Reduce your emissions: McDonald's goes green with a new type of store

McDonald's has opened a prototype "green" restaurant on the industrial south side of Chicago. It takes the traditional model of a stand-alone location and tosses in some smarter design elements that, according to the company, will save the restaurant up to 25% a year on utility bills.

Fast Food Goes Healthy

    Pizza Hut says it is swapping out its chemically enhanced ingredients and using instead premium, all-natural ingredients.

    Alan Diaz, AP

    Long John Silver's introduced Freshside Grille, a new menu of great-tasting, premium seafood entrees that are lower in calories and fat, including Pacific Salmon (pictured), Shrimp Scampi and Tilapia. (Photo: YUM!)

    YUM! / AP

    Burger King, the world's No. 2 hamburger chain, says its trans-fat free in all of its US restaurants. For healthier options on its menu, Burger King offers three salads.

    Evan Agostini, Getty Images

    All of KFC's 5,500 U.S. stores have stopped frying chicken in artery-clogging trans fat, which the fast food chain said would not change how its fried chicken tastes. Last year KFC introduced grilled chicken onto its menu.

    David Silverman, Getty Images

    KFC's sister brand Taco Bell has also switched to a trans fat-free frying oil, and is working to remove trans fat from all of its ingredients.

    Mike Derer, AP

    Trans fat in food increases "bad" cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, and trans fat levels are now required on food labels.

    Scott Olson, Getty Images

    McDonald's began using 0-gram trans fatty acids (TFA) canola blend cooking oil in May 2008 in nearly 14,000 restaurants. The company has a website on food, nutrition, and wellness with videos on how some food items, like Egg McMuffins, are made.

    Chris Hondros, Getty Images

    Joanna Canizares (far left) of Miami, Fla.; Tonia Welling (center) of Bentonville, Ark.; and Monica Fuentes of Anthem, Ariz. tour an orchard with Bill Gerling, general manager of Lake Ontario Fruit, Inc., near Albion, N.Y. to see how apples are grown for McDonald's Apple Dippers and Snack Size Fruit and Walnut Salad. The women are McDonald's Moms Quality Correspondents, six moms selected to explore McDonald's food quality and report what they learn via online journals. (PRNewsFoto/McDonald's)

    McDonald's USA / AP

    Starbucks announced in May that it will cut artificial trans fats out of food and drinks in its stores in the continental U.S., Alaska and Canada by the end of the year. It offers salads and wraps in addition to fat-reduced muffins and cakes.

    Ted S. Warren, AP

    Wendy's already made the move to a new cooking oil that cuts out trans fats from its products.

    Joe Raedle, Getty Images

What have they done? Heat recovery devices capture cooking heat and recycle it. Storm water runoff is captured by the parking lot and delivered to a cistern for irrigation, and plants on the roof provide natural insulation and more water control. Skylights reduce energy demands from electric lights. Tables and decor have been made from recycled milk containers and Coca-Cola bottles, and cardboard food containers are recycled, too, an answer to growing complaints about how much roadside litter comes from the chain.

And there are special parking spaces for hybrid vehicles. (Yeah, that one's a little much, but we appreciate the thought.)

The company, which is based outside of Chicago, considers the location to be a "green learning laboratory" for future design concepts that could be exported to its 14,000 U.S. locations and 31,000 worldwide ones. I hope they do it as quickly as they can and take it out of the prototype phase, because we needed corporations to take action in this department a long time ago.

Until McDonald's finds a way to implement these design changes at locations around the world, the effort is nice, but irrelevant. The changes also only address the face of McDonald's that customers see -- what about how cattle are raised and slaughtered, and where the supplies come from? The company may be able to get Al Gore off its back, but it still has to contend with PETA and Morgan Spurlock.

For now, until the company figures out a way to make these ideas widespread, this new design is a form of "greenwashing" -- putting eco efforts front and center for P.R. purposes. I applaud the company for trying, but for it to truly matter, let's see McDonald's put its money where my mouth is.
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