McDonald’s Presses Energy Efforts

With all the economic turmoil in the headlines these days, McDonald’s Corp.’s sales growth has stood out like a shining beacon. But perhaps the story behind the story is more about the company’s investment in reducing operating costs: In 2008 alone, the Oak Brook, Ill., burger giant opened four more test stores—one each in Chicago, Paris, Quebec and Sao Paolo, Brazil—to track energy and water savings in real-time.

McDonald’s six such test restaurants—including a similarly outfitted one opened in Umea, Sweden, in ’00 and one opened in Savannah, Ga., in ’05—are part of a three-pronged initiative aimed at reducing energy and water costs. The second prong is the McDonald’s Energy All-Star recognition program, which highlights enviro-friendly innovations and best practices within the company. And the third prong is a policy that requires suppliers to improve their business operations to improve energy and water use, waste/recycling and air pollution levels. (The three initiatives are spelled out at the Corporate Responsibility section of McDonald’s Web site,

Energy conservation is nothing new for the company. The first major McDonald’s thrust in the energy arena traces back to the 1970s, when the company opened its Commercial Kitchen Ventilation lab in Wood Dale, Ill., in response to the first oil crisis. (The facility today is owned and operated by Architectural Energy Corp. under a licensing agreement with Fisher-Nickel Inc. and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.) Since then, McDonald’s has introduced one utility-saving or environmental initiative after another. And in ’07, the company not only was among the first restaurant firms to join the U.S. Green Building Council, but it also was named an Energy Star Partner of the Year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for decreasing CO2 emissions by 200,000 tons and energy use by more than 3.75% at company-owned stores.

Testing One, Two, Three, More…
Continuing that pursuit of energy efficiency, the Chicago unit opened last August is wired throughout with sensors, part of an energy management system that can automatically control and monitor functions of the HVAC system, lighting and more.

"The energy management system goes beyond tracking energy use," said John Rockwell, lead quality manager of restaurant design for McDonald’s USA and a key player in the development of the Chicago test store. "It also controls all of the building lighting and the mechanical heating and air conditioning equipment. The system can be operated on site and remotely." The extensive equipment package at the Chicago "learning laboratory" won’t likely be duplicated in other restaurants, Rockwell noted.

The location’s high-efficiency features include a heat exchanger that uses condenser heat; high-efficiency interior lighting with skylights and daylight controls; LED lighting for exterior signage and the parking lot; and ultra low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures. Among other sustainable attributes: low-VOC paints, sealants and flooring composites for interior; a permeable parking lot pavement and a rain garden; a vegetated rooftop; and wind-power purchases through renewable energy credits that cover 35% of energy demand.

The Chicago test store is notable for another reason, too. It was built in collaboration with the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Retail Portfolio Pilot for volume builds. And it’s that volume-build aspect that will be especially important for large multiunit operators moving forward.

Volume building will allow McDonald’s and others "to build similar restaurants in the future without need for further verification from USGBC after three restaurants and the processes have been certified," Rockwell said. (See sidebar for more details.) The Chicago store has applied for LEED Gold certification.

Brazil, Canada, France And Beyond
In addition to the Chicago unit, the two other test units opened last year in Brazil and Canada also were built to LEED standards. The fourth, opened in Paris, followed France’s HQE program—Haute Qualite Environnementale des Betiments.

This year and next should see even more LEED-certified McDonald’s restaurants opened in numerous countries around the world, company officials say. Stay tuned.

You ‘LEED,’ We’ll Follow
LEED certification for chain restaurants such as McDonald’s Corp. will never be a cookie-cutter process, since no two sites are the same. Still, recognizing that there are more similarities than differences in multiunit construction, the U.S. Green Building Council is working to streamline the process through its new Portfolio Program.

The pilot program, which is expected to make its official launch this fall, will focus on volume certification for multiunit operators. The program is designed to be cost-effective while maintaining LEED’s rigorous green building standards.

For full information or to submit an online expression of interest, log on to the USGBC Web site and enter the words "Portfolio Program" in the search box.

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