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Does spirituality mix with commerce?

Starting in the spring, Starbucks is reportedly planning to include a spiritually-inspired quotation on its coffee cups. It looks set to start a storm in a coffee cup says CNBC’s Jerry Cobb.

Starting in the spring, Starbucks is reportedly planning to include a spiritually-inspired quotation on its coffee cups.

The coffee company wants customers to think as they drink, but the words, which will come from Rev. Rick Warren, the author of the inspirational best-seller “The Purpose-driven Life,” look set to take the strategy to a higher level by invoking the name of the Almighty for the first time.

“This is not putting churches, or synagogues, or mosques out of business, it’s simply a smaller kind of daily delivery of spirituality,” notes Laura Nash, a lecturer at Harvard Business School. “People are hungry for that at work.”

Corporate America has traditionally maintained a strict separation between church and office. But in a growing number of firms, that wall is coming down.

“We’ve treated religion or spirituality as a personal thing for so long, when the reality is people do not check their souls at the door when they go to work,” says B.J. Gallagher, author of “What Would Buddha Do at Work?”

In fact, you can find a reference to the Book of John on drink cups from fast food chain In-N-Out Burger. And you can also find a religious quotation on shopping bags from fashion retailer Forever 21 — a subtle, yet significant testament to the higher values that guide both companies.

And at Chicago law firm Mauck & Baker, religious values are central to the practice according to attorney John Mauck.

“We try to make Jesus the center of everything we do,” Mauck said recently. “Throughout the day, groups of us will be praying for different cases that we’re working on, or different problems that we face.”

At a time when 98 percent of Americans say they believe in God, and 46 percent of those who work say they are dispirited, it's not surprising that more companies are embracing spiritual or religious values.  

But in so doing, companies run a real risk of appearing to pander to customers who are religious, or risk offending those who are not.

Companies must ask how far down the path of spirituality they are willing to venture without just turning it into one more way of making an extra dollar says Laura Nash of Harvard Business School.

And while it's tough to calculate a return on investment a company derives from religion, or spirituality, companies that are embracing these values are convinced that, in the long run, they can do well by doing good.