cups do not withstand storage at hotter temperatures and can be compromised if not stored properly, leading to a poor customer experience.
  2. How might we design a cup that effectively operates within the current cup-ecosystem? The entire cup ecosystem has to be considered in the cup design—all the way from eco-friendly materials choice and acquisition through the manufacture, distribution, storage, sale, use, and disposal of the cup. A breakdown in any of these areas in regard to environmental impact and/or in the ease/cost of the process will cause the cup to be unsuccessful.
  3. How might we improve the convenience of the customer journey? The ease of cup use and cup disposal, and enjoyable experience are very important to customers. Most customers will take the easiest path for cup use and disposal.

Berlin Chapter

Check out Berlin's Journey Map

OpenIDEO Berlin Chapter hosted a research-focused workshop at Techstars Berlin in WeWork aimed to teach people the basic approaches to research through the NextGen Cup Challenge. The Chapter invited their community to join a three hour workshop. The day started with an overview of human-centered design, followed by tips & tricks from experts, and then moved into actively practicing what was learned. Participants were divided into teams to conduct interviews about the to-go cup experience, then synthesized these mapped insights into journey maps.

Organizers: Basak Haznedaroglu, Kaye Han, Nazli Ceren Binyildirim, Paul Von Gruben, Rabia Dilara Cumhur, Shermaine Heng

"One attendee was telling us of how she is conducting her thesis on the topic of algae bioplastic and is deeply interested in the environmental industry. Stumbling across this event was fantastic for her and she is now underway in applying for the NextGen Cup Challenge."

Three Insights From Berlin

  1. How might we build upon the momentum of a sustainability-minded consumption culture? Berliners actively look for ways to reduce waste in their everyday lives. As consumers, they are generally socially conscious, and education of a need for sustainability-minded change is not as necessary as in other cities.
  2. How might we design for social gatherings beyond an on-the-go beverage consumption? It is not typical culture to have a daily routine that involves grabbing a coffee from a cafe on the way to work or during lunch in Berlin. Going to cafes happens more on weekends as a social activity with friends, as a workspace, and as a place to gather in community with others.
  3. How might we translate sustainability-minded habits to to-go cups? As a culture that is very sustainability-minded and waste conscious, Berliners commonly carry their own water bottles and tote bags for grocery shopping (you will rarely find a plastic bag). However, this reusability culture does not translate across into to-go cups, takeaway food, etc. which still uses single-use disposables.  

Lima Chapter

Check out Lima's Journey Map

OpenIDEO Lima Chapter hosted a two-part event series at Worx Coworking space in Miraflores, one of the most important neighborhoods of Lima. The Chapter had a two day workshop that combined teaching design research methodologies with the topic of understanding the consumption behaviours of the to-go fiber cup in Lima. A panel was hosted in the first day of the event, featuring a barista, an entrepreneur that uses coffee grinds as raw material for product design, and Freshii Peru’s Manager. Having diverse perspectives from the cup ecosystem framing the discussion helped to have more context for the journey of the cup and facilitate empathy building with different stakeholders along the process. The following day, 16 participants were equipped with research toolkits and conducted interviews in Juan Valdés Café, Starbucks, and McDonald's, among other points of sale, and shadowed the interactions of customers with cups at each of these locations. They then returned to the main venue to reflect on the process and present their results.

Organizers: Luis Delgado, Madeleine Delgado, Maria Helena Huaman Ramirez

"I am currently starting a project related to circular economy. For me personally, this event helped reaffirm my decision to pursue a venture like this...That feeling was very positive and energizing."

Three Insights From Lima

  1. How might we design for the afterlife of the to-go cup? Cup design needs to consider the discard experience of the user. The absence of a clear and structured recycling plan can modify the journey of the cup. For instance, recovery was detrimentally impacted when there was no bin inside the point of sale or user-friendly recycling system. In the case of Lima, having a clear understanding of the product journey for the end point of user interaction can change the user and consumption behaviours in Latin American countries.
  2. How might we increase awareness of to-go cup alternatives? One of the most repeated comments from cup users in McDonald’s is that they prefer the use of a glass/porcelain cup when buying hot beverages since fiber cups change the taste of the drink they are having (especially if it is coffee). However, the majority of customers are not aware of the fact that at some points of sale they can ask for a reusable cup. Without this knowledge, they end up settling with the fiber one.
  3. How might we incentivize behavior change? Corporate social responsibility incentives are becoming very common in Lima, especially when addressing environmental issues and provides an opportunity to engage consumers in that behavior change.

London Chapter

Check out London's Journey Map

The OpenIDEO London Chapter hosted an event to gain a deeper understanding of the London cup ecosystem. The teams first assembled at a central event location, before breaking into teams and heading out to the area around King's Cross St Pancras station, one of London's biggest transportation hubs of folks on-the-go. There, the teams observed and interviewed coffee shop patrons and commuters, focusing on the lifecycle of fiber cups in a rapid-consumption environment, mid-transit and the particular challenges associated with reuse and recycling there. They then synthesized their findings in journey maps and shared these learnings back with the London OpenIDEO Chapter Community.

