For all the clever titles in business—from chief happiness offers to chief troublemakers—the one your brand actually needs is a chief sustainability officer. There are more than 300,000 franchise locations in the U.S., which means franchising can make an enormous positive impact if brands take major steps to improve the sustainability of their locations.

The reasons for going green should now be obvious. Mega-brands like Target, Whole Foods, Wendy’s, Panera and Nike (among so many others) have dedicated significant resources toward reducing negative environmental impacts, setting up more responsible supply chains and committing to cleaner energy sources and reduced trash outflows.

Where to begin? First of all, improving your environmental scorecard cannot be a flash in the pan. Hire a C-level officer whose entire job is working across departments to coordinate efforts to reduce your brand’s environmental impact from the ground up. Aside from a dedicated role, make sure everyone from the corner offices down to store employees are on the same page.

Good ideas are all around if you know where to look. Ask for everyone in your organization to contribute good ideas. Some will cost, but others will save money—and reducing the already-scary climate consequences should be worth any price. If you need to foster some additional buy-in, look at intergenerational polling for a reminder that young people, in particular, care intensely about sustainability when choosing where to spend their money. Dust off those long-term thinking caps.

Once you’ve created a plan, get working on the essentials: energy conservation, green energy sourcing, reducing parking lot runoff and filtering rainwater on site. Trash needs to be a major part of the plan, as well, focusing first on reducing and reusing, not just recycling. Take whatever opportunities you can find to reduce the use of plastic, which makes sense with the barrage of news that whales and humans are ingesting scary amounts of microplastics on a daily basis.

Next, dive into your supply chain. Where does everything come from? What are the negative externalities for those workers, firms or ecosystems that supply your brand? Do you need to ship materials from overseas or are their options closer to home? Ensure sure there are no “forever chemicals” in anything you source or sell.

As the self-proclaimed Urbane Franchisor, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that dense urban development almost always comes in at a lighter environmental cost than suburban, sprawl-y development surrounded by acres of non-permeable parking lots where everybody must drive to your location. Real estate is an incredibly important part of the equation and should be a major priority in designing a more sustainable franchise system.

There’s no stopping this global shift toward environmentally sound practices. Don't wait for the regulatory world to set the pace. As we gear up for another season of tornados, floods, hurricanes and wildfires, expect public sentiment to shift even faster toward these goals. This moment is your brand’s chance to be on the right side of history. Franchising’s strength is in numbers, so let’s harness that scale to do the right thing.


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