Can McDonald’s and “Best of Green” be in the same sentence? At first it sounds like the mockumentary sequel to Best in Show. After all, those big golden arches are not only easy to see from the road, they are still, to critics, a figurative symbol of a dubious food supply, sprawl and our disposable society. The company is slow to change, too. Not only does it take a new item forever to appear on the menu, but ideas to make the company a more sustainable company are slow to catch on even if they are still just a dream.
But McDonald’s is changing. More of its locations are actually pleasant and even edgy, have wifi and are not the drab plastic prisons in which some of us spent our teenage years. On other fronts some catching up is still in order, as with its hazardous attempts at social media campaigns that have left its marketers’ faces as red as those strawberry sundaes. Across the pond in the United Kingdom, the company’s about face and re-about face on sourcing local chicken draw exasperated cries in London and beyond. But around the world, some interesting projects are occurring on waste, energy and green building. Here are a few:
Energy efficiency in Japan: In the wake of Japanese cities’ - such as Osaka - struggle with electricity demands in a post-Fukushima Japan, McDonald’s restaurants in Japan’s second largest city are becoming smarter. A combination of 13 different energy-saving technologies including solar power, cogeneration waste heat and heat-shielding paint decreased carbon emissions by over 20 percent.
Wind power in the U.S.: You will not see wind turbines soaring above those golden arches anytime soon, but McDonald’s has committed to matching 30 percent of the electricity at its company-owned stores with renewable energy credits (RECs) from American wind power providers. Some may scoff at the purchase of RECs, but that is a still a surprising commitment from the world’s largest fast food chain.
Reduced packaging in Europe. Anyone who has eaten a McDonald’s salad often wonders what the point of that exercise was with all that plastic waste. The company’s Europe division worked with a supplier to eliminate the plastic lid and create a new box that reduced the amount of non-renewable materials by over 85 percent. Another carton developed for large sandwiches included a decreased amount of raw materials, but used mostly Forest Stewardship Council-certified materials and included an un-McDonald’s-like environmental message. Finally, as McCafe becomes more popular on the Continent, a new double-walled up now uses 40 percent recycled materials.
Remaking opportunity in Brazil: Companies and municipalities around the world have a relentless love affair with those vinyl promotional banners, but they often end up in a landfill after that holiday, museum exhibit or promotion has ended. In Brazil, the company works with the Remaking Project to fashion that tarp into promotional items. Over 6000 banners have been churned into 20,000 pieces and 32 families have found a reliable way to make a living.
Plenty of other energy efficiency and waste diversion projects are occurring throughout the world, and overall they are impressive. Naturally the question many McDonald’s observers will ask is: why not roll them out company wide? The challenges of both persuading skeptical franchise workers and engaging employees are pesky ones, but the company’s reputation and the environment would both be a lot better off if these initiatives scaled.
Photo of Remaking Project items courtesy McDonald’s.