Steeped in grease, oil, and fluids, a car repair and maintenance franchise like Honest-1 Auto Care might seem far removed from the green movement, but, two years ago, the company made a shift towards becoming eco-friendly and hasn’t slowed down since. As part of the green initiative, the franchise developed a proprietary line of eco-friendly auto fluids, established a partnership with a nonprofit organization to plant 40,000 new trees, and conducted extensive research to create an Environmentally Sustainable Actions Certified program in order to keep all of its franchisees operating under the same eco-friendly standards. This change required a major restructuring. But it also strategically set Honest-1 Auto Care apart from its competition and has helped increase same-store sales by 10 percent this year compared to last, says Rissy Sutherland, Senior Vice President of Operations.
Honest-1 Auto Care’s rebranding efforts might be surprising, but they’re far from abnormal. Between Chipotle using environmentally friendly cutlery, Carl’s Jr. opening a green flagship restaurant, and lawn-care franchises shifting to organic-based fertilizers and biodegradable products, many franchisors are going green. In fact, in 2009 alone, Green America, a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to harness economic power to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society, has approved and added more than 250 businesses to its Green Business Network. But what does this mean for franchisees who suddenly find themselves part of a green franchise?
For franchisees, an accurate understanding of the costs involved in going green is essential. Jim Henkel, an Honest-1 Auto Care franchisee since before the company’s green movement began, admits that he was concerned about the costs that he would have to absorb as a result of corporate’s decision. However, the incremental expense required was not substantial, and the two-year grace period to update the signage and marketing materials has been manageable. “Thus far, the transition has been very positive because our customers are more engaged and loyal as a result,” says Henkel, “and our sales prove it.”
Some “greening” steps can result in an initial cost increase, according to Rebecca Shaloff, Screening Director of Green America. But Shaloff is quick to point out that other steps such as consolidating packaging and shipping, implementing telecommuting, and reducing paper consumption can result in savings. Major expenses might also end up having little financial impact when implemented throughout a franchise system, says Shaloff: “Franchises are in an interesting position whereby certain costs can be absorbed or shared by a larger network.” Franchisees will need to be prepared to fully embrace the movement, as going green requires a change in philosophy. As Henkl discovered, customers, especially those who identify themselves as being green, might even challenge you. “Any business should be prepared for criticism if they market sustainable or green practices without fully implementing their plan,” says Alisa Harrison, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the International Franchise Association. “The public is wary of companies that do not actually do what they promote.”
Finally, communication during the transition to becoming a green franchise will be crucial. Honest-1 Auto Care established a board of advisors and set up a special committee to allow franchisees to voice their ideas and concerns. “[The more] franchisee and franchisor can partner on special projects the better, especially if franchisees are heavily involved in the development stage,” says Harrison. “If franchisees have ideas on how to implement green practices, they should share them with other franchisees and the franchisor through the franchise advisory council or the communications network set up within the system.”
These days, consumers are more likely to support companies that are environmentally responsible, but, one day, they’ll start to outright expect companies to be green. That means franchisees can only gain from being part of an eco-friendly franchise. If corporate starts making moves towards being authentically green, embrace it. If done correctly, it’s a win-win situation.
Sara Wilson is a freelance writer who specializes in issues related to small businesses. Contact her at email@example.com.