Yesterday, I participated in a "Tim Horton's Community Clean-up" in honour of Earth Day. For my efforts, which included fishing out and picking up plastic bags, water bottles, wrappers, and Tim Horton's cups out of the stream that runs through Moses Springer park in Waterloo, Ontario, I was given a white T-shirt with the Tim's logo prominently featured on front and back.
I was happy to make the gesture in my community and help clean the place up. It felt good and meaningful. There is nothing token or symbolic of removing plastic from an area where you see wildlife a few feet away. What I was annoyed by was Tim's sponsorship of the event; the few lousy bucks they spent on T-shirts were both. I met some interesting people, and I was reminded of the high hidden costs our civilization pays for convienience, one of which is (expletive) plastic and paper everywhere. For all that I was grateful. Tim's exploiting the occasion to play the community-minded environmentalist, not so much.
**Disclaimer**I am about to be critical of one of my country's sacred cows. If you want to alienate yourself from a crowd or offend people in Canada, be critical of Timmy Hos. You'd probably get a weaker reaction from a lot of people if you insulted their mother. If you are one of those people, I suggest you stop reading.***
Tim's cups are everywhere because people drink the stuff all the time. Those paper cups and plastic lids litter our streets, our highways, and our parks. And Tim's does very little to encourage people to bring their own cups. When the City of Toronto tried to force them to make their cups recyclable last year because of the 60,000+ cup a day litter burden they represented, Tim's fiercely resisted. And who won that media battle? The big, lovable, ubiquitous coffee chain. Toronto was the bad guy for daring to interfere or impede on people's right to their medium double-double in the brown, red and gold cup. Why is this?
It's because Tim's has now completed its transformation from the folksy, working class, sugar and caffeine brown and yellow coffee and donuts chain at the side of the highway to a giant, sleek, red corporation which commands enormous market share, fierce loyalty and religious devotion from its customers. Parents are hooked on the syrupy sweet double-double that passes for coffee, kids get treats and ice capps, people eat the assembly line, economy of scale-processed, pre-frozen food from the factory in Brantford, Ontario for lunch, and we are squarely aimed at in Canada from 360 different degrees with ad carpet bombing to get more. On billboards, on the radio, on hockey night in Canada, and, if you are a pedestrian, in trash cans and at the sides of roads. You see that logo everywhere. I can't say I've seen every post-secondary campus in Canada, but I can tell you there are multiple locations on the University of Waterloo and Carleton campuses.
But this is simply traditional good business, you say; if people like the stuff, just let them have their damn tim's. Fine. However, Tims has many accountabilities nobody thinks about. Like the integration of new Canadians. Where do most of them get they first jobs? (Queue trumpets). In a location in North York, I saw a TV ad above the counter advertising English classes at Tim's for newcomers. Wow, a one-stop job, language class, environment to socialize with your friends and take your family for lunch. Don't forget to get hooked on our products while passing through for all these activities before you enter society, so that everyone will know you're a real Canadian. It's a strategy that has clearly worked. Look at the lineup in a post-secondary institution or at King and Victoria streets in downtown Toronto, one of their busiest locations by my old workplaces which has two perpetual lineups spilling out the door into the street. If you wanted to make diversity ads, you couldn't pay to find a better cross section of people.
The Prime Minister himself is well aware Tim's pull and his political strategy is hinged on continued devotion from what's known as "The Tim's crowd"; he has appealed to them with key photo-ops at the Oakville donut factory and at the Canadian Military Base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Demographics are hard to define and I would like to excuse myself for attempting but that prime-time watchin', oilfield n' factory workin', pickup truck & SUV drivin', child havin', new suburb on prime agricultural land dwellin', troop supportin', UFC watchin', Nickelback listenin' demographic takes one thing seriously: Tim's, and they are the Conservative party's coveted (and won) constituents. Environmentalism, social justice, mainstream media, exercise, cooking and art can be summed up in one, atrocious word to them: Starbucks. Making this crude distinction even more delectable and easier for whoever is buying into it is Starbucks is American and Tim's is Canadian. There are other equally ridiculous manufactured rivalries you can do this for like PCs vs. Macs. But my argument is Tims' being used as part of the Conservatives' divide and conquer strategy for the Canadian electorate while acting as a bosom and a security blanket for immigrants, which are the two main contributing factors to their now cemented status as an unambiguous symbol of Canada.
This is heavy political stuff, and I don't expect it to bother or fascinate you like it does me. What principally concerns me and why I bring it up is that Tims' irreproachability seems largely derived from it, and prevents the company from acknowledging how much litter and trash and waste it produces and that this is a serious problem.
The company, of course, is doing "everything it can" to reduce litter. See if you buy their explanation here I'm sorry, I don't. We need to recognize that walking around and driving around drinking coffee all day has not been an innately human activity since the dawn of time. It's a relatively recent phenomenon, and everyone needs to be encouraged actively and forcefully to use travel cups. The same as they need to be told of the shame and wrong of that other ridiculous convienience we now insist on, bottled water. Every company has a "sustainability" section on it's site now with a leaf, which looks very nice and everything, but can we please address some simple, fundamentally wasteful habits we've acquired and denounce them with courage rather than this pathetic lip service? I digress.
The Tri-Cities where I live has one of the highest per-capita Tim penetration rates in the world. Drive thrus are backed up with pickups, SUVs and leased GM sedans morning, noon, and night (Another very un-environmentally friendly by-product of TH dominance). People around here brag about visiting the place like they're addicts who just scored crack. The one closest to my house looks like a swiss ski-lodge, and is rammed 24-7. Tim's ain't going anywhere, I know. On their site, they have answers for critics like me, which shows a lot of initiative on their part, given their uncriticizable stature in Canadian society. The thing is, I'm not satisfied. Why don't you have contests for people using their own cups instead of stupid roll up the rim? I know your main customer base isn't typically or generally concerned with environmentalism but you, Don Schroeder, CEO of Tim's, are in a unique position to change their perception. I, reluctant occasional sipper of the medium regular on a road trip, although I am more and more loathe to be, wish you would.