Subway's Climate-Friendly Program Comes With A Major Caveat

While food is a necessary (and delicious) part of our everyday life, there's no question that restaurants make an impact on the environment. Research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that dining spots contribute significantly to air pollution in their immediate areas due to the exhaust generated from their kitchens, according to the Association of American Universities. And a 2019 Japanese study found that higher carbon footprints among families correlated with higher consumption of alcohol, sugary foods, and restaurant meals (via EurekAlert!).

However, all hope is not lost, and there are measures that hospitality operators can take to reduce their carbon emissions. OpenTable recommends partnering with suppliers that use sustainable and ethical methods, buying in bulk from local producers, and choosing environmentally-friendly packaging. Gloria Food also advises restaurants to reduce food waste by improving inventory management, offering more plant-based menu items, and using less water. And these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Subway has been on a transformation journey, and that appears to include decreasing its ecological footprint and conserving the earth. The company implemented its own sustainability plan because it states that it believes in the importance of combating climate change and its effects through measures based on science. Although the sandwich chain has taken steps in the right direction, its program comes with its fair share of criticisms.

Subway relies partly on franchisees for sustainability

Subway's sustainability program states that it's helping franchisees and suppliers adopt the technological advances necessary to minimize their energy usage and emissions while it studies how to properly assess these issues and address them. This is a step in the right direction, but aside from being a little vague, The Spoon points out that this policy puts most of the burden on franchisees' shoulders to make changes.

And it turns out that the fast-food company hasn't always had the best relationship with its franchise operators. In 2021, a group of them banded together to write an open letter to Subway owner Elisabeth Deluca, claiming the company did not allow them to source high-quality tuna — which has faced claims of being fake – or get fresh produce daily, among other allegations. A scathing segment on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" detailed how Subway allows its franchisees to open stores near each other, thus creating competition while increasing the corporation's profits (via Rolling Stone).

When it comes to sustainability practices, it's a little murky as to how exactly the company helps franchisees. Subway's corporate commitment states that it believes employing good and ecologically-friendly business initiatives leads to great profitability for its franchise operators as well as other results. It also gives an overview of its environment-related policies and measures, such as helping franchisees with restaurant design for waste reduction, but there may be room to grow when helping these stakeholders.