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QSR Interview

It’s Easier to Be Green
The Holland, Inc. finds great rewards in operating its brand under sustainable practices. CEO Tom Mears explains how.
Tom Mears, CEO of BurgervilleThis is a shortened version of an interview that appears in the March 2007 issue of QSR. To get the full QSR interview delivered to your door twelve times per year, subscribe to QSR.

Tom Mears is the family-appointed CEO of The Holland, Inc., an 80–year–old Pacific Northwest quick-service company known for its commitment to the communities in which it operates. Recently, Mears strengthened that commitment envelope by appointing a chief cultural officer, Jack Graves.

Graves considers himself the steward of the brand and culture of The Holland, Inc. He takes seriously the mandate to create a sustainable restaurant business, one that is good for guests, employees, vendors—and especially, the environment. Holland, known publicly as Burgerville, pays close attention to how it shows up in the world. Its executive team, led by Mears and Graves, cares about stuff like how many acres of land the cattle raised for Burgerville beef graze on.

Of course, Burgerville operates in a corner of the country where being green means something. Its home state, Oregon, seeks to be running on 100-percent renewable energy by the year 2010, and the City of Portland has had an office of sustainability for over 15 years.

Last November, QSR publisher Webb Howell visited with Mears to learn more about this small chain that is attempting to make the planet a greener and better place to live.

You describe yourself as the premier provider of the Pacific Northwest dining experience. What exactly is that?

The three primary things we focus on are local, fresh, and sustainable. We like to talk about extraordinary guest experience, and we apply that to the quality of the food we serve our guests and the kind of service that they get when they are in our restaurants. Ultimately, though, we apply that to the community that we are located in. Everything we do impacts the Pacific Northwest community.

You recently announced that you’ve gone 100-percent wind power. How did you get involved with wind power? How does it work, and how much does it cost?

It’s pretty interesting how we got involved. We have a pretty close relationship with Portland General Electric (PGE), so we were talking with them, and they were telling us what they were doing and how they are working to develop these windmill farms over in central and eastern Oregon. They needed help as far as getting the money to do that, and we saw an opportunity to participate in a way that we could tell the story to other businesses in the area and help other people see the value and join us. Obviously, we do not actually have windmills on our properties, and you can’t see a connection from the windmill out there in central Washington coming in directly to our restaurants, but because we are willing to pay a slight premium for electricity, those additional dollars are going to help develop that infrastructure out there. The power just goes into the grid, and we get our electricity just like everybody else. We are supporting wind-power growth as a green policy.

You made a conscious decision to pay more for something—electricity—simply because it’s better for the environment?

Yeah.

What’s the premium?

I think initially when we started, we were paying approximately a 10-percent premium over the normal rate. In our conversations with PGE, we expect that as time progresses, and they get more of these systems up and running, this premium will break even with other rates. Eventually, it might go lower.

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