The Golden Arches Go Green: McDonald’s First LEED® Certified Restaurant

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

4158 S. Ashland

4158 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL 60609 map

McDonald’s Corp.

Phoenix Architects

Soodan Associates

By: Wendy Berger Shapiro

A Big Mac, fries and a coke isn’t necessarily what most of us think about when we’re looking to find ways to lower our carbon footprint. But McDonald’s is looking for ways to change that.

In August, the fast food chain opened its first targeted LEED®-certified restaurant in Chicago. The new fast food eatery is located at 4158 S. Ashland Avenue, just outside the Stockyards Industrial Corridor. The site was home to an older, corporate-owned McDonald’s which was torn down to make way for the new, greener establishment. John Rockwell, the lead quality manager for McDonald’s U.S. Restaurant Group (and a LEED®-AP) calls the new site a “learning lab,” intended to help the company’s design team understand how new green technologies can be employed in both new restaurants and existing ones. The 24-hour eco McDonald’s includes systems that collect data continuously, giving the design team a large volume of data for comparative analysis for future sites.

4158 S. Ashland

4158 S. Ashland

Of course, not all of McDonald’s many stores can go green overnight – but the U.S. Green Building Council’s retail pilot program in conjunction with the volume pilot program, allows companies to certify stores in volume rather than one at a time, has made it possible to fast track McDonald’s greening program. Designers hope the site will earn LEED®-Gold certification. The project was the first fast-food restaurant to be granted a permit under the City of Chicago Green Permit Program.

McDonald’s interviewed five firms and ultimately selected Downers Grove, IL-based Phoenix Architects to design the new fast food locale. The Phoenix team began the process by working with their demolition crew to recycle at least 95 percent of the construction waste.

The site design includes Unilock permeable pavers on the parking lot, which allow maximum water drainage while maintaining a surface strong enough to support the traffic of a 24-hour restaurant. The use of permeable pavers will also reduce the cost of the onsite drainage system, clean surface stormwater and minimize stormwater runoff. The drive-through lanes have been built with reflective concrete.

The restaurant’s exterior signage is constructed around energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs), just the second time such lighting has been used on a McDonald’s. By using signage with LEDs rather than traditional sign lighting, McDonald’s will consume less energy – perhaps as much as 50% less energy. The LEDs will last ten to twenty times longer than the average incandescent light bulb. Along with the environmental benefits and energy efficiency they provide, LEDS also supply strong lighting In addition, TV screens in the dining area help educate customers about the restaurant’s green features.

When fast food diners have finished their burgers they don’t have to dump their waste in the trash. Collection containers around the property encourage patrons to recycle food containers, newspapers and plastic bottles, and the kitchen preparation area has its own set of receptacles for packing related recycleables.

The site itself is landscaped with hardy, native plants, resulting in much-diminished water needs; no potable water will be used for irrigation. Water collection systems have been set up to channel rainwater from the roof and condensation from the HVAC system into a 20,000-gallon cistern buried underground that will then re circulate the water for irrigation. The highlight of the landscaping effort is a rain garden, which promotes natural sheet draining of rain water and ultimately serves to recharge the aquifer deep below the surface of the soil. The rain garden will also scrub pollutants out of water that drains from the drive-through lanes, which may carry automobile pollutants. Overall, the company is hoping for a 50 percent reduction in water use through these sustainable techniques.

McDonald’s new “learning lab” also features a green roof: the upper portion is more functional, planted with extensive species, while the lower portion has been made attractive to passers-by through the use of more visible plants, semi-intensive.

In the building’s mechanical guts, a pair of heat-recovery systems are positioned to draw heat from the condensing units. Solartube skylights are visible throughout the restaurant to take advantage of natural light and reduce energy use. The indoor artificial lighting is controlled by a sophisticated system that adjusts the foot-candle illumination based on light entering through the skylights. Lighting controls will also sense and adjust energy use in lavatories and support spaces.

Inside the restaurant, the dining room is filled with materials made from recycled content, and paints and cleaning chemicals were chosen for their low environmental impact.

With its first LEED®-Gold restaurant, Max Carmona, Senior Director, Restaurant Design, McDonald’s USA along with the McDonald’s design team hopes to learn which technologies provide the most energy savings and environmental benefits and how they can be incorporated into future store designs.

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