Fast food chains and LEED – Green building or green washing?

I guess I’ve reached that point in my life where I’ve started uttering sayings that somewhat come across as poetic. I don’t know if this happens to people when they’ve developed the ability to succinctly convey their wisdom from their cumulative experiences, or if it’s that their minds are fried and they really don’t have the answers to anything so they spout out clichés with the hope that no one calls them out on it. It’s probably somewhere in between.

My experiences with working for some unprofessional and unethical people has allowed me to develop this piece of advice – it’s easier to judge people based on what they do rather than what they say. It’s very easy to say all of the right things (especially when life is going well), but it’s so much more difficult to do the right things (especially when life is not going well). Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character. (Consider that my second piece of old man advice.)

I came across this article stating how fast food chains are pursuing LEED certification for a handful of their stores. The quotes from the representatives of these chains include words like “smart” and “social responsibility” and “commitment to the environment” and efficiencies”. Of course these are all of the right words to say, and I’m sure some if not all of these people truly believe everything they’re saying. But again these are just words.

Starbucks has 11,068 locations within the United States (16,635 worldwide). According to the article referenced above, Starbucks has 9 LEED certified locations. Another way to state their commitment to LEED, approximately 0.08 percent of all of their locations are LEED certified.

There are over 31,000 McDonald’s in the world. Two of their stores are LEED certified, which means 0.006 percent of all of their locations are LEED certified.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. (You can thank Lao Tzu for that piece of old man advice.) Yes, it’s great that these corporations, who by their sheer size make an influential impact on our built environment, are beginning to implement design and construction practices that could potentially promote a more sustainable environment. But isn’t it a little too early to say that these corporations are demonstrating their commitment and passion towards social responsibilities?

Do you think people would believe you if you said “I believe in this activity so much I devote an entire 48 seconds doing it!” (Forty eight seconds being 0.006 percent of a day.)

Judge people based on what they do rather than what they say. It allows you to cut through the BS much easier.


2 thoughts on “Fast food chains and LEED – Green building or green washing?

  1. greenerblog

    LEED aside, a key issue is shape. Another is public perception. What does a place offer to it’s surroundings? Starbucks is an interesting example. Now a big chain, it was once a local hero. When it grew to three Seattle stores, folks said “good for you…let’s support them”. When it grew to 500 locations it was regarded as the local boy done good. Now that it’s at 17,000+ worldwide, it’s the evil empire. What changed? That is not clear. Maybe big is bad. Look at the changing perceptions of Apple.

    One thing that remained at least to a significant degree is the siting and configuration of the typical store: most are urban, in walkable locations, quite a small footprint (physically). There are many exceptions, some hilarious, like the Houston spot sitting in the middle of a massive mall parking lot yet retaining an outside sitting area. This is not the “third place” most folks crave, but maybe it’s better than nothing.

    McDonalds, on the other hand, will do an urban (non-car) location, but it seems to greatly prefer the circumstance that allows the drive-through. For Mickey-D, everything is touch and go. Even if you park, the interior seating is designed to reduce time-in-store to a minimum. No choice. Sit here or nothing.

    For both groups, LEED is a thing to test, but not (yet) a fundamental strategy. They want to learn what the noise is about. And that may improve both of them, but is unlikely to make for fundamental change.

  2. Eric Post author

    Excellent points greenerblog. We live in a time where perception becomes our reality, so from a marketing standpoint experimentally pursuing with LEED and/or other guidelines for creating a more sustainable building is beneficial.

    I’d be curious to know the percentage of Starbucks within an urban locale. Most of the ones I frequent are located either within a strip mall or at a pad store location along the peripheral of a strip mall. These corporations have a large influence on the suburban landscape, so any improvements to their individual locations would have to be followed up by smarter suburban planning so that not every single patron has to drive to each location.

    Your comment about being too large is something I’ve been pondering for quite some time. American culture typically roots for the underdogs, but what happens when the underdog becomes dominant? This has happened not only to companies but also professional athletes, sports programs, and celebrities. I think there’s something coded into the American DNA where we support something or someone to a point of dominance, then we want that thing or person taken apart so that we can build it up again just to prove that we (the patrons or fans) have complete power over that company or person’s fate. I’m still trying to put my finger on that, but I’ve seen it happen to Kobe Bryant, American motor industry (kind of), and some others.


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