Starbucks, Dream Bigger!

08/07/2005 03:54 pm 15:54:22 | Updated May 25, 2011

Starbucks prides itself on its social consciousness, and, indeed, the company has sponsored important initiatives. However, Starbucks' newest pro-social campaign--to help provide clean drinking water to children in impoverished nations--shows a poverty of imagination and boldness.

Starbucks has partnered with Ethos Water, a new brand of bottled spring water, with the aim of doing good by doing well. The promo displays in Starbucks stores read, “Dream Big. Ethos Water. Helping children get clean water.” The campaign’s message is an important one: “More than 1 billion people worldwide, many of them children, lack access to clean drinking water.” But the campaign’s fine print suggests that Starbucks and Ethos Water will do a little bit of good while doing very well for themselves.

For each $1.80 bottle (700 mL) of water purchased, Starbucks will give one nickel to help kids get clean drinking water. The goal is to generate $2 million in contributions per year. Meanwhile, the campaign’s web site tells us that we can “follow Ethos Water founders Jonathan Greenblatt and Peter Thum this summer as they drive cross-country in a 36-foot bio-diesel powered motorhome wrapped in blue Ethos Water graphics.” The campaign will undoubtedly make a valuable contribution toward building awareness of the genuine and severe water crisis that exists in many developing countries. However, a nickel a bottle and $2 million a year? Dream bigger, Starbucks! Don’t nickel-and-dime an important cause.

Starbucks has the resources, brand image, culture, and clientele to REALLY make a difference, as they did with tsunami relief. For example, Starbucks could offer cause-related coupons for purchase at their cash registers in $1, $2, and $5 denominations--not five cents--with 100% of the revenues going to help kids in impoverished countries get clean drinking water. Indeed, Starbucks could undertake an ongoing series of such fundraising efforts. For example, one future campaign might raise money to save the lives of children in malaria-stricken regions of the world by providing insecticide-treated bed nets to protect them at night from disease-carrying mosquitoes. (One $5 coupon buys one bed net to protect one child.) The overall theme for these campaigns: you can personally make a difference in saving lives and improving the health of millions of children in impoverished parts of the world.

All it would take is printing coupons, creating in-store promotional materials, and re-programming Starbucks’ cash registers to keep track of revenues from the coupons. Starbucks would need to make a significant financial commitment to the cause as well, but the lion’s share of contributions would come from its customers. I’d bet the total yield would be pretty amazing, and Starbucks would further strengthen its bond with its customers on an ongoing basis.

If you like this idea, tell Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.