McDonald’s China leads in commercial LEED projects

Chuck Jennes

The McDonald's Shougang Park Drive-thru Store in Beijing, China, is practicing LEED Zero Energy and LEED Zero Carbon standards.

In October 2018, McDonald’s China, the brand’s fastest growing enterprise, declared that within four years, it would open more than 1,800 new green restaurants. It planned to achieve this milestone by applying LEED for Interior Design and Construction standards to the LEED Volume program. This represented not only a substantial commitment to LEED, but also the first commitment made by a China-based company to the LEED Volume program.

The effort’s primary objectives were to minimize the company’s environmental impact by conserving resources, reducing emissions and minimizing waste. Special attention was paid to decreasing restaurant impact on building sites, using sustainable construction materials and maximizing energy efficiency.

Since the first LEED-certified McDonald's restaurant opened in 2018, an average of one new LEED-certified green restaurant has been added every day. These restaurants account for 95% of all new McDonald's outlets and will reduce carbon emissions by approximately 60,000 tons per year.

In addition to opening green restaurants, McDonald's China is also focusing on green supply chains, green packaging and green recycling to save even more energy and further reduce emissions from the supply chain to restaurant operations.

According to McDonald's China, its supply chain efforts alone will save more than 267 million kWh of electricity and 2 million tons of water from 2015 to 2021. They are also reducing supply chain carbon emissions through 95% local sourcing and sustainable procurement, along with energy-efficient logistics solutions.

With respect to green packaging, the company has eliminated the use of plastic straws and significantly reduced the use of plastics in packaging. In fact, according to the company, McDonald’s is the first in its industry to use 100% sustainable certified virgin paper for packaging, which can remove about 400 tons of plastics per year.

The popularity of the McDonald’s brand has also meant that the initiative has introduced LEED and the concept of green building to remote areas of the country, including Xinjiang, Tibet and many second- and third-tier cities, effectively becoming an engaging platform for helping consumers understand and experience LEED green building.

Several people stand together with a LEED plaque and certificate

Andy To and Jing Wang, representing USGBC, awarded McDonald's China a plaque for "The World's Largest Volume of LEED Certification" and a congratulatory letter from Peter Templeton, president and CEO of USGBC and GBCI. Photo courtesy of McDonald's China.

When the company announced its intentions, Phyllis Cheung, CEO of McDonald’s China, remarked that, “With our accelerated growth, we believe that McDonald’s China needs to shoulder more social responsibility. To achieve that, we want to ensure our restaurants are designed and built in a sustainable way that aligns with high standards through a globally recognized program.” The company also encouraged others to join them, saying, “Sustainability should not be the competitive edge for one individual company, because real changes are only possible with partnership across and beyond the industry.”

During subsequent years, as the plan matured, the company also mounted numerous “green promotions” to effectively reinforce its commitment and build awareness among customers.

In one recent example, customers who arrived at their McDonald’s restaurant by bike or on foot were offered a free beverage. Additionally, the 1,700 LEED-certified McDonald’s stores have changed the color of their location icon on the McDonald’s app, enabling over 200 million registered customers to easily find their nearest green restaurant.

The company’s green evolution has also led to greater emphasis on individual projects pursuing the highest levels of LEED certification: LEED Platinum, LEED Zero Energy and LEED Zero Carbon. This expanded emphasis includes a recently opened, state-of-the-art headquarters building in Shanghai’s trendy West Bund. More than 600 employees from McDonald’s China and the Shanghai market will work from the new eight-story building, which earned LEED Platinum certification in February 2022.

The China headquarters building will also house the company’s Hamburger University, where it expects to train more than 75,000 workers over the next five years. In addition, it will feature a “Food Innovation Center,” where chefs will create delicious new menu items specifically for Chinese customers.

“With the scaling up of our business, we are determined to adopt more social responsibilities to feed and foster our communities,” says Cheung.

Today, China is McDonald’s second largest market. With 1,700 stores already LEED-certified and more working toward certification, McDonald’s China continues to demonstrate leadership and a longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability, resilience, and the health and well-being of its employees and customers.

The company’s leadership in these critical areas sets an example not only for the global retail market, but also for portfolio owners around the world. There are huge commitments being made now under the banner of ESG, and McDonald’s China is proof that companies can use LEED to achieve their highest goals and aspirations.

View McDonald's projects in our directory

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