Sustainability in Middle America: How Green Franchises Can Build a Better Business World

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A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend The Franchise Expo, a huge expo that winds its way across America and Canada each year offering up an array of franchise opportunities.

The franchise model holds a lot of promise to aspiring business owners: many people know they want to work for themselves, but don’t quite know what that job looks like or how to start it. Starting a franchise is a potentially easier way to own a business, but with the head start of a successful business model and a template to follow.

This is, in fact, the motto behind The Franchise Expo:

“Choose Your Future! Hamster wheels and daily grinds are so 2014. This year, choose your future, make a bold move, and invest in a franchise. Franchise ownership lets you jump into the corner office and grow a business that already has successful – and proven – roots.”

logoAnd the two weekends spent at the Franchise Expo proved this point– most attendees I spoke with said they were looking for something new, looking to create a legacy for their family, and wanted to be their own boss. And in many ways, the franchise model offers that and potentially more. There were about 100 businesses on display at the shows, but there was a theme that I noticed from the first day: where are all the green franchises?

While there was a wide variety of companies at the Expo, many of them are very business-as-usual: focused only on the bottom line, not concerned at all about the social, ecological or physical implications of their business model. The franchises on offer included multiple pizza chains, subs, wings, printing services, on-demand coffee machines, restaurants, work-from-home models and gas stations. And while it could be argued that there is still a need for this type of business, I was disappointed to see only a handful of companies that were even tentatively working towards a greener, more sustainable future.

Very few of the companies on display met the triple bottom line model of people, planet, AND profit. So many of the businesses at the Franchise Expo are based on unsustainable practices– reliance on fossil fuels, built around factory farmed animal products, and producing goods with little to no sustainability consciousness, like printing companies, windshield wiper production, cell phone repair, and junk hauling services.

The problem is not that these companies exist; the problem is that running these businesses as a franchise model ensures that the franchisee would be locked into the business model as is.

This means that even if the franchisee finds a better, more sustainable way to run the business locally, he or she is now committed to this unhealthy business model, and must continue to exploit resources and maintain a business that is not doing good. The way franchise law is set up, the person buying the franchise usually has absolutely no power over the business model in any way–they can’t change the product, source inputs, supply chain impacts, marketing, signage…in other words, they become financially married to factory farmed products and fossil fuels. One can only imagine that this is why dumb, regressive policies that support factory farms and fossil fuels resonate with people–it’s because their livelihood depends on it.

Are franchisors working on integrating sustainability?

There are so many ways to green a business, and as I walked around talking to the exhibitor companies, I found that most of them knew some of the buzzwords about sustainability, but gave very vague, seemingly canned answers to questions about recycled paper, health concerns, or sourcing of products.

Some of the businesses on display at the Expo:


360 Clean: Cleaning services for offices. Their ‘Green Seal’ cleaning services description is super vague and seems to offer little true environmentally friendly options for cleaning.


Render Ad Services offers a bunch of swag bag fodder and office gifts– all throwaway items created without any eco-friendly options.


Boneheads, a restaurant appealing to the ‘healthy lifestyle segment’ of the population offers fish and chicken, both of which are face their own sustainability challenges.


Offering donuts and other comfort foods, their signage speaks to the ‘gourmet, fresh, natural’ vibe, but their menu reflects something totally different, and it’s primarily based on animal foods and processed grains.


A fancy machine to make coffee from proprietary ‘milk powder,’ sugar and fresh ground beans. All served in a one-time use, disposable cup.


A franchise based on petrochemicals: can’t get much worse than that.


Sprint, a pretty good brand (compared to their industry peers like AT&T that are among the worst corporate citizens in the world), but not exactly focused on sustainability either.


This was one of the very few options with a better business model: fresh fruit smoothies and quick meals, all with vegan Gardein options for the veggie folks out there. Nothing organic, but definitely making an effort to be healthier.


Branded soda machines, so that you can bring obesity and sugar addiction into your office.


A menu for a cheesesteak franchise: when I asked the exhibitor about sourcing for their meat, he danced around the issue of grass-fed, natural, hormone-free buzzwords and said, ‘we do it when we can.’ To me this seems like some serious corporate greenwashing. They did have a yummy looking veggie option though, so they get points for that.


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Pono Home commits to offering the greenest franchise for aspiring business owners across the country with their home efficiency services.

Other companies on offer throughout the various expos include 7-11 stores, Dunkin’ Donuts, burger restaurants, haircutting services, insect mitigation, tax services, HR services and pizza restaurants. It’s so clear that we need to see a shift towards more green franchises. So few businesses at the franchise show are working making a difference in the world, but as Pono Home states in their Facebook post above, there need to be more options so that we can build a business community that is focused on progressive change– instead of being indebted to fossil fuel-based industries.

And these changes are GOOD for business! Not only are consumers demanding more green businesses, it’s great for PR, and usually saves companies money in the long run. There is a lot of evidence showing that green business is good business, and there’s no reason the franchises should not take advantage of this! Greening the franchise world will help improve people and planet– while still making a profit.


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