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Subway goes with a green agenda

The chain made money with weight loss. Now it will promote energy efficiency and recycling.

Those little things add up, says Tony Pace, senior vice president of marketing at Subway.

The company switched from buying plastic cutlery made from polystyrene to polypropylene, he noted. The switch saves about 100,000 pounds of resin a year, which translates to 2,800 barrels of oil saved and 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide not ejected into the atmosphere, he said.

The chain hands out roughly 400,000 pieces of cutlery a day.

It also switched to polypropylene for its cups. That saves about 515,000 pounds of resin, or 10, barrels of oil saved.

Expect to hear about more green messages and initiatives from Subway. The chain has grown rapidly in recent years by promoting itself as a healthy alternative to other fast food outlets. The strategy has worked. Subway now has 28,000 outlets worldwide, more than McDonald's, it says (although McDonald's claims more than 30,000 restaurants). Green resonates with consumers, so the company will promote it more.

These initiatives can also reduce costs. The company now stores more inventory closer to its outlets. The program has cut diesel consumption by about 1.6 million gallons annually.

One initiative the company will closely watch is a new eco outlet in Kissimmee, Fla. The recently opened outlet sports LED lighting, low-water plumbing fixtures, sensors that flip on the lights in the bathroom only when people are actually present, and passive cooling (i.e., using wind rather than air conditioning).

The ovens also come with variable control fans to cut down air conditioning. The store has been open about five weeks. While it's too early to draw any distinct conclusions, power consumption at the outlet is less than normal and the franchise owner says that customer response has been strongly positive. Thus, there could be a revenue boost from the switch. Subway will compare the performance with the store with a regular one a few blocks away.

Making a building LEED certified, it turns out, isn't nearly as expensive as you might think. Greg Reitz of ReThink Development and Ted van der Linden of the U.S. Green building council told me it adds only about 2 percent to the cost of the building.

And on the food side, you might see hormone-free turkey. It's a matter of locking up supply commitments.