In this Q&A, managing director Liam Dowd talks with John C. Scott, VP – global food safety, quality & sustainability at Subway, about the restaurant chain’s SDG targets, climate ambitions and opportunities for the next 12-18 months

In the build-up to the Responsible Business Summit New York, I talked with one of our speakers, John C. Scott, about Subway’s SDG and climate ambitions as well as the company’s work to engage and empower suppliers to assist its ambitions.

Q. What is your role?

A. As Subway’s Global Vice President of Food Safety, Quality & Sustainability, my role includes overseeing the supplier approval process, product specification development, customer care and social impact programs. For our social impact programs, I work with our procurement organizations and business units to set policies and goals that ensure we are a responsible business. That means being responsible to everyone Subway touches from our guests, to our franchise restaurant owners to the local communities where Subway restaurants operate.

Q. Is your business integrating the SDGs into the business strategy? And can you share any ambitions for 2019 around particular SDGs?

A. While we do not regularly present our strategies in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals language, our social purpose plan targets areas where we are able to have a positive impact. In particular, three SDGs – that of Zero Hunger, of Decent Work and Economic Growth, and of Responsible Consumption and Production – are areas where our business is contributing to positive change.

For example:

• We have made strides to help small farmers in Central America learn and implement more sustainable agricultural practices. This helps them earn higher incomes while creating a higher-quality, safer food supply for our restaurants and guests. In 2019, we’ll be expanding this program in Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia.

• Like many restaurant chains, we have been eliminating or reducing the amounts of materials needed to deliver our sandwiches to guests. We’ve eliminated millions of pounds of potential waste from landfills by redesigning our packaging. We’ve also converted nearly all our packaging to being sourced from renewable materials and/or being recyclable – while ensuring our products are presented safely and cleanly to avoid food waste. In 2019, we plan to continue to explore technologies for hard-to-recycle products (like lined cups for coffee and other beverages) and to investigate ways to reward guests for choosing to avoid waste (i.e. loyalty awards when making greener choices).

Subway has redesigned its packaging to be mostly recyclable. (Credit: TY Lim/Shutterstock)

Q. Do you feel companies are taking ambitious enough action on climate change?

A. Most businesses in the restaurant or consumer goods sectors have made great strides in reducing their greenhouse gas footprints. Reducing unnecessary energy or materials cuts costs, and most companies have understood it makes good business sense to be responsible.

At Subway, we’ve tackled the issue on many fronts. We’ve reduced packaging and ensured that what is still in use is recyclable, and sourced from renewables. We have reduced transportation impacts by setting up supply areas closer to their end destinations. We have cut water usage through good restaurant design and careful management. And, we try to procure ingredients locally whenever possible, through our growing network of small farm partners.

I believe the next wave of action will be driven not by customers or regulators, but by employees who want to work for companies that are striving to make a positive difference. While the first wave of action may have been consumer-led, the next will be interwoven with the desire to attract and maintain the best talent to help a business succeed.

Q. In your opinion, what is the main barrier in achieving the Paris Agreement?

A. As a private company, our policy is to not comment on or advocate for political outcomes, but we hope that Subway sets a good example by being a conscientious global citizen.

John C. Scott: 'Our social purpose plan targets areas where we are able to have a positive impact.'

Q. What do you see as being the single most exciting opportunity for your organization in 2019?

A. I am very excited about the work we are doing with small farmers in emerging markets to enable them to build viable businesses, providing good, stable incomes and giving them the confidence to invest in the right food safety and quality systems.

The programs we’ve created to support smaller farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador are proving to be models for us to work in other parts of the globe. They are examples of how Subway can create multiple economic and social benefits for many stakeholders in the supply chain.

Q. In March you will be speaking at the Responsible Business Summit New York – why is it important for you and your business to be at this event, outlining the need for business to take the lead on societal and environmental issues?

A. With more than 20,000 franchise-owned locations around the globe, we are integrated into communities, supply chains and environments in many ways. We are seeking to engage with communities in different ways at global, regional and local levels to have the greatest chance of making a positive social impact. We are at RBS NYC to share stories of interesting and worthwhile actions, hoping both to inspire others with our experiences and also to learn from what other leaders are doing.

John C. Scott will be speaking at Ethical Corporation's Responsible Business Summit New York (March 18-19, New York). John will join 500+ CEOs, investors and heads of business to share practical ideas on how business can take the lead and accelerate action on social and environmental issues.

Main picture credit: Subway



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