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Going green is evolving from a trend to a necessity and plenty of businesses are catching on to the benefits of incorporating sustainable features.
Quick-service operators such as Chick-fil-A, KFC and Subway have recently embraced higher efficiency components. Meanwhile, McDonald's, which began testing carbon footprint-reducing practices across its entire global system in 2007, has a handful of franchisees in its system exploring green innovations.
For example, Cary, N.C., owner/operator Ric Richards installed NovaCharge electric vehicle charging stations at his McDonald's unit in 2009.
Tom Wolf, who owns and operates 14 McDonald's units, also added Level 2 Electric Car Charging Stations to his newest restaurant in Huntington, W. Va., late last year.
Anatomy of a green makeover
A Riverside, Calif., unit operated by McSpi Inc., owned by Tom and Candace Spiel, is the fourth McDonald's in the country to seek LEED certification and turned its Golden Arches green to mark its reopening post-remodel in late 2010.
Its new features include a light-colored hardscape to reduce heat emissions; native drought tolerant plants to reduce water consumption; low-flow plumbing fixtures to reduce water usage; almost 300 photovoltaic panels to generate a percentage of solar energy power; and recycled denim insulation inside the building. (See photos here).
"Tom and I are passionate about the environment and look for ways to incorporate green technologies in our personal and professional lives," said Candace Spiel. "We decided a few years ago to replace (the 1966 building) with a new McDonald's incorporating as many sustainability features as possible. This restaurant is more eco-friendly and serves as an educational forum for residents."
The Spiels, who have been in the McDonald's system since Candace was a crew person and Tom was a manager trainee, now own and operate nine McDonald's restaurants.
The Riverside unit is their only store designed to achieve U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold standards, but it will likely not be their last. Candace said they'll make similar efforts if they remodel another unit or build one from scratch.
So far, they have plenty of motivation to do so.
"Our new restaurant has been well-received by the community and that is the result of which we are most proud," Candace said. "While it is too early to evaluate ROI on the various components, I can say our energy usage and costs have been substantially reduced."
Although these green initiatives came from the Spiels' personal passion for environmental stewardship, they received plenty of guidance from their parent company.
"We worked closely with McDonald's Corporation personnel to take our ideas for this new restaurant and incorporate them into McDonald's building design," Candace said. "They were invaluable in assisting us through the process."
Other franchisees have inquired about the Spiel's process and Candace believes more adopters of eco-friendly components will emerge within the McDonald's family as technology continues to introduce increased efficiencies.
Display provides opportunity for customer interaction
The Spiels didn't want to be the only benefactors of their greening efforts, so they also added an in-store interactive display to educate customers about the restaurant's energy-efficient details.
The display, created by Iowa-based QA Graphics, includes an "Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard" which is anticipated to attain the Innovation in Design green education credit in the LEED certification process. It is the second McDonald's unit to incorporate a QA Graphics display for LEED credit, the first being in Cary, N.C.
"Not only does McDonald's earn an education credit for having this tool, but it's personally important to the Spiels," said Sarah Erdman, marketing director for QA Graphics. "The point of this is to pass this information on to customers. It's bright and fun for kids and it provides details that the general public can understand. LEED certification can be complex, but this has simple information about what makes this building sustainable."
The component was installed in the lobby and features a 42-inch LCD touchscreen, which takes customers on a virtual, 3D tour through both the inside and outside areas of the restaurant.
During the tour, different icons can be selected to learn about the sustainable features implemented at the restaurant. For example, visitors can see that there are photovoltaic panels located on the carports outside and watch a demonstration to understand how the photovoltaic system works.
Other demos explain how Solatubes, solar hot water panels and porous pavers function at the restaurant. Information is displayed about the LED lighting and signage, recycled glass tile, EcoResin panels and rapidly renewable bamboo used throughout the dining area, as well as explanations about what materials are made from recycled items, such as the countertops, floor tiles and ceiling tiles.
The display is much more than a LEED credit, providing community information such as bus routes, bike paths, events and more.
It also tracks real-time data to show how much energy is being output by the new green features. Candace said customers who experiment with the display typically have a "wow" reaction.
"From small children to senior citizens, this interactive display is used frequently," Candace said. "Because it is easy to use and navigate, whatever the level of our customers' computer skills, they are able to use the display to learn about the restaurant's sustainability features and how they can positively impact our environment with small changes in their daily lives."
Click below to view the live application from QA Graphics' interactive display at the Riverside, Calif. McDonald's:
Alicia Kelso /
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.