Story by Karmen Cheung, contributing author for the PeoplePlanetProfitBlog.com. This year McDonald’s became the first fast food chain to make it onto the EPA’s Top 50 Green Power Purchasers list. Over the last ten years, McDonald’s and other leaders of the fast food industry have made efforts to improve their image through incorporating socially and environmentally responsible strategies into their business models. While fast food restaurants may never be 100% sustainable, there are many ways in which fast food companies can reduce their footprints. Small steps have already been made over the past several years but true impact is still far beyond our reach. Some ideas that fast food industry leaders have started exploring include:
Powering restaurants with green energy
Thirty percent of McDonald’s electricity use at company-owned restaurants comes from wind power and the company is buying 306 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of Green-e certified renewable energy certificates (RECs) annually.
Chipotle announced in 2009 that they would be installing solar panels at approximately 75 of its restaurants. When complete the installations are expected to produce 500 kilowatts of electricity collectively, and make Chipotle the largest direct producer of solar energy in the restaurant industry. Solar panels located on rooftops would not only help restaurants generate enough electricity to power the restaurant in the summer months but would also provide shade to decrease energy demand.
Recycling used cooking oil
The simple recycling of cooking oil to power diesel vehicles will reduce US spending on foreign oil by billions of dollars. Shake Shack, a rapidly growing chain of burger, hot dog and milk shake restaurant, already recycles all of their cooking oil into biofuel. Across the country, other restaurants, including McDonald’s are also slowly starting to adopt this practice.
Reduce impacts of packaging
The amount of packaging used in fast food restaurants has a large impact on the timber, paper and paper packaging industries. According to Dogwood Alliance, Starbucks and McDonald’s have been leaders in promoting sustainable packaging policies. Starbucks has been slowly working towards its goal of providing only reusable or recyclable cups by 2015 and McDonald’s has reduce the paper in its napkins by 21 percent and cut out 84 tons of paper in 2010 by reducing the size of bun tray liners. In October of this year, KFC has also issued a new sustainable packaging policy after two years of pressure from Dogwood Alliance.
LEED certify buildings
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven program that provides third party verification of green buildings. Participation in and international acceptance of LEED has grown rapidly over the past twenty years. Subways already has three LEED certified buildings and KFC opened up its first LEED certified restaurant in Indianapolis last year (this was also the first LEED certified retail building in the state). McDonald’s took the lead in green fast food restaurants recently with their participation in the LEED Volume program in which they pledged to build 25 LEED certified restaurants in the next three years. Burger King has also laid an aggressive strategy to spend three billion dollars on remodeling more than half of its stores to become more energy efficient. The project, known as 20/20 stores are already being designed and rebuilt.
The initiatives mentioned in this article are not meant to be comprehensive in anyway but simply represents a small sampling of projects undertaken by fast food industry leaders.