Organizers: Chris Keene, Daniel Tuitt, Flick Hardingham, Praveen Singh, Rob Thompson, Nelly Trakidou

"It became clear to us through the research that one of the main challenges with reusing and recycling the fibre cup is not necessarily to do with the cups themselves, but the ecosystem surrounding them. People, even those commuters who might be in a rush, were keen to reduce their waste footprint, but challenges such as a lack of available facilities and a default to 'on the go' disposable cups made this difficult to achieve!"

Three Insights From London

  1. How might we incentivize consistent, proper disposal in consumer journeys? Dumping rubbish gives ‘permission’ for more rubbish to be dumped. Shops and businesses had put their rubbish out on the street prompting other passerbys to add to these public trash piles.
  2. How might we design for consumer autonomy? To-go cups are often used to drink in. When in-the-field at Starbucks locations 4 out of 5 cups on the table inside were consistently in takeaway cups. Customers like that the to-go cup provides flexibility for consumers to leave the location when they choose—especially given these beverages were consumed in a transportation hub.
  3. How might we streamline the afterlife journey of to-go cup waste? To improve security at the transportation hubs, bins were locked shut or completely covered over, making proper disposal of to-go cups especially challenging. Without having a space to properly dispose of cups, customers left their trash around the station for others to clear.

San Francisco Chapter

Check out San Francisco's Journey Map

OpenIDEO San Francisco Chapter hosted a three-part event series at IDEO, Google, and the municipal waste collection facility of San Francisco, Recology. In the first event, attendees were divided into teams and traveled to different locations in the city to document to-go cup user journeys, then gathered in a group setting to present their research. A learning highlighted in this event was the extent to which design constraints are dictated by afterlife processing facilities. The Chapter Organizer Teams decided to dive deeper into this insight and coordinated tours of San Francisco’s municipal waste collection and composting facility, Recology, to better understand how city infrastructure impacts single-use cup design. The event series culminated with a panel that brought together experts across the to-go cup product journey from materials design to afterlife processing to share their expertise.

Organizers: Addison Nuding, Francesco Stumpo, Hayley Somerville, James Getomer, Nicole Sorci, Rebecca Bronstein

"People are relatively unaware of their behavior, and behavior change would require a bit of effort. For example, customers are either aware of their actions—recycling and composting choices—or not. Business managers are the same way we talked to one manager who didn't know what happened to his waste after it was picked up from the bins. The takeaway here is that we either need to do a better job of educating people about their actions, or we need to make the decision for them (i.e. everything is compostable)."

Three Insights From San Francisco

  1. How might we design for flexibility in varying afterlife contexts? To design a cup for global scale, we need to design a cup that can work in the landfill, compost, and recycling. The waste sorting process is not uniform and not mature enough across regions. Some locations may only have landfill or people may accidentally bypass recycling and compost.  
  2. How might we help consumers form habits that support sustainable lifestyle choices? People already do not know or understand where their trash goes. Most people are not aware of their habits or know how to change them, because American society has hidden the waste stream from view (e.g. sewers, waste treatment facilities, landfills, etc.)
  3. How might we inspire supply chain shifts to create cost-competitive to-go alternatives? At the end of the day, cost and convenience are king. The incumbent is the cheapest and most convenient option for consumers and restaurants. Market forces need to be strong enough to overpower cost and convenience to provide a compelling solution that can the shift supply chain.

What's next?

The insights uncovered by OpenIDEO Chapters during the Ideas Phase will inform Challenge participants as they build out their concepts until the submission deadline on November 16, 2018. Concepts selected to advance on to the Refinement Phase will have the opportunity to explore these findings in depth, and in addition to mentorship sessions with industry leaders, can incorporate these findings into the design and delivery of their to-go cup solutions. Up to six of the most promising early- and growth-stage winners will also receive the option to advance to a business accelerator program to receive further assistance in scaling and commercializing their solutions.

These are just a few of the Chapter events continuing to happen in cities around the world, adding depth and value to OpenIDEO Challenges with in-person experiences of collaborative exploration. Other OpenIDEO Chapters that hosted events for the NextGen Cup Challenge included, Delhi, Guatemala City, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Nairobi, New York, and Sydney. If you’d like to learn more about connecting with an OpenIDEO Chapter in your city, visit the Chapters Page here.

The findings sourced by Chapters emphasize the importance of working with diverse actors—bridging both sectors and people—when solving systemic issues such as the one presented in the NextGen Cup Challenge. We know that innovative technical and product solutions alone won’t fix the systemic waste issues of today’s to-go cups. By investing in collaboration amongst communities, designers, big brands and supply chains around the world, OpenIDEO Chapters, the NextGen Consortium and OpenIDEO hope to accelerate the development of economically viable, recoverable cup solutions.

