A little bit better for the planet – not so much for you
CHICAGO — In new Wal-Mart stores, the baseboards and moldings are made of plastic left over from diaper manufacturing. Chipotle, the burrito chain, has installed an energy-producing wind turbine outside a new store in the Chicago suburbs. And a Florida chain called Pizza Fusion reuses the draft from its ovens to heat water.
Across the country, a race is under way among stores and fast-food restaurants to build environmentally friendly outlets, as a way to curry favor with consumers and to lower operating costs. Most chains are focusing on prototypes at the moment, but the trend could eventually change the look and function of thousands of stores.
One of the latest participants is McDonald’s, which recently opened a revamped restaurant in a gritty industrial area on the South Side of Chicago, across from a food manufacturing plant and next to the Swap-O-Rama flea market.
The newly rebuilt restaurant is crammed with energy- and water-saving gadgets as varied as high-efficiency appliances, pavement that filters rainwater, and tables and chairs made out of recycled material. It even has a garden on the roof.
The green building boom is partly being driven by retailers’ desire to capture the attention of consumers who have become fascinated by hybrid cars, energy-saving light bulbs and wind turbines.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t go to McDonalds for their ethical viewpoint – just indigestion.
But more important for the companies, it is a way to shave long-term operating costs at stores and restaurants, which consume copious amounts of energy and water for ovens and fryers, heaters and air conditioners, sinks and toilets.
Just so that they can bring that EuroSaver menu down to 99 cent
McDonald’s, for instance, plans to take the most successful aspects of its Chicago restaurant and replicate them at new outlets across the country.
“You get energy savings, and you can tell customers you are greener. That’s a win-win,” said Neil Z. Stern, a retail consultant for McMillanDoolittle in Chicago.
While customers may like the idea of green buildings, Mr. Stern said he was skeptical that it would lure them into stores. “Ultimately, the reason you do it is it’s a better way to run your business,” he said.
Subway unveiled its first “eco-store” last year in Florida and has opened four more. Target, Office Depot and Staples have opened green stores, and Best Buy has announced plans to do the same.
A few chains are even further along. Recently, Kohl’s opened 45 stores that were built using recycled materials, water-saving plumbing fixtures and on-site recycling. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has taken the most successful techniques from prototype stores and incorporated them into all new stores, and it continues to experiment with “high-efficiency” stores that save 20 to 45 percent in energy costs when compared with more traditional stores.
While the “green” moniker is ill-defined and vulnerable to exaggeration, many of the chains, including McDonald’s, are seeking certification from the United States Green Building Council, a nonprofit agency in Washington whose rating system is a widely accepted standard.
Called LEED certification, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, it provides a rating for buildings based on human and environmental health, sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
Under a new program, McDonald’s hopes to obtain certification for its prototype and then build many more restaurants based on that template, without going through the paperwork and expense of certifying each restaurant.
LEED certification, though, is not without detractors, some of whom complain about the cost and inconvenience. Michael Gordon, one of the founders of Pizza Fusion, a Florida chain that has several green restaurants and boasts of its environmental ethos, said a 2,000-square-foot restaurant paid the same certification fees as one five times as large.
Some others say they are uncomfortable with companies promoting their buildings as green.
“There’s no such thing as a green building with a full parking lot,” said Seth Kaplan, vice president for climate advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation. “That’s just an unavoidable truth.”
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and a frequent critic of fast-food chains, said the green buildings were laudable but were ultimately intended to make people feel better about eating unhealthful food.
Definitely a step in the right direction but short of an overall change in general practice to being more conscious of the world at large, it really just sound like a gimmick to me – and like they said, a fleet of people-carriers out the front doesn’t even make it entirely green