In marketing terms it's a match made in moneymaking heaven - but George Clooney, king of cool turned emperor of the coffee-pod people, may be serving up a less-than-perfect brew as a caffeine pitchman. Clooney promotes a product whose invasion of our homes may come with serious environmental consequences.
Now, Clooney's corporate partner Nespresso - market leader in a coffee-capsule sector that has grown by almost 1000 per cent in five years - faces having to defend its ''sustainability program'' to the federal consumer watchdog.
Jon Dee - head of environmental group DoSomething and founder of National Recycling Week, Planet Ark and National Tree Day - says he will write to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission next week asking it to investigate the truth of the company's recycling advertising.
A series of Nespresso sustainability advertisements featuring the company's recycling program use Clooney - appearances in addition to his commercials plugging the ubiquitous aluminium coffee pods that are causing the waste problem, alongside the plastic pods made by some of Nespresso's competitors.
''George Clooney has almost single-handedly launched an entire new waste stream globally as a result of fronting the Nespresso adverts,'' Mr Dee said. ''It shows the Clooney effect has undoubtedly been enormous in this. But George Clooney - for a guy who is so switched on to civil rights and other issues - to lead the charge in causing such environmental damage and waste and other issues is really disappointing.''
Australia has embraced the pod phenomenon as fervently as the rest of the world - industry analysts say it's about taking our ''cafe culture'' into the home, with capsule machines making it easy to brew a decent cup with little mess or fuss - but lots of new household waste. For the coffee industry, ''the Clooney effect'' has been a gold mine - but it now faces the headache of dealing with the consequences of a stunningly rapid shift in consumer behaviour.
Geoff Parker, head of the Australian Beverages Council, says ''the craze of the pods'' is driving at-home coffee consumption. ''Certainly the Clooney factor would have to be a contributing reason why that sector has increased so much.'' Mr Parker says coffee is now the most consumed beverage in the land, second only to water. ''It makes up 15 per cent of all the beverages that we drink. We drink 5 billion cups of coffee a year.''
Jon Dee sees the water comparison as apt. ''In some ways the coffee pods are the new bottled water. It has a huge impact environmentally and at the same time rips off consumers. The cost of the product is way above what previously existed.''
Melbourne coffee manufacturer Jeff Carlin, whose Carlini Coffee Company products include capsules compatible for Nespresso machines, says coffee drinkers should know what they're getting - and the marketing doesn't tell the full story. For starters, the amount of caffeine in a capsule is significantly lower than the standard serve in a cafe. ''You walk away a little bit dissatisfied.''
He agrees big industry players need to act on environmental concerns - but says packaging changes will affect coffee quality and shelf life, which is best preserved by aluminium seals. ''They [the manufacturers] know they've got a serious problem.''
Nicole Parker, Nespresso's Australian marketing manager, says the company knows it has to address recycling concerns. Currently, customers can return used pods to one of the 11 Nespresso boutiques around Australia - with a 12th to open in the Melbourne CBD next week. There is also a recycling drop-off program run in conjunction with suburban florists.
Jon Dee describes these measures as so limited and difficult to observe as to be meaningless. ''It shows they're not serious.''
He also rejected Nespresso's claim that aluminium packaging is more environmentally friendly - on the grounds aluminium does more harm in its production. And he attacks a Nespresso video for showing used pods being placed in a domestic recycling bin, for which they are not suitable.
But Ms Parker - while saying, ''I concede it's not optimal yet'' - adds that alternatives are being considered, including giving customers a pre-paid envelope to return used capsules. Another option is the Swiss model: the mail service collects pods from letterboxes.
As for George Clooney, he is unlikely to disappear as the richly rewarded face of Nespresso any time soon. ''His charm and his humour have been really essential to people's understanding of Nespresso as a brand,'' Ms Parker said.
Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald http://bit.ly/1jyChPr