It is a typical early morning. You head to the coffee shop and order a hot caffeinated beverage to go. After preparing your drink, the barista slides a cardboard coffee sleeve onto the cup so your hands don’t burn. This is a common occurrence for the four-hundred million cups of coffee consumed every day in Michigan and the rest of the United States. What people don’t realize is that millions of trees are cut down every year just for this coffee experience.
The Grand Rapids based startup Sleeveless is setting out to do their part in changing this narrative by making a simple change to the design of the coffee sleeve, and the result is a zero-waste, sustainable coffee sleeve.
The first thing you’ll notice is the shape. Through research, the creators of Sleeveless realized that people hold the cup at two main touch points, so why have the sleeve take up space and use material where it will never get held? With its ergonomic design the Sleeveless coffee sleeve uses 33% less material, saving natural resources.
The three-man Sleeveless team has sold these sustainable coffee sleeves to numerous coffee shops. All of this got me thinking. Being a lover of coffee and coffee shops, I decided to hit the Michigan open road to experience the sleeves in action. I also wanted to get a feel on how they are perceived by others. I spent time at three shops in The Mitten that use the coffee sleeves: Comet Coffee in Ann Arbor, Wildroot Coffee in Flint and The Fix in Bay City.
“Our mission and goal is to help you make the coffee experience sustainable, in the pursuit of zero waste.”
– Sleeveless Coffee Sleeves
At my first stop, the baristas at Comet Coffee thought the two main touch points on the sleeve were perfect for holding or pinching the cup to enjoy ones beverage. I found myself holding the cup in different ways at first, getting used to the sleeve.
While I was at the coffee shop tucked within Nickels Arcade, I met up with Austin Holsinger, marketer for the small Sleeveless team. I immediately saw the passion he had for the product. We talked about how the sleeve industry continues to evolve from nothing, to double cupping, to the sleeves you see predominantly today, to now more sustainable coffee sleeves. Holsinger brought up Sleeveless’ partnership with the National Forest Foundation where, for each case of sleeves someone orders, they will work in tandem to plant one tree. Sleeveless has the goal of saving one million trees – one sleeve, cup and coffee shop at a time.
While at the newly opened Wildroot Coffee in the College Cultural neighborhood of Flint, I chatted with Luke Leffel, one of the founders of the cafe, while he made my handcrafted pour-over coffee. Leffel told me how happy Wildroot has been with their Sleeveless partnership. He loved the environmental aspects of the coffee sleeve, along with the cost. Saving money and helping planet earth at the same time? Sign me up! I did learn that it is best to put the sleeve onto the cup before the coffee goes in. It’s true you do learn something every day.
The Fix, my last stop in the thriving Uptown section of Bay City, serves only the most sustainable coffees, making for a perfect partnership with Sleeveless. I could tell the passion they have for coffee in general, by how Chris the barista made my drink and the discussion we had about coffee.
“Sleeveless believes in true innovation. Not only are we interested in improving the current product (coffee sleeves) but we are also focused on increasing the sustainability standards throughout the coffee industry.”
Austin Holsinger, marketer behind the Sleeveless sustainable coffee sleeves
One of the touch points on the coffee sleeve is set aside for branding, which The Fix used to stamp their logo on. The copy on the rest of the sleeve informs the coffee cup drinker on how much material is saved and that the sleeve is recyclable. I took a fun stroll with the sleeve and cup outside the shop along the Saginaw River to end my coffee trip, and my hand never felt the heat from the cup.
The general consensus of everyone I met and myself is that the sustainable aspects of the coffee sleeve alone make it a product worth taking a look at. I loved my coffee drinking experiences with the sleeve and look forward to following how this transforms the coffee industry.
What other companies are producing eco-friendly and/or sustainable products that are worth checking out in Michigan?