The first McDonald's location earned a green certification, which could pave the way for more to follow. - Siraj Datoo / Bloomberg The first McDonald's location earned a green certification, which could pave the way for more to follow. - Siraj Datoo / Bloomberg

McDonald’s First Eco-Friendly Restaurant Is Open in Maryland

The future of food is sustainable, and last week a McDonald’s franchise in Bethesda, Maryland became the chain’s first location to receive Level One certification from the Green Restaurant Association. GRA certification differs from others in that it incorporates all aspects of a restaurant’s business. This is different from something like LEED certification, for example, which applies only to buildings and construction. GRA incorporates LEED requirements, but also focuses on operations and interiors.

The franchised location underwent an extensive remodel to earn the certification, and it contains elements that could easily be integrated into future franchise location upgrades — but could also become the norm in new construction. The franchise owner swapped old equipment for Energy Star-rated appliances, which are 30 to 40 percent more energy-efficient. Lighting fixtures were changed to efficient LED units, paper towels were eliminated, and water conserving fixtures were installed in both the kitchen and restrooms. The restaurant has also instituted a full-scale recycling program, and is providing employees with public transportation passes to discourage driving to work. Overall, the location enacted 26 environmentally-friendly actions, earning them 95.78 points on the GRA’s 100 point scale.

Since its founding in 1990, the Boston-based non-profit has translated environmental research into a database of attainable goals in water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable durable good and building materials, sustainable food, energy, reusables and disposables, and chemical and pollution reduction. In addition to implementing changes to earn sustainability certification points, restaurants are required to take educational courses every year to maintain their certification. According to its website: “To operate green is to save money on energy, water, waste, and staff retention. It’s not uncommon for a Certified Green Restaurant to save thousands of dollars.”

While plenty of restaurants have earned certification with the GRA, a major chain restaurant, like this McDonald’s location, participating in the program speaks to the its potential future. If one location can implement the standards necessary to both save money and operate in a more environmentally friendly way, what’s stopping others?

Earlier this year McDonald’s began an initiative to spur major upgrades in its franchised locations. Typically franchisees are expected to cover most of the costs related to upgrades, which can be as costly as $700,000 per location. In an effort to modernize and stay competitive, McDonald’s has offered to increase their typical contribution from 40 to 55 percent — an incentive it hopes leads to large-scale improvements that can win back customers lost to higher-end fast casual concepts. Along with environmental improvements like the ones in Bethesda, upgrades may involve table-locator technology, self-order kiosks, and aesthetic changes such as new, modern counters and fixtures and new employee uniforms.

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