McDonald’s has signed its first ever large-scale virtual power purchase agreements (VPPAs) after taking its cue from markets such as the UK to champion greener restaurant and kitchen design worldwide.
The fast food chain is bidding to develop the most “resource-efficient” restaurants possible, using the minimum amounts of energy and water, and maximising the use of renewable energy across its 36,000 branches.
The UK and Ireland is one of several McDonald’s markets where restaurants are already being powered by close to 100% renewable energy sources.
And this month it has taken a gigantic step towards meeting its global strategy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by inking partnerships with two Texas-based ventures – a wind project and solar project – that will add more renewable energy to the US’ power supply than any other restaurant company to date.
Under the terms of the VPPAs, McDonald’s will buy renewable energy generated by Aviator Wind West, a wind power project located in Coke County, Texas and a solar project located in Texas.
The combined 380MW in renewable energy expected to be generated from McDonald’s contribution to these projects will help to prevent over 700,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year, which it says is equivalent to planting more than 11 million trees or taking over 140,000 cars off the road for one year.
Additionally, the energy generated by these projects represents 2,500 restaurants-worth of electricity, it said.
In March 2018, McDonald’s became the first restaurant company in the world to set a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
The two new projects will represent significant progress towards its goal of reducing GHG emissions related to McDonald’s restaurants and offices by 36% by 2030.
Once online next year, the GHG emissions reductions from these two deals are expected to deliver 16% in progress toward its Climate Action Target or 6% in GHG emissions reductions from its 2015 baseline.
“As we look at the most pressing social and environmental challenges facing the world today, McDonald’s has a responsibility to take action, and our customers expect us to do what is right for the planet,” declared Francesca DeBiase, chief supply chain and sustainability officer at McDonald’s.
“These wind and solar projects represent a significant step in our work to address climate change, building on years of renewable energy sourcing in many of our European markets. We want to keep this momentum going, and we’re excited for what’s next.”
The tie-up comes as the chain continues to evaluate ways of making its restaurants and kitchens more efficient, including investments in areas such as LED lighting and energy efficient kitchen equipment specification.
It is currently developing comprehensive global restaurant sustainability standards, including a strategy on restaurant refrigeration management and water use.
McDonald’s first issued Green Building Guidelines in 2009, focusing on its European restaurants, and updated them in 2015. Since then it has launched several localised building standards for other regions, as well as energy targets.
The Green Building Guidelines set out the many ways in which McDonald’s aims to minimise restaurants footprint.
In the UK, it aims to build all new restaurants with energy efficiency in mind. This includes energy management systems to control lighting, heating and air conditioning, energy efficient catering equipment and motion-sensitive lighting.
All new McDonald’s restaurants in the UK are built with 100% LED lighting, which uses 50% less energy than fluorescent lighting. Over 120,000 LED lights have now been installed across its branches, right down to the bulbs in its emergency lighting.
In 2017, it allocated $5m (£3.8m) to McDonald’s restaurants around the globe for LED upgrades. This has achieved a net cost saving of $14.3m (£11m) and a CO2 reduction of 100,587 metric tons – the equivalent to removing 21,539 cars from the road for a year.
Kitchen equipment accounts for a significant proportion of a McDonald’s restaurant’s energy use and it continues to assess new developments in areas such as low oil-volume fryers.
“That means suppliers of our kitchen equipment are critical to helping us achieve our energy-reduction goals,” the company states on its UK website. “Each year, we challenge them to identify further improvements in energy efficiency. We also upgrade our equipment as more efficient replacements become available and reward suppliers who make the best efficiency improvements.”
McDonald’s employs around 120,000 people in the UK and has set up a voluntary programme called ‘Planet Champions’ that aims to drive environmental initiatives and encourage new ideas to promote sustainability.
Staff are trained on different ways to save energy, including putting equipment such as grills and toasters into the standby position when not in use.