Aug. 18–Washing your hair in Chicago could help bring clean water to rural Kenya.
That’s the premise behind a new charitable campaign launched by Walgreens and Unilever that is enlisting customers to buy into the cause with shampoo, deodorant and body wash. For every purchase of TRESemme, Suave and Caress products at Walgreens through Sept. 30, Unilever will donate 6 cents toward a project building a sustainable clean water source in a remote Kenyan village.
Deerfield-based Walgreens Boots Alliance has assembled the Unilever products in prominent displays at each of its 8,200 stores in the U.S. with the banner “One Purchase Gives Five Gallons.” It is supporting the in-store promotion with a digital advertising campaign.
The partnership is designed to “make it easier for customers to make a difference,” according to Mark Sciortino, vice president of digital and marketing strategy at Walgreens. It may also prove good for business, tapping into growing consumer demand for socially responsible brands.
“We think this is exactly the way of the future where companies with purpose grow faster, brands with purpose grow faster,” said Todd Tillemans, president of customer development for Unilever.
The clean water campaign is an example of “cause marketing,” a strategy of linking consumer purchases with social and environmental benefits. A 2015 corporate social responsibility study by Cone Communications showed that 90 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given comparable price and quality.
While consumers may seek out socially responsible products, most are skeptical, with only 29 percent saying they believed their purchases can make a significant positive impact, according to the study.
Walgreens and Unilever are partnering with Me to We, a Toronto-based social enterprise funding the project through Free the Children, its charitable arm. The purchases are not tax-deductible, but customers will be able to see their contributions at work by entering their product codes at www.walgreens.com/trackyourimpact.
The promotion, which began in late July, has already donated the equivalent of 5 million gallons, on the way toward a goal of 15 million gallons.
The actual donation goal is $200,000, essentially the cost of a borehole project underway to tap an underground reservoir in Kipsongol, a small impoverished village near the Masai Mara in southwest Kenya. If all goes well, it will produce a lot more than 15 million gallons of much-needed clean water, a life-changing prospect for villagers, whose primary source of water is the muddy Mara River.
More than 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization. Inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene can lead to a variety of diseases and are estimated to cause more than 840,000 diarrheal deaths per year.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s largest population using unimproved water sources, according to WHO.
Free the Children has completed seven borehole projects in sub-Saharan Africa over the past seven years. Previously, the projects were funded through private foundations.
Marc Kielburger, 37, co-founder of Me to We, spoke to the Tribune recently while on the ground in Kenya, setting up the borehole project.
“In the communities where we typically work, they have access to water,” Kielburger said. “But the water literally looks like chocolate milk. It’s certainly not clean, it has high incidence of water-borne disease.”
The borehole will go about 2 miles into the ground, where surveys show an “extremely strong” source of water, Kielburger said. Drilling is set to begin this fall, with the project on track to be completed by year’s end.
Kielburger is hopeful the partnership with Walgreens and Unilever will establish a new model for funding such projects going forward, where consumer participation accelerates the process of delivering clean water to more communities.
Walgreens needs to sell 3 million units of the Unilever products to reach the fundraising goal. Already one-third of the way there, executives are unabashed about stimulating sales through social causes.
“It’s good for business, and we’re not shy about that, because that’s what makes these sort of actions sustainable,” Tillemans said. “We can both accelerate growth and accelerate the positive impact.”
Unilever, which is based in London, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of home and personal care products, with more than 400 brands used by 2 billion people every day. Its U.S. headquarters are in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Tillemans said that the best-performing brands in the Unilever portfolio are the ones that are “farthest ahead in having a social mission,” inspiring new purchases and developing loyalty among customers. That could bode well for shampoo sales at Walgreens, and the clean water supply in Kenya.
“The more we grow, the bigger we are, the more positive social impact we can have,” Tillemans said. “We see that as a virtuous cycle.”
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