There’s never been more momentum for change. As millions of young people flood the streets around the globe to demand urgent climate action, cities and social entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. Feeling this rising bottom-up pressure, governments, corporations, and multilateral organizations, like the UN, are accelerating their efforts to address massive global issues. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have provided a clear framework for action, and they’re helping align more actors than ever in the systems change we need.

OpenIDEO’s leaders, Jason Rissman and Luisa Covaria, spent the week diving into events and conversations, and came back to our team (and now you, our community) with three main themes they wanted to share as we work together to build a better world:

1. Ownership.

Since kicking off the Climate Strike a year ago, 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has been extraordinarily influential in striking up fierce conversations around climate change and inspiring millions of young people to start taking action. She delivered an unforgettable message at the UN Climate Action Summit, telling world leaders: 

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you." 

There’s a new urgency and commitment to addressing the climate emergency, and it’s translating into actors at all levels—from individual young people to national governments—starting to take more ownership. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “We have been losing the race against the climate crisis. But the world is waking up. Pressure is building. Momentum is growing. And—action by action—the tide is turning.”

Countries have moved past negotiation and toward ownership, showing up with their own commitments in unison with this year’s theme for UNGA: "Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion." During the week, 77 countries committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 139 banks—representing a third of the industry—signed up to align with the Paris agreement objectives. The UN member states also adopted a landmark declaration on universal health coverage. These are just a few of many examples of stakeholders proactively bringing forward their solutions. 


Sharing his observations from listening to diverse groups of Americans this past year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the audience that he saw a “tremendous urgency and a tremendous spirit of do-it-yourself … a deep sense that it had to become a matter of personal responsibility right down to the local level.” Echoing his statement, we’re proud of OpenIDEO's globally connected innovators for taking initiative and developing a sense of ownership around local problems. They’re tackling issues related to food waste, people on the move, education, public health, circular economy, and so much more, with dedication and ingenuity.

As we move forward, how might open innovation be a conduit for increased ownership and visibility into the work different stakeholders are taking on? How might the work of so many of the incredible innovators in the OpenIDEO community inspire leaders to develop a mindset around design and prototyping in the work they are owning?

2. Technology

"We will have wonderful machines and dumb people if we don't invest more in education,” cautioned musician and entrepreneur,, during a World Economic Forum panel focused on the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—or the multiple technological revolutions that are transforming the way we live and work—to meet global development goals.

“It’s not about connectivity—it’s about access,” noted Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance at the UN Foundation. “How do we provide access to 50% of the world not connected to the internet? SMS and voice won’t do it. How do we create content and opportunities that are relevant?”

It's crucial that no one is left behind. While technological innovation is surely part of the answer, uneven access and unequal digital skills will lead to adverse effects. For tech to improve lives in a responsible and even way, and to avoid even greater increases in inequity, we'll need new models of targeted education, responsive innovation, and real cooperation between economic, political, and social systems.


Tech needs to facilitate inclusion in addressing societal problems, by involving those who are most proximate to the problems that well-intentioned new technologies are aiming to solve. We believe that collaborative thinking leads to greater innovation, and that including the voices of those with lived experiences will generate even stronger solutions. Open innovation is in its infancy, and we’re excited to help it advance to better surface and support the social innovators our future needs.

3. Collaboration

Today’s problems are interconnected, and only through systems change can we hope to make real progress. This will require more cross-sector collaboration than ever, but first, we need to improve how these collaborations are created and sustained. It’s time to introduce new models of collaboration that distribute leadership and allow all sectors to pitch in.

The SDGs have provided a powerful framework for what needs to get done, and some of the biggest players in the public and private spheres are putting their heads together to unlock the resources necessary to meet them. During UNGA, Google and the UN launched a partnership to develop real-time maps on weather patterns and SDG development activity, while the Gates Foundation and the World Bank announced a multi-million dollar commitment to support small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.

Public-private partnerships are a necessary ingredient, as are new collaboration models that offer participants more shared ownership and flexibility.

The road to healthy collaboration is fraught with challenges, from getting past cultural differences to agreeing to common goals to making the long-term commitments needed for systemic change. Making collaborations work is hard work -- it takes empathy, grit, and a real understanding that it’s the key to sustained progress.


We’re excited for open innovation to provide a unique opportunity to rally diverse stakeholders and together explore new possibilities. By providing shared learning opportunities, clear timelines and processes, along with compelling incentives, open innovation holds the potential to mitigate against these common obstacles and to quicken the pace at which solutions are being developed by scaling the design process globally. Direct competitors collaborating in a pre-competitive space to address environmental challenges is a promising sign, but we need to go further. We all need to adopt an experimental mindset as a collective and work to continuously improve our ability to collaborate.

The NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, which culminated in a pitch event at UNGA, was one such collaboration, with leading brands, industry experts, and innovators coming together to eliminate single-use food packaging waste by developing a more sustainable cup. 

It is incredible to be in a room where you can feel a community reach a turning point. This year at UNGA we felt that shift tangibly across fields and sectors. We look forward to a year of collaborations with our partners and community that reflect this movement. 

Get Involved

Receive updates about the NextGen Cup Challenge here.