Seven Tips to Running a Legally Sustainable Franchise
Sustainability isn’t just about your products, but how you operate and deliver them.
Most franchisors, when they hear the word “sustainability,” naturally think of the farm-to-table menus sweeping the country. However, there is another side of sustainability that’s equally important: assuring that the paper products and packaging used to deliver your products are sustainable; in other words, created with minimal impact on the environment.
Traditionally, sustainable packaging has been a secondary focus of busy franchisees. But today, because it is tangibly associated with the franchise, customers are increasingly questioning it. And, it is something they can influence with their buying decision. If customers feel you are irresponsible in sourcing your packaging, they may cease giving you their business, no matter how great your products or prices.
How do you assure that you’re sustainable and compliant? Preferably, you would talk to each of your paper and packaging suppliers. You’d ask them where they get their products, trace them back to their original source and make sure that each link of the chain is sustainable.
However, that’s impractical for most of us. It’s much easier to follow these seven tips:
For a long time, franchisors’ decisions have been focused on what happens to their product packaging once discarded. But more recently, consumers are increasingly basing purchasing decisions on the traceability and sustainability of products and packaging throughout the entire supply chain. At the core, consumers want assurance that their packaging is from a legal, acceptable and sustainably managed source. As traceability is both an environmental and an ethical issue, franchisors need to adapt their sourcing to provide customers greater supply chain transparency from field to procurement to transport to end-of-life.
Location, location, location. In the United States, you must follow the Lacey Act. Revised in 2008, the act now requires businesses to prove they conducted “due care” to document that their paper and packaging purchases were legal.
How can a business prove “due care?” There is no U.S. government stamp that marks products as Lacey Act compliant. However, any imported paper product is considered compliant if it is certified as legal in the country in which it was made.
For example, you should buy only paper and packaging products made in Indonesia when they have “SVLK” certification, meaning that the government of Indonesia has examined and verified the legality of the supply chain and manufacturing of this paper. Similarly, you should only buy paper or packaging products from China when they have China Forest Certification Council government certification. In the European Union, there are the European Union Timber Regulations, which, like the U.S. Lacey Act, require companies to exercise “due diligence” to avoid the use of illegal paper products. Any E.U. company that buys a paper product must know its timber origin (country of harvest), species, quantity and have details on who supplied it.
Rely on neutral, non-profit organizations to conduct certification auditing for you. These organizations verify whether sustainability certification standards are being upheld, and then provide certifications of sustainable products and companies. Examples of non-profits advancing forest certification include:
FSC − The Forestry Stewardship Council, considered the most stringent certification standard, was created by environmental and community leaders in the 1990s.
PEFC − The Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification is the world’s largest forestry certification program. It is an umbrella group that works with national and large forestry certification programs to create a global certification program.
SFI − The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a U.S. forestry certification program, is under the PEFC umbrella.
CSA − The Canadian Standards Association, Canada’s forestry certification program, is also under the PEFC umbrella.
Today, franchises must consider products derived from renewable resources, be it recycled or plantation-grown fiber from quick-growing trees, waste wheat chaff or other materials. For example, paper and board packaging can be made from virgin fiber sustainably sourced from renewable plantations. Certain equatorial climates in particular are optimal for accelerated tree growth and shortened maturity cycles for tree harvesting.
Customers want clearer labeling instructions on how to manage various packaging components after use. Many companies have responded by improving on-package labeling, supported by Internet and mobile app communications that provide consumers access to better information faster, while providing franchises with invaluable channels to engage their consumers.
Traditionally, reusable packaging isn’t the first concern of franchisors, but more recently, reusable packaging for to-go products is attracting increasing interest among consumers who appreciate the additional, tangible and “greener” value they derive once food is consumed. In 2011, Pizza Hut introduced a multi-use pizza box in Costa Rica; cleverly, the box breaks down into plates, and a smaller box for leftovers.
The fight to reduce food waste continues to be important, with such groups as the Natural Resources Defense Council approximating that 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. Perhaps composting food scraps, switching to a new type of packaging to help food stay fresh longer or simply making it easier for consumers to remove all food products from the container could all help reduce waste. Based on a recent Mintel survey, it is clear that consumers agree: 92 percent of respondents indicated a preference for packaging that helps food retain freshness and 80 percent noted a preference for resealable packaging.
You may think that you don’t have the time for a little research into your supply chain, but your customers will. Track the sustainability of your packaging and paper products now, before your customers do; they could perhaps uncover bad news that could damage your business.
Ian Lifshitz is the sustainability director for the Americas for Asia Pulp & Paper Group, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies that is responsible for delivering quality products to meet the growing global demand for tissue, packaging and paper. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.