Starbucks In Hot Water Over Water Use

Even if you love your lattes, you may not like what it apparently takes to make one.

As Susan Koeppen reported on The Early Show Wednesday, Starbucks is coming under fire for apparently wasting millions of gallons of water to clean the spoons used to make its famous drinks.

It's probably something you've never noticed at a Starbucks but, behind the counter, off to the side, there's a small sink where the tap is always running.

An employee in one Starbucks admitted to CBS News that that location, at least, leaves the tap running all day.

Starbucks, Koeppen explains, uses what's called a dipper well, a place to keep spoons and other utensils clean after serving up drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. Environmental groups say keeping that water running to make the fancy drinks wastes millions of gallons of water.

We sent CBS News employees to several Starbucks locations across the country, in New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

In some stores, those employees observed taps running non-stop.

Starbucks admits it's company policy to keep the water flowing so utensils stay clean.

That is, says Paul Schwartz, national policy coordinator of Clean Water Action, "a tremendous waste of water when you think about their outlets here in the United States and globally."

The coffee chain says it's following local and state health codes by running water continuously, and issued a statement declaring it "fully recognizes 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 company also says it's made efforts to conserve water at it stores: By using high pressure dishwashers to clean dishes quickly, the use of spray nozzles in sinks that reduce water consumption. And by programming espresso machines to use less water during rinse cycles.

In general, Starbucks says it's been working on a solution to the dipper well situation for some time, and stores will phase in new systems when they find one that's safe and effective.

Starbucks, Koeppen points out, is a company with a commitment to the environment. Over the past several years, it's raised millions of dollars to support clean drinking water programs worldwide.