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Your franchise brand needs a chief sustainability officer


Franchises can take a cue from Tiny Diner, an independent sit-down restaurant in Minneapolis owned by restaurateur Kim Bartmann. Solar panels extend over a lush outdoor patio with native plantings, reducing energy costs and putting its environmental focus front and center for its diners.

“This is the only investment you’ll ever make that will actually pay you back,” explained the insulation salesman as we got down to brass tacks at opposing ends of my dining room table. He was ignoring the possibility of making money on stocks or doing stuff that would add to our home’s resale value, but he presented a reasonable case that improving our energy efficiency via new insulation and attic air sealing was worth the $2,500 quote. It would all come back to us in time.

Because a recent home energy audit showed our castle to be one of the least efficient in the surrounding kingdom, our motivations ranged from selfish to altruistic to keeping up with the Joneses. Inefficiency compounds itself over months and years to become a major cost that’s entirely avoidable.

As more of the world burns and floods each year, it’s time for us all to make major changes on behalf of future generations. It’s awfully convenient that doing so can pad your bottom line. With 593,147 total locations represented in this year’s Top 200+, franchising’s aggregate impact to the world is significant and there’s no shortage of ways to get started.

Baiting the hook

Mark Hawker, chief engineer of Anthesis Group, a British sustainability consultancy, said his firm begins with potential savings when presenting an efficiency plan to avoid scaring off people who bristle at calls to minimize environmental impacts. Consider a similar strategy if your investments require buy-in from franchisees or other stakeholders.

“A lot of the pitches are to the financial directors; the first thing we talk about is capital, return on investment, payback and stuff like that,” Hawker said, “Once we have all that out of the way and it’s understood to be a reasonable biz offer, then we get down to talking about carbon” reduction. Taking that tact, said Hawker, is better “than going and talking about what we’re going to do to reduce carbon and softer side of things, because you lose them, but if you start with the financial end of it, you have them on the hook from the beginning.”

A thorough energy audit will point out flagrant air leaks, insulation deficiencies and wasteful lighting, along with HVAC equipment and other systems with high potential for gains. Document what needs fixing, examine utility bills, ask about rebates and discounts, and decide what you can do right away before identifying bigger expenditures.

Dunkin' store

This next generation Dunkin’ store in Knoxville, Tennessee, is among those that are more efficient than even recent, previous builds. The company says its DD Green locations can lower energy usage by more than 30 percent, which can save as much as $10,000 in a single year.

Finding the fruit

The lowest-hanging fruit might be the simplest of all: managing light that enters your store, office or restaurant. Shutters, awnings, automated shades—all are low-tech, old-school upgrades that can improve comfort for everyone on the inside, while having a major impact on heating and cooling costs. The Department of Energy estimates that in the cooling seasons, more than three-fourths of sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows enters the building to become heat—heat you’ll then pay to cool down.

Lighting is another easy one, swapping out incandescent and even CFLs for LED lights. At the franchisor level when designing templates, avoid going crazy with non-LED Edison-style bulbs. In predominantly warm climates, improve your building’s heat shielding properties by whitewashing anything that’s not black with cool roof products. This is now the rule in some municipalities, with a goal of reducing peak energy use and easing the urban heat island effect.

Those in cold climates should make sure windows are unobstructed to allow the maximum amount of daylight filtering in during the winter. Programmable thermostats have gone mainstream in homes, but their potential to save money is even higher in business settings—and there are almost always rebates.

Outside your business, the goal of reducing energy consumption is the same as more cities focus on mitigating the effects of intense weather and disasters. This means thoughtful landscaping that’s functional, not just aesthetic. Rain gardens and bioswales that concentrate stormwater and provide water filtering while recharging groundwater supplies can make your store look more inviting, while reducing the impact of 100-year rains that have become much more frequent.

Dunkin’ down on going green

Dunkin’ exemplifies how a franchise can greenwash the system, with a strong focus on franchisee involvement, feedback and buy-in. Chief Communications and Sustainability Officer Karen Raskopf stresses the company’s work over the last decade is not just window dressing. Employing an all-hands-on-deck approach, Dunkin’ has entirely phased out foam cups, and even worked with competitors and fellow franchisors to pool resources and share successful tactics.

Raskopf said the company wants to do the right thing for the planet, but added there’s also a benefit in terms of customer sentiment, especially among younger consumers.

“If you’re not out there doing things that are going to be better for the planet, I’m not sure you’re that relevant as far as your products or anything else,” she said. “It really casts a halo around your brand to show that you’re interested in the future of our planet.”

Using the foam cup example, she said that specific initiative started years ago, part of the company’s plan to work down what she calls a “heat map” that lists the brand’s best opportunities to lighten its global load.

Its DD Green initiative, which focuses on greener changes to the stores themselves, has lowered energy usage by more than 30 percent compared to non-DD Green locations. That can save more than $10,000 at one store solely through lower utility bills. Its new Next Generation restaurant template goes even further, even surpassing stores built just a handful of years ago. So far, it has 380 DD Green locations, including about 300 that are Next Gen new builds.

For franchisors that haven’t begun similar efforts, Raskopf recommended prioritizing the list of opportunities, and also tailoring initiatives to match the core identity of the brand, in her case coffee on the go. She also advised using the brainpower of franchisees by involving owners every step along the way.

“They’re independent business men and women,” she said of franchisees. “They’re also independent business men and women who care about their communities, and about their customers, and care about their kids and the future of the planet, too.”

The heavy lifting

Only so much efficiency can be found at little or no expense. Considerable gains come from the big-ticket investments, but even here, taking the Earth-friendly route can pencil out over a longer term. Installing better HVAC systems, upgrading coolers and kitchen equipment, installing solar panels and adding permeable parking surfaces are all significant.

At the corporate office, franchisors should hire a chief sustainability officer focused on greening locations in the system. Target and Whole Foods have done this for years, and staff dedicated to this large task is a requirement to maintain focus as seasons (and executive priorities) change.

Just like how younger, urban trees soak up more carbon dioxide than old-growth forests, location plays a big part in the overall efficiency of your business portfolio. If you’re looking to make the biggest impact, put your next location in an urban, walkable neighborhood where staff and customers can use public transit or walk from nearby neighborhoods. There’s nothing greener, more old fashioned or more urbane than that.

Tom Kaiser is a senior editor at Franchise Times and writes about urban tales in franchising in each issue. Send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com

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