Grabbing a bite on the run is an American tradition that does not seem to be affected by the sluggish economy. Burgers, ice cream and burritos are being flipped, stacked and rolled across the country at a phenomenal rate. In fact, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association’s 2009 Restaurant Industry Forecast, quick-service restaurants are projected to post sales of $163.8 billion in 2009. Because this activity takes place at myriad locations across the U.S., fast-food restaurants have great potential to create positive environmental impacts as they enter the green-building arena. Recent efforts rooted in corporate strategies and enterprising franchisees are sprouting new models for how to serve up sustainability.

Slimming Down Energy

With kitchen equipment operating up to 24 hours per day, fast-food locations use a lot of energy. CG Development Group, Chicago, a franchisee of Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen, took the initiative to create an extremely energy-efficient 3,200-square-foot (297-m2) restaurant on an infill site in Chicago. Project consultant George Sullivan of Eco Smart Building PC, Chicago, says the first task was to look at the energy efficiency of the building shell and move into limiting energy consumption within the space. The whole-building approach to energy conservation meant coordinating the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems with the energy uses in the space and building envelope.

Credit: McDonald's USA LLC

The building shell is entirely thermally broken—that is, no physical elements directly connect between the interior and exterior. As a result, less heat is transmitted to the outside. Thermal breaks in the building shell can have a major impact on energy consumption; a standard Dairy Queen store uses $3.50 per square foot in energy while this Chicago store uses about $0.30 per square foot in energy. Good insulation and high-performance glazing also help create energy savings in the building. The thermal break of R-14 and an additional R-14 insulation between the studs create a total wall insulation of R-28. The roof is R-50.

A water-to-water heat pump with a glycol loop captures waste heat from all the cold-food storage equipment that preserves the restaurant’s frozen treats and transfers that heat to the store’s domestic hot water. A solar-thermal vacuum tube acts as a secondary booster for the system. The restaurant’s kitchen equipment was certified by the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program.

The facility also includes an Energy Star Advanced Lighting Package, which is a comprehensive set of Energy Star-qualified light fixtures that meet EPA guidelines for energy efficiency and generate approximately 75 percent less heat than standard incandescent lighting. The thermally active transfer system, Energy Star ALP, building shell—which is the exterior rain screen designed to keep out water from the wall assembly—and a carefully designed building envelope allowed the HVAC system to be downsized by 60 percent compared to a standard store of this size. Sullivan used Boulder, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory Center for Building and Thermal Systems’ Energy 10 and the Washington-based U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus software to calculate the correct HVAC system size.

Credit: Chipotle Mexican Grill

“The store’s energy bills are approximately $300 per month compared to $3,500 per month for a standard store in the same size and location,” Sullivan says. “And the thermally active transfer system is renewable because it moves waste-heat energy to where you need it in the building.” The Dairy Queen attained three Green Globes out of a possible four for certification from the Green Building Initiative, Portland, Ore.

Smarter Assembly

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp.’s restaurants are built and run by individual owner/operators, but the majority of design standards originate from the corporate office. Recently, McDonald’s chose to build its first U.S. company-owned restaurant in Chicago to serve as a learning laboratory for green practices.

“McDonald’s has developed a U.S. green-building strategy, and educating ourselves about which green measures work well is a significant component of that strategy,” says John Rockwell, sustainability manager for McDonald’s USA LLC, Oak Brook, a division of McDonald’s Corp.

Credit: Chipotle Mexican Grill

The restaurant opened in August 2008 and is pursuing certification from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Retail program, which at press time was being voted on by USGBC members for approval and incorporation into the LEED 2009 suite of rating systems. One immediately visible green feature of the McDonald’s is a vegetated roof that prevents storm-water runoff from the 5,100-square-foot (474-m2) facility. A below-grade cistern collects rainwater that provides 100 percent of the irrigation for the site’s native-plant landscaping. Inside, water consumption is reduced by using low-volume faucets, aerators and toilets that use only 1 gallon (3.8 L) per flush.

