Flow, baby, flow: Starbucks keeps water faucets wide open
October 8, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Starbucks calls it “the dipper well system.” You might call it a million and a half gallons of San Luis Obispo County water wasting down the drain each and every month.
The coffee Goliath’s worldwide policy of keeping water taps open and flowing in stores during business hours — which company officials consider a “sanitary” practice — is sharply at odds with California’s worsening 100-year drought. It also is beginning to spark an international outcry.
Yet 23 Starbucks stores in SLO County follow the policy, according to a corporate spokesperson. A spot check of six local establishments Tuesday by CalCoastNews reporters showed the “dipper well system“ was at work in five, and one had two faucets flowing at full capacity. Several Starbucks employees freely acknowledged the practice in which a sink utilized to keep spoons and utensils clean is kept flowing with a never-ending supply of fresh water.
Gary Henderson, San Luis Obispo’s water division manager, said he has “never heard of the practice” and promised to look into the issue.
At an average store in this county open for eight hours a day, the “dipper well system” squanders about 72,000 gallons of water a month.
A Starbucks spokesperson at corporate headquarters in Seattle admitted that company officials are concerned about the practice but have no immediate plans to alter it.
“We recognize that the dipper well system and the subsequent amount of water that is used by the system is an issue that needs immediate attention,” the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. “We are working to address this issue. Starbucks’ challenge is to balance water conservation with the need for customer safety. The dipper well is an effective and proven system to rinse away food and liquid residue. It helps keep utensils clean and prevents bacterial growth, ensuring we meet or exceed our own and local health standards, which is our priority.
“We are working to find alternative solutions to help minimize water use while complying with food safety regulatory requirements and we are actively evaluating several solutions. We are committed to phasing in new practices as they are proven safe and effective.”
In September, the coffee monolith began distributing “GOOD Sheets” to create dialogue on current issues. The first GOOD Sheet discusses “all the CO2 in the world.”
The pamphlets, published about once a week, emphasize Starbucks “commitment to sustainable practices.” Conservationists, however, concerned that the practice is harming the environment, raise questions about the company’s alleged commitment to a sustainable, shared planet.
An uproar by environmentalists and water officials in the United Kingdom this week fostered by the American company’s open-faucet policy resulted in a bit of a reversal: Starbucks bosses said they will seek alternative solutions for the U.K., but in the meantime, their taps, too, will remain open.