What do Pizza Fusion, Subway, McDonald's, Cartridge World and Ecowash Mobile all have in common? Besides being franchises, it might not seem like a sub shop or a burger joint would, in any way, be comparable to a printer cartridge refilling company or a car wash business. But look a little deeper, because a new shade of business practices is coming to light: America’s going green, and franchises of all kinds are joining the movement.
“‘Sustainability’ or ‘green’ franchise companies are a trend,” confirms Alisa Harrison, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the International Franchise Association (IFA). “We are seeing it in two ways: Those companies that are using their sustainability as a marketing point both to sell franchises and to market to their consumers, and those that are making incremental changes in order to conserve resources while at the same time reducing operating costs such as lower energy and water bills.”
Green is the new buzzword overall, but the extent to which initiatives are being taken comes in various shades. For some, it colors every aspect of their business. Pizza Fusion, an organic, earth friendly pizza company, has made green a priority since its founding in 2006. The company makes its pizza deliveries in hybrid vehicles, uses utensils that are made 100 percent from potatoes and biodegrade within months and donates money to environmental causes. “We have had this built into our DNA and we are so passionate about it and our customers know this,” says Vaughan Lazar, cofounder.
Others are heavyweights that have been around since before the trend began, but understand the importance of embracing the movement. At its last annual convention, Subway honored some of its vendors for their part in helping the brand achieve its sustainability goals. Meanwhile, McDonald’s saw the economic sense in operating out of a LEED building and transformed its head office in Chicago into an office building that meets the U.S. Green Building Councils eco-standards.
And other franchises are inherently green because of the environmentally friendly product or service that they sell. Cartridge World specializes entirely in recycled cartridges, while Ecowash Mobile has enjoyed success with its waterless car wash concept.
Whether driving or jumping on the bandwagon, these franchises are all part of the green movement currently sweeping through the franchising industry. However, both Harrison and Lazar warn of “greenwashing” or, as Harrison describes it, when companies talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. “Just saying you're ‘green’ isn't enough, especially today,” says Lazar, who, despite the trend, believes that franchises are still not prioritizing green as much as they should be. “[Consumers] see through all the greenwashing and know when a company has integrity in this area.”
Meanwhile, the IFA is currently determining what their role should be in the trend and evaluating possible partnerships with industry-specific trade associations, such as the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative and the Hotel and Lodging Association, to provide industry-specific information to its members. Additionally, the Green America’s Green Business Network is developing ways to certify green franchises, and The Clinton Climate Initiative is sponsoring projects in an effort to equip businesses with energy saving technologies and thereby reduce their carbon footprint.
Fueled by the global hype, the awareness around social responsibility has certainly shaken things up, but will it create a long-lasting impact on the franchising industry? As long as there is consumer demand and it makes sense from a business standpoint, Harrison doesn’t see it abating. And perhaps, one day, green will no longer even be a buzzword, but, instead, just the norm.
Sara Wilson is a freelance writer who specializes in issues related to small businesses. Contact her at [email protected]