Because paper cups are rubbish!

2.5 million paper cups are used in the United Kingdom every day.

Appalled by this statistic, our Client approached us to help do something about it. Initially, the brief was to design a new (or, rather, another new) reusable cup, with a special tote bag to help mitigate the inconvenience of having to carry it around.

However, after reflecting on the challenge of eliminating paper cups from the UK for good, we managed to convince our Client that there may be a better solution.


Strategic approach

Rather than develop our solution in isolation, we decided to plan and facilitate a cross-functional co-creation workshop.

In attendance were coffee retailers, baristas, sustainability experts, information technologists and strategists, behavioural scientists, brand strategists and product, fashion and graphic designers.

After on-boarding and inspiration sessions, delegates were divided into small teams and then set the task of ridding the world of paper cups in any way they saw fit.

Ideas were challenged, shortlisted and iterated upon. Then, in the weeks after the workshop, concepts were further developed and tested, until a final winning idea was chosen.

A mug rental system

The winning concept from our workshop combined the convenience of paper cups with the sustainability of reusable ones.

An app-enabled mug rental system would mean that while ordering a take-away coffee as usual, customers could now opt to have it served in a beautifully designed rental cup, which could then simply be dropped off at any participating outlet once empty.

For those environmentally-conscious coffee consumers already carrying a reusable cup, it would also provide an alternative to a paper cup on days when they forgot their cup at home.

The system would be self-funded through a nominal customer rental fee – an amount usually offset, anyway, by the discount from coffee outlets when not having to provide a paper cup.


We chose the name s.mug (the ‘sustainable mug’ system) because it had the playful attitude and personality needed to create an emotional connection with consumers, while setting the tone for a distinctive identity, voice and comms campaign.


We wanted s.mug to be more than just a brand. We aimed to create a movement of sustainably-minded and conscious coffee drinkers.

So the visual and verbal language is simple, strong and bold – loudly and proudly communicating the brand’s point of view without any fluff or unnecessary embellishment.

Our brand is also about rewarding positive choices (rather than creating guilt around negative ones), so we wanted it to only ever feel uplifting and positive.

For this reason, there is a playfulness to the brand’s messaging and tone, embodied in the name and brand icon, which would ultimately serve as a shorthand symbol for the brand, and an icon in digital platforms.

We recognised that opportunities to communicate would be limited, so insisted that the identity remain absolutely consistent across all touch points. This would also ensure brand recognition and recall.

The App

The entire rental system is driven by an app that does everything from pointing consumers to participating outlets in their area, to controlling payments, to facilitating rental returns.

Brown&co was responsible for sourcing an appropriate developer, then collaborating with them to fully deliver on the project vision.

We also ensured that the visual and verbal identity of the brand were translated seamlessly into the digital environment.

Launch campaign

Again in collaboration with an appropriate partner – this one specialising in communications – we developed and delivered a brand campaign to successfully launch the product to market.

Supporting elements

As mentioned, a core part of the brand strategy was to create a movement around s.mug.

So we developed a tote bag that was not only functionally better for carrying dirty coffee cups (with a handy waterproof sleeve, amongst other features) but that also boldly promoted a sustainability message.

Anyone carrying one of our tote bags would, by association, be endorsing our message, further spreading it, while also announcing themselves as a member of our sustainably-minded coffee-drinking tribe.


Currently, an MVP (minimum viable product) version of s.mug is being piloted in a localised area of Cornwall – the intention being to debug the app and system, and gain further consumer insights before launching more widely.

We believe our s.mug initiative is unique, smart and engaging. In fact we’re all rather s.mug about it!

"The rental economy: it's not a trend, it's a movement."
– MarketingWeek, 31st October 2019

Such a pleasure working with Brown&co on s.mug. What started as one solution to an eco-challenge, turned into a fabulous brand to say NO! to disposables.Heather Allen
Founder, United Kingdom

Founder, United Kingdom

Project team locations.


The B&co team is totally set up for virtual working. Across continents, we collaborated seamlessly to create a solution we’re all proud of.Heather Vermeulen
Design Director, South Africa

Heather Vermeulen

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