Starbucks: How Its Eco Credibility Is Draining Away


Starbucks has just landed itself in hot water – over a cold-running tap.

The world-leading coffeehouse chain has always been keen to wave its green credentials at the media. At the turn of this century it made a big show of embracing Fair Trade coffee bean supplies – except by 2006, only 6% of its supply was certified to this standard (as reported by The Star last year). The company enjoyed the first FDA-approved use of recycled material in food packaging – yet to date, Starbucks cups are still only 10% recycled packaging. It’s a checkered picture.

Nevertheless, here’s the company’s official line:

“By taking steps to reduce waste from our operations and recycle, we can preserve the earth’s natural resources and enhance the quality of lives around the globe. Starbucks actively seeks opportunities to minimise our environmental impact.”

–   Starbucks: Protecting the Environment

Whoever commissioned those words could soon be eating them. In the last few days an investigation has found that the average branch of Starbucks has something called a “dipper well” – a sink for washing crockery and cutlery…with a constantly-running tap. Staff are banned from turning it off, for “health and safety reasons”. The implications? Over 23 million litres of water a day running straight down plugholes.

Starbucks’s official response is that “dipper wells use a stream of continuous cold fresh-running water to rinse away food residue, help keep utensils clean and prevent bacterial growth” (Telegraph). Environmental groups and water authorities have not been shy with voicing their contempt – and the story only broke on Monday, so it’s unclear how the sizeable eco-concerned slice of the public will react.

Unfortunately for Starbucks, it’s already clear that this one will run and run.

Image: d’n’c

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.