Business brews charity through coffee company

By Katie Heinz

Most people don’t buy a cup of coffee with the intention of doing a good deed. But now, hundreds of thousands of people nationwide – including many University students – have the option, thanks to the Pura Vida company.

Scott James, Pura Vida director of marketing, said the idea for the Seattle-based charitable organization came about six years ago. Two Harvard Business School students talked about “using business to change the world.” Since then, Pura Vida has become the coffee of choice for more than 60 universities nationwide as well as for many other large and small organizations.

Azusa Pacific University, Portland State University and Evergreen State University were the first campuses to supply Pura Vida coffee to their students and staff. More than 22 universities across the country have chosen to supply Pura Vida coffee in the past few months alone. James said this is due to word-of-mouth promotion between campuses.

“I think they’re really interested in the mission that is radically different than everyone else’s,” James said. “We want to use business to create good rather than just greed.”

James said the net profits from Pura Vida sales are used to benefit at-risk children and their families in coffee-growing countries such as Costa Rica. The profits fund a vast array of programs, including soup kitchens and children’s soccer teams.

“We want to focus on getting kids off of the streets,” James said.

According to James, Pura Vida’s mission is based on two parts in addition to philanthropy. All of Pura Vida’s coffee is organic and shade-grown, which means the coffee plantations support a high amount of biodiversity and are environmentally friendly. The coffee is also Fair Trade certified, meaning that living wages are paid to all farmers supplying Pura Vida, and they are guaranteed a fair price.

In addition to its charity-based mission, James said customers are attracted to Pura Vida coffee because it tastes great and is less expensive than other brands. James said the company’s “cool and effective service” with campuses has also been a draw for students. Musician Taylor Sorensen, a supporter of Fair Trade, has teamed up with Pura Vida to play free benefit concerts on campuses to promote the coffee.

Valparaiso University began serving Pura Vida coffee to students and staff yesterday. Sue Dunlap, director of dining services at the university, said the response – especially from students – has been positive.

“It seemed like a good fit as far as the philanthropic work Pura Vida has done as a company,” Dunlap said. “It’s also really good-tasting for students and they like the coffee.”

The Espresso Royale Cafe stores on campus provide several Fair Trade coffee options to customers every day and the University supplies Starbucks coffee in all residence halls.

Starbucks offers one line of Fair Trade certified coffees. Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for marketing, said she is unsure whether the University would consider supplying Pura Vida coffee in the dining halls.

“To reconsider that involves a lot – purchasing decisions, contracts, equipment, delivery and other things,” Ruby said.