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Mar 092010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When Ric Richards recently acquired an aging McDonalds in Cary, N.C., he knew the place needed an overhaul.  The 25-year-old store was fraying at the edges.

LED lighting at Cary McDonalds

LED lighting at Cary McDonalds

Richards decided to give these particular golden arches a green touch.

Once he’d decided that the building needed replacing, the decision to go eco-friendly was not difficult. Richards knew it made sense from a business standpoint – it would cut energy costs dramatically – and he figured it would resonate with the educated customers living in the Research Triangle region, especially those interested in lower-carbon living.

“I felt it was the right thing to do,’’ said the owner-operator whose green restaurant celebrated its grand opening this winter. “We all need to be more geared for sustainability as we move into the future. We need to build buildings or live at home using fewer resources.”

Creating the third green-credentialed restaurant in the nation proved just a little easier in the Raleigh-Durham area, because the leading LED manufacturer Cree Lighting is just down the road.

Cree representatives, Richards and architect Logan Luzadr of LMHT Architects collaborated to light the restaurant’s public spaces completely with LEDs, which use less than 20 percent of the energy consumed by comparable incandescent lighting and only about half the energy used by CFL lights.

Virtually all of the restaurant’s lights are LEDs, making the LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ) Gold-rated building a showcase of state-of-the art lighting.

Not only are the LEDs more efficient than other types of lighting, they don’t contain any mercury, which has been a downside of CFLs.

“If you didn’t know the lighting in McDonald’s was LED, you probably wouldn’t notice, but that’s the point. The Cree LED lights in the Cary McDonald’s give off the same beautiful light you would expect from an incandescent but consume just a fraction of the energy,” said Cree executive Gary Trott. “This allows the store to layer in accent lighting for a more pleasing environment while still meeting LEED-certification standards.”

Lighting doesn’t just come from a socket, however, and Luzadr’s design assured that day times at the McD’s would be naturally lit. The building was constructed with 360-degrees of windows in a cupola above the eating area with 19 Solatubes – tunnels that carry sky light – spread across the restaurant.

“Aesthetically the restaurant looks terrific,” said Richards, who explained that lighting was a key focus of the rebuild because it does double duty, saving energy and improving the feel of the cafe.

The other aspect of green building that Richards wanted to be sure to get right was the heating and cooling system. His “green team” of Luzadr, operations manager Tony Myers, green site designer Brian Stoltz of Commercial Site Design in Raleigh and green advisor Skanska USA, came up with an enclosed Hydronic Water Boiler System (available in residential versions)  that cuts energy use, in part, by using humidity to keep the restaurant at an even temperature.

The technologically advanced system gives the restaurant a different tactile feel, Richards says.

“I own seven restaurants and I can tell the difference. I just built another one (with the) same style and design, very aesthetic…and it’s energy efficient, but it feels different.’’

Richards estimates his return on the green energy investments will be just five years. Figuring the ROI on the other green changes will not be an easy mathematical formula, but the improved aesthetics and environmentally sensitive changes are tangible but immeasurable rewards.

Among the other features in the LEED-certified builiding:

  • All the seating and cabinets and other décor elements were glued together with lower VOC adhesives
  • Table tops are made of wheatboard and sunflower seeds (recovered from food processing) or bamboo, a renewable source.
  • Countertops are Vetrazzo, which uses recycled concrete and glass.

Speaking of concrete, the concrete from the demolition of the predecessor store was sent out for recycling. The concrete that was installed in the parking lot is recycled stock. While the green team was pondering the heat island effects of being encircled by concrete, an inevitable outcome of being a drive-through restaurant, they added areas for vegetation to curb runoff and mitigate heat effects.

One day someone on the team muttered that they should think about putting in a couple places for electric vehicles to plug-in. Heads snapped. Of course they should. So they did, partnering with NovaCharge in Florida to install two charging stations, which have already been used.

Inside, energy and water savings continue with low-flow faucets and toilets that use 1/10th of a gallon to flush, a vast savings over even the going green standard of a 1.6 gallon flush.

Topping it all off are placards throughout the restaurant that explain the changes, as well as an electronic presentation of how the building was constructed.

Now, as for that McDonald’s food…it’s being prepared with EnergyStar appliances. But it bears acknowledging that, in all honesty, a big burger is not the poster food for the green movement.

However, a recent  sustainability report by the fast-food giant shows that McDonald’s is well aware of changing tastes, as well as pressures on the food supply. The report noted that 98 percent of the whitefish used in Filet-O-Fish sandwiches came from fisheries with “favorable sustainability ratings” and that healthy sides for Happy Meals are offered in the top McD markets. Those sides include fruit bags, cherry tomatoes, corn cups and “Apple Dippers.” And there are those salads and parfaits. So those who eschew burgers, can at least chew something else.

The report also said that 80 percent of the cooking oil used in McDonald’s in Europe is converted into biodiesel. The EU has a stronger biodiesel network than the U.S. But more and more U.S. restaurants are recycling their cooking oil, including the Cary McDonald’s.

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