Many have put pressure on fast food chains because of their environmental impact. But bigger brands have tried to be more eco-friendly. Take McDonald’s for example. They’ve opened its first net zero restaurant in Market Drayton, England.
According to the fast food giant, it’s designed this site to deliver net zero emissions from both construction and operation. The restaurant is powered by on-site solar panels and two wind turbines, producing about 60,000 kilowatt-hours of power a year.
The site also uses cladding and insulation made from recycled materials, including sheep’s wool and washing machines that would have otherwise gone to landfill.
Not only that, the drive-thru lane features recycled tires, with curb stones made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s also biodiversity garden and natural trail, and customers can have access to an array of on-site EV charging points.
Furniture in this site is made from 100% recyclable materials, which conforms with the brand’s pledge to ensure that its new and refurbished restaurants will use recyclable furniture and made from recycled or certified materials by 2023.
Vice president of supply chain and brand trust Beth hart said, “At McDonald’s we believe that our food needs to be served in restaurants that are sustainable for the future.
“Market Drayton is a big step towards making that a reality, enabling us to test and put into practice what a net zero emissions building, both in build and use, really looks like.
“We’ve already started to roll out some of these innovations to other restaurants, but what is exciting about Market Drayton is the fact it will act as a blueprint for our future new builds.”
Good and bad feedback
UK Green Building Council director of communications, policy and places Simon McWhirter stated, “The challenge of decarbonizing the construction industry is a complex one, but McDonald’s commitment to building the first restaurant in the U.K. in line with UKGBC’s net zero carbon buildings framework is a critical first step.”
McWhirter expressed his view of the project, saying that it can be a template for others to learn from. He said, “We welcome the ambition to achieve net zero emissions for all McDonald’s restaurants and offices by 2030.”
On the other hand, Greenpeace disregarded the brand’s efforts and called on the company to curb emissions from its sprawling agricultural supply chain.
Greenpeace UK’s head of food and forests Anna Jones said, “If meat and dairy are still the main course on McDonald’s menu, then this new restaurant initiative can only be labeled as it is: McGreenwash.
“Climate-critical forests across Brazil and South America are being decimated by meat and dairy production and Brits eat twice as much meat as the global average.
“If McDonald’s genuinely wants to cut its global carbon footprint, it needs to think beyond emissions from specific U.K. sites and start to urgently shift it’s entire business model to meat-free alternatives.”
However, the brand has in fact revealed that it plans to feature more plant-based options on its menu. It also aims to switch to deforestation free soy in its ingredients and animal feed over the next five years.
Moreover, McDonald’s Plan for Change strategy wants to help the business achieve net zero emissions for all of its 1,400 restaurants and offices in the U.K. and Ireland by 2030 and across its value chain by 2040.
In the meantime, what can the food industry do?
Setting aside of giant brands and what they can do to make the food industry more environmentally friendly, some things that brands can do—small or big—are making sure that instead of making the nature produce food, it should be the other way around: designing food so that nature thrives.
In our world today, only four crops (wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes) provide almost 60% of calories consumed globally. There are only a few varieties of crop cultivation, and varieties of domesticated plants and animals are increasingly being lost as the food system becomes more homogenized.
Since diversity of genetics in foods has decreased, the resilience of the food system has diminished as well—particularly to pests, diseases, and weather shocks which have been made worse by climate change.
As a result, producers rely on some synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to overcome these challenges. However, that reliance contributes to the food system’s climate and biodiversity impact.
Decisions during the food design stage can have negative impacts. But, there’s also an opportunity for business to design food for nature-positive outcomes and make it mainstream.
Businesses, regardless their sizes, can set strategies with a mindset to design for nature, select ingredients that are diverse, lower impact, upcycled and regeneratively produced. In other words, they should start to implement circular food industry and economy.
Circular food, starting from breakfasts
One of the most favorite breakfast menus of all ages is a simple bowl of cereal, which is commonly made from wheat, corn, or oats. Designing this food using different ingredients, as opposed to the traditional ones, could offer big benefits.
For example, cultivating common wheat that requires stilling and reseeding after each crop can degrade the soil structure in the process. If we replace that with Kernza, which is a new perennial variety that mimic native prairie grasses, it could be beneficial.
For example, it could save mechanical inputs, build soil health and sequester around 10 times more CO2 than conventional wheat varieties. Deeper roots, which is a feature found in Kernza, allow the plants to absorb more nutrients from the soil, producing a healthier grain.
Using plant milk?
Plant milk can be a good substitution, but it’s not entirely necessary. Cow’s milk could provide humans with dense nutrition not always found in its plant-based alternatives (especially without fortification).
Consumers who are young, elderly, or live in developing countries with limited diet may not be appropriate to consume plant milk.
Therefore, what should change is the way to manage livestock, using MIG (Managed Intensive Grazing) system. It’s true that this means there will be fewer dairy cows that we can rear, compared to conventional methods.
However, regenerative production done by farmers in a rather economically viable way by using methods such as silvopasture, where trees and crops are integrated with grazing animals to provide shelter, fodder and additional cash crops.
Farmers can also plant diverse grasses and crops on pasture to optimize forage. This can mimic migratory herds and move the livestock more frequently. It’s not only the livestock that may benefit from this diverse diet. The soil gets nutrients when the livestock trample organic matter.
Producing dairy this way can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and biodiversity loss by 20%, without affecting milk yields, while boosting profitability for farmers by $240 per hectare per year.
The food industry can shift with the contribution of major brands as well as the efforts of the smaller ones. Together, they can utilize circular economy, driving meaningful change in the food system.
Careful designs and sourcing can provide choices that are not only better for farmers and environment, but also consumers and businesses.