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Tina Casey headshot

How Fast Food Could Push the Affordable, Sustainable Building Envelope

By Tina Casey
Sustainable Building

The fast food sector has taken its share of lumps for cultivating a wasteful, throwaway culture. Still, chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks have enough purchasing power to help steer the global economy on a more sustainable course. That could even extend to the sustainable building market, with social as well as environmental benefits.

Sustainable building pays off in more ways than one

The sustainable building trend is most often associated with saving energy, but there are other benefits as well.

In commercial markets, prestige and work-life quality can easily tip the scales in favor of a sustainable building.

Back in 2016, the firm Bentall Kennedy ran the numbers on the performance of office buildings according to rent, occupancy, and tenant satisfaction scores. Those with a third-party green certification scored measurably better than those without.

With enough momentum, a focus on sustainable building can also contribute to an entire city’s sustainability profile, helping to attract new business while contributing to an overall improvement in urban carbon emissions.

The sustainable building of the future: more, faster, better

It’s easy to associate the sustainable building trend with premium materials and artisanal accents, leading to higher up-front costs and longer construction times. However, that is not necessarily true in all cases.

The up-and-coming sustainable building firm Nexii, for example, has developed a business model that addresses the need for a rapid transition into more sustainable buildings.

Nexii is becoming best known for its proprietary alternative building material, called Nexiite. The company claims that Nexiite production involves less embodied carbon than concrete, partly because it contains no lime or Portland cement.

That is only part of company’s sustainability plan. Nexii has developed a modular, factory-built, flat-pack delivery system that it claims can reduce construction time by up to 75 percent.

In addition to easing the disruption to neighbors during construction, the sharply reduced time frame can also help reduce carbon emissions related to construction worker travel to and from the site.

The modular system also enables Nexii to trim on-site construction waste down to the bone, with a further improvement in emissions related to transporting and disposing construction debris.

The Nexii system also addresses other issues that can drive up costs for conventional buildings, including weather-related construction delays, commodity price spikes, and shortages of manual and professional labor.

Rapid growth for a sustainable building company

Nexii has already caught the eye of investors, partly thanks to construction projects in the fast food area.

Last year, Nexii raised a new Starbucks drive-through store in British Columbia (shown above) in only six days. The company anticipates a 30 percent energy savings over conventional buildings, based on the thermal qualities of Nexiite and what the company describes as a tightly sealed building envelope.

Nexii also built a new Popeyes restaurant in Canada earlier this year, and in less than two weeks. It also lists the company A&W among its clients.

The company has also linked up with two leading engineering firms that indicate plans to embrace the market for new fast-food facilities and other smaller commercial buildings.

Honeywell is one of the firms. Last month, Nexii tapped Honeywell as its exclusive building technologies supplier, with a focus on energy savings and operational efficiencies.

"The companies will integrate Nexii expertise in high-performance and efficient building systems with the Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator powered by Honeywell Forge, an affordable and scalable building portfolio management system designed specifically for small- to medium-sized buildings,” Honeywell explained.

“More than 90 percent of the U.S. commercial building stock consists of properties under 50,000 square feet, and most of these buildings lack a proper building management system to manage energy usage,” Honeywell added. “The Honeywell Small and Medium Building Administrator enables multi-site businesses to drive smarter building operations and meet compliance requirements.”

How the fast food sector can push market for affordable green homes

The other new partner also indicates a focus on the fast food area. Last week, Nexii announced that it is bringing on Trane to be the “exclusive North America heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) supplier for new, sustainable buildings constructed by Nexii including retail stores and restaurants.”

Gregor Robertson, Nexii’s executive vice president, strategy and partnerships, explained that “bringing together our breakthrough, airtight building solutions with Tranes highly-efficient HVAC systems means our clients can commit to even greater energy savings and more significant sustainability commitments.”

Although Nexii appears to be focused on the commercial buildings market at present, the partnerships with Honeywell and Trane could hint at broader plans that eventually include the residential market.

That could make all the difference as the U.S. housing market faces a crisis of historic proportions, as the need for affordable housing collides with the need for the more sustainable building of the future.

Fast food establishments have provided Nexii with a foot in the rapid-construction sustainable building door. The next moves are up to Nexii, but it looks the stock of green homes in the U.S. could grow more quickly in the future.

As for McDonald’s, the company is not listed among Nexii’s clients yet. However, at the beginning of this year McDonald’s announced plans to build 500 new stores in the U.S., towards a total of 1,300 globally. Considering the company’s growing interest in LEED construction, it wouldn’t be surprising if McDonald’s takes a dip into the Nexiite pool.

Image credit: Nexii

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey