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Subway builds ‘labs’ to turn greener


KISSIMMEE Fla. In a test of green practices’ feasibility for a large chain, Subway is using three franchised restaurants as laboratories for developing ecofriendly procedures and materials that could be rolled across the 28,000-unit, 86-country chain.

The first so-called eco-store debuted here Nov. 5, and two more were opened in December in Oregon. Subway is trying to qualify the three for a prized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation, a distinction bestowed by the U.S. Green Building Council on structures that meet a rigid set of criteria.

Subway is viewing the eco-stores not as potential prototypes but as experimental facilities for testing and refining potential green initiatives, according to Elizabeth Stewart, marketing director for Subway. The plan, she said, is to observe the locations for a year to see how the greener practices mesh with Subway's own operations.

“They kind of serve as a laboratory for what’s working and what’s not,” Stewart said. What are deemed best practices would trickle down to franchisees.

However, she said, more eco-stores are in various stages of development, including one in Louisiana.

“Not all of our stores are the same,” said Les Winograd, a spokesman for the Milford, Conn.-based chain. “What works in a city or town or state might not work in another.”

Asked if an ecologically friendly format like that of the eco-stores could be offered as an option to franchisees, Stewart said, “It’s a little too early to tell, since the first store was open since November.”

In any case, she said, the franchisor first wants to explore such issues as reducing energy use, water consumption and waste output, while comparing the return on any investment that would be required for a retrofit of Subway’s current store designs.

The eco-stores were designed with the goals of operating more efficiently and were built with what Subway describes as cost-effective ecofriendly materials inside and out. The restaurants are furnished with energy-efficient equipment that cuts down the use of electricity, officials said.

The stores' atmospheric temperatures are controlled with high-efficiency heating and dual-zone air conditioning, and there is an emphasis on monitoring air quality and such factors as temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide emissions. The restaurants feature nontoxic paints and adhesives and recycled building materials, such as the ceiling tiles.

An important piece to introducing new best practices is to make sure that it did not spell "drastically different" for franchisees.

The stores have solar-tube skylights that allow daylight to pass through into the public areas, and are equipped with high-efficiency lighting fixtures and lamps, with compact light bulbs.

Looking at the woodwork trim used in the eco-stores, Stewart said, “You wouldn’t know it’s made from recycled fiber. It looks just like the molding in the other stores."

“That’s one of the neat things,” Winograd said. “A lot of people have been thinking over the years that ‘green’ or ‘ecofriendly’ is going to mean something funky or weird. What we were able to do is show our franchisees that it’s just like any other Subway store, except for where you get the product from.”

But some things are different in a good way, and customers are taking notice, the officials indicated. Stewart said she heard anecdotally from one of the managers that the new lighting is getting some attention.

"I don’t think they had any issues," Stewart said about building the eco-stores with green components. "It has to have same functionality. We're not giving up anything on quality here. It has to [provide] cost savings or [a] cost-neutral solution, and they’re out there."

The officials described the eco-stores as one part of the chain’s greening efforts. The chain has also been pursuing such actions as relocating redistribution centers and boosting the volume of store deliveries to reduce gas consumption. It is also looking at the exclusive use of recycled packaging materials, napkins, cups and cutlery.

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