Refrigeration exhaust is captured to help heat the facility’s hot water. Although all the restroom air is exhausted to the outside, a heat-recovery device captures heat from the restroom’s conditioned air to help warm the interior space. An energy-management system runs and monitors all lighting, heating and air conditioning. Restaurant windows are made from recycled glass and patrons sit at tabletops derived from post-consumer milk jugs and detergent bottles. Educational signage and a streaming video near the customer order area explain the restaurant’s green features.

Better Value

The incorporation of natural lighting from multiple 21-inch (533-mm) optical domed tubular daylighting devices helps offset the energy load at the aforementioned McDonald’s location. The daylighting devices provide light consistency by harvesting low-angled and diffuse daylight. When the sun is intense, the devices’ temper glints and mixes light in the optical tubing to maintain visual comfort. The devices also minimize solar heat gain by absorbing heat in the tubing and emitting it through the tubes’ exterior walls.

Credit: Subway Group

A Milford, Conn.-based Subway franchisee in Kissimmee, Fla., uses the same daylighting devices to bring consistent natural light into the dining area without adding heat. The Subway eco-store was developed by DiPasqua Enterprises, Winter Park, Fla.

Independent Purchasing Cooperative, Miami, is a franchisee-owned and operated purchasing organization for all Subway locations. IPC’s director of equipment purchasing, Brad Davis, led the eco-store’s greening process. “IPC’s goal is to deliver goods and services that help owners reduce operating costs,” Davis says. “The eco-store allowed us to highlight efforts that lower energy and water consumption.”

The restaurant opened in November 2007 and achieved a LEED for Commercial Interiors Silver certification from USGBC. In addition to the natural light, the electric loads are reduced through compact-fluorescent bulbs and daylighting devices. Light sensors turn off the store’s lighting when natural-light levels are adequate, and occupancy sensors are installed in the restrooms. Light-emitting-diode lights are used in place of neon for the interior signage and exit lights. A high-efficiency HVAC system and on-demand hot-water system also reduce energy consumption.

All wood in the facility, including interior trim, is certified by the Minneapolis-based Forest Stewardship Council. Other environmentally friendly features include low-VOC paints and adhesives and a green-cleaning program. Information about the store’s sustainability efforts is featured in restaurant signage and is available to the public at www.subway.com.

Credit: Chipotle Mexican Grill

Recipe for Success

Green Building Services Inc., Portland, assisted the Kissimmee Subway eco-store team, and the firm helped Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. evaluate and refine a new environmentally responsible prototype for locations nationwide. Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” mission is based on offering meals that maintain the quality and welfare of animals, land and soil. According to Scott Shippey, director of design for Chipotle, sustainable construction was the logical next step.

“Chipotle was a very early participant in the LEED for Retail pilot program, and the company was committed to designing a restaurant prototype that conveyed its corporate established values,” says Katrina Shum Miller, principal at Green Building Services.

Two recently completed projects seeking LEED certification, located in Gurnee, Ill., and Minnetonka, Minn., incorporate an array of features that Chipotle is rolling into its standards. These standards will influence 140 new company restaurants this year. The Gurnee and Minnetonka projects achieved a 40 percent reduction in water use by installing highly efficient pre-rinse sprayers, faucets, toilets, urinals, ice machines and water heaters. All interior lighting includes low-energy LEDs.

When the Gurnee Chipotle opened in September, a 6-kilowatt wind turbine became the store’s on-site companion, providing at least 7 percent of the energy used by the restaurant. Chipotle’s Web site, www.chipotle.com, features up-to-the-minute information about the turbine’s energy generation. Chipotle also installed photovoltaics on multiple restaurants in Austin, Texas, and Denver with eight more restaurants slated to install PVs this year.

“At first, we had a steep learning curve that came with a 16 percent cost premium for sustainable development. That’s behind us now,” Shippey says. “We are at 8 percent and I think we’ll get it down to 3 percent in the future. For us, it’s an attractive business model; we’re showing that we can be good and profitable.”

kj fields writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.