Starbucks turns on the bad publicity tap

The coffee store is in for a rough ride now its green credentials are being brought into question

The news that Starbucks wastes millions of litres of water shows the perils of business getting too cosy with green ideas

You have probably read that Starbucks wastes millions of tonnes of water every day by not turning off the taps in its stores. Staff are forbidden from turning them off in all of its 10,000 stores worldwide ‘for hygiene reasons' and as a result the company wastes huge amounts of water every day. The story broke in The Sun and if you are sceptical about that paper's credibility then please let me assure you that the report is true. The Starbuck's press office is denying nothing and claims it is balancing customer safety with water conservation. However, the company's ‘dipper well' policy as it is known – which means that there's a constant stream of cold water running to wash utensils – sounds totally bonkers to the majority of people that hear about it. Leaving a tap running all day even if it is low pressure wastes an enormous amount of water. For this practice to be uniformly carried out in 10,000 stores creates a huge environmental impact. Some estimates suggest that up 23 million litres of water would be lost down Starbuck's plughole every day. Even in rainy Britain this is a galling figure. But in many countries, including the US, where water shortages are causing major problems this is likely to really get the ire of the public. Importantly, it could turn into be a major PR disaster for the coffee company. Starbucks likes to brag about its corporate responsibility and environmental credentials and news like this leaves it open to a charge of hypocrisy. Internet chat rooms and news blogs have today been filled with condemnations from the public. The story was posted on Yahoo just after 10am and there were hundreds of comments before lunchtime, virtually all of which were slating the company. If this had been McDonalds or Coca-cola then there might have been less fuss. Nobody really thinks that they are ethical or environmentally friendly, but then they don't court the green pound either. However, Starbucks does and herein lies the danger of that strategy; unless it is backed up by a thorough and definitive policy then you're prone to a backlash. The environment is just too big an issue for firms to be flirting with. And, if people begin to suspect that your only reason for doing do is to bring in the cash then you could get into trouble. There's a growing number of people out there that will boycott unethical firms. But when these same people feel they have been deceived they get really angry and that rage could power campaigns. It's not unrealistic to expect a significant boycott of Starbucks and the company is going to have to take steps in light of it.


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