How Green Can McDonald’s Go Before It Has to Face Its Food Problem?

Few people would argue that fast food is traditionally “green”, despite the slew of gourmet green fast food restaurants that have popped up recently. But Inhabitat’s coverage of student-designed biodegradable packaging brings up an interesting point: how green can fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King actually ever be?

The student-designed packaging has yet to be implemented by McDonald’s, but there are plenty of examples of traditional fast food restaurants trying to become more sustainable. A Carl’s Jr. in California is outfitted with a solar roof and LED lights. A Chipotle in Illinois features a six-kilowatt wind turbine. A LEED-certified Dunkin’ Donuts in Florida uses energy-efficient insulated concrete foam walls. And yes, a McDonald’s in Chicago has a green roof and a pavement that filters rainwater.
These are great innovations for the restaurant chains in question, and should be heartily supported. But at a certain point it becomes glaringly obvious that the centerpiece of their operations–food–is seriously unsustainable. Boutique fast food restaurants and even small chains like Burgerville can work out deals with local farmers to get sustainably-produced items, but it’s a different story for the major industry players. They are, at least, pretending to be sustainable–a 2007 McDonald’s billboard in Chicago featured growing lettuce plants that spell out “fresh salads”–but asking each individual chain restaurant to seek out local, organic food sources is near impossible.
Fast food chains could at least take a small step by offering select organic items, but at the moment it’s hard to see why they would bother. Burger King and McDonald’s have no trouble attracting customers with their watery vegetables and factory-fed meet, so they probably won’t seek out new suppliers.
Still, green building efforts should not entirely be discounted–fast food restaurants occupy hundreds of millions of buildings around the world, and could collectively save untold amounts of energy. For information on which restaurants are taking steps in the right direction, check out Greenopia’s fast food ratings.