Cornell University’s MBA students to help Subway reduce waste

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Subway will be leveraging the expertise of Cornell University’s MBA students to help reduce restaurant waste at its outlets nationwide.

By U2B Staff 

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Food waste is a global problem, with one-third of food items purchased ending up in the trash. One major contributor is the restaurant industry, with recent research saying restaurants toss 85 percent of unused food into rubbish bins instead of donating or recycling it.

Not only does restaurant waste cost the industry US$160 billion annually but as many as 72 percent of consumers say they care about how restaurants manage their waste. To boost, 47 percent of consumers say they are even willing to spend more to eat at a restaurant with an active waste management programme.

Simply put, restaurants willing to commit to such a programme stand to boost both profitability and their sustainability credentials in the highly-competitive F&B sector.


American restaurant franchise Subway is one such company to do that. Last week, the popular fast-food chain announced a partnership with Cornell University as part of continuing efforts to reduce food waste at its outlets nationwide.

Through the Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) Immersion Program, Cornell’s MBA students will develop recommendations to be applied to some 24,000 independently-owned Subway outlets across the country, all with varying local waste removal contracts, as well as differing state and local guidelines.

Subway Vice President for Quality and Sustainability John Scott said the partnership was a great knowledge exchange opportunity for both Cornell students and the industry.

“For the students, it’s a chance to see the challenges and opportunities we face as a global company first hand and explore ways to address those challenges,” he said in a release on the partnership.

“And for Subway, we’re thrilled to get a fresh and unique perspective from the students to help us find a different way to lighten our environmental footprint.”


A team of four Cornell graduate students has already paid visits to Subway restaurants to review existing practises in both front- and back-of-house operations.

They have also surveyed over 2,000 franchise owners on current waste management efforts and conducted extensive industry research. Their findings will be used to inform their recommendations, which the restaurant will implement after conducting feasibility studies.

“We know we will all be learning from this effort and are excited to use the students’ work as a catalyst to drive future change,” said Andrea Seek, Director of Global Sustainability for Subway.

Commenting on the partnership, Cornell SGE Immersion Program Director Professor Mark Milstein said:

“Sustainability is a context for sharpening management decision-making skills, and businesses are in a unique position to address the world’s most pressing problems.

“The SGE Immersion Program emphasises the application of creativity, innovation and critical thinking to solve real business and sustainability problems. Immersing themselves in a business challenge like this one allows our MBA students to hone those skills, while they offer a tremendous resource to companies like Subway.”