Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR) continues to show off the socially responsible mission built into its business, touting its new all-natural, eco-friendly coffee cup. I'm betting the first thing us coffee drinkers -- and investors -- are wondering is just how this stacks up to Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), which has also recently acknowledged that an Earth-friendly coffee cup can hold a lot of public goodwill.

Green Mountain's eco-friendly cup was developed with International Paper (NYSE:IP), and for a paper cup, it's a nifty innovation. With 100% natural materials, including a protective "bio-plastic" inner liner made of corn, the entire cup is biodegradable. The lining is also manufactured in a "greenhouse gas-neutral environment," in case you were wondering. The joint press release from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and International Paper points out that traditional paper cups are lined with a petroleum-based substance that prevents leakage. Green Mountain's vice president of environmental affairs pointed out that its use of this cup means "we consume nearly a quarter of a million pounds less of non-renewable petrochemical materials every year."

This is hardly an unexpected development from Green Mountain Coffee, which was recently voted top of the heap in Business Ethics magazine's list of "100 Best Corporate Citizens."

Meanwhile, Starbucks is no slacker when it comes to socially responsible initiatives, either. Environmentally friendly strategies are part of its marketing allure, and it's also been working to revolutionize the old-fashioned coffee cup. Starbucks recently said that it offered the first coffee cup to include 10% post-consumer recycled content, which will cut its use of new tree fiber by more than five million pounds this year alone. Regardless of whose cup is the best idea for the environment, it's clear we've come a long way since styrofoam.

Given that the caffeine's flowing and the cups are flying, coffee giants can earn a high profile with such initiatives. But consider the impact on sleepier industries like paper companies as well. Not surprisingly, International Paper announced that it's working on an entire line of environmentally sustainable "ecotainer" products (that term is trademarked, incidentally). We can probably expect more such announcements -- and R&D -- from International Paper and rivals like Neenah Paper (NYSE:NP), which is tapping into the arena by providing environmentally-sound paper lines and practicing conservation initiatives in forestry. You snooze, you lose, as they say.

Companies are catching on to consumers' growing awareness of conservation and responsibility. For many of these corporations, exemplifying these trends is as much a part of their marketing as their mission. It seems we can expect to see a lot of interesting innovations from many industries as these trends intensify.

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Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Neenah Paper is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection.

The Motley Fool has its own corporate responsibility initiative in its annual charity drive, Foolanthropy, sponsored this year by Hilton Family Hotels. Learn more here.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks but of none of the other companies mentioned.