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Climate change: McDonald’s launches net zero carbon restaurant – prompting accusations of greenwashing

McDonald’s has today opened its first net zero restaurant, but some experts have accused the fast food chain of “greenwashing”.

The restaurant in Market Drayton, Shropshire, is powered by on-site solar panels and wind turbines, insulated with British sheep’s wool and cladded with recycled IT equipment and white goods. It will also rely on carbon offsets.

The building is designed to “retain the familiar McDonald’s look and feel to ensure it can be effectively replicated,” and will offer the same menu as the other branches of McDonald’s, famous for its beefburgers.

McDonald’s Beth Hart said their food should be “served in restaurants that are sustainable for the future”, adding that “Market Drayton is a big step towards making that a reality”.

‘McGreenwash’

But campaigners are unconvinced by the company’s environmental claims. Anna Jones from Greenpeace UK said: “If meat and dairy are still the main course on McDonald’s menu, then this new restaurant initiative can only be labelled as it is: McGreenwash.”

Greenpeace describes greenwashing as a “PR tactic that’s used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact”.

Ms Jones said climate-critical forests in South America were being “decimated” by production linked with meat and dairy, and McDonald’s ought to “think beyond emissions from specific UK sites and start to urgently shift it’s entire business model to meat-free alternatives”.

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A spokesperson for McDonald’s said the restaurant was “just one of the many actions we’re taking as a business,” including its “ambitious sustainability plan to achieve our aim of net zero emissions across our entire UK and Ireland business, and value chain, by 2040”.

Jennifer Jacquet, associate professor of environmental studies at New York University, called the announcement a “greenwashing extraordinaire”, saying the real problem was the potent climate-heating gas methane.

“They want praise for focusing on ‘local procurement’ and ‘carbon’ in their daily operations at a single UK store – when the issue is very clearly methane from the burgers sold at their 39,000 stores around the world,” she said.

Cows release vast amounts of heat-trapping methane as they digest, making beef the most climate-damaging food. McDonald’s said its net zero target covers methane and carbon dioxide.

‘An innovative initiative’

Ms Jacquet said she had “yet to see anything from McDonald’s that made a convincing case for how they will achieve net zero – and meanwhile they continue to market and sell hundreds of hamburgers per second”.

However, Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a charity that encourages companies to measure and act on their environmental impact, praised the restaurant as an “an innovative and very welcome initiative”.

CDP’s Dexter Galvin said: “McDonald’s is one of only a small handful of companies currently engaging their suppliers on deforestation through CDP, and their recent B scores for forests show they are taking action when it comes to commodity-driven deforestation”.

The restaurant is the first in the UK due to be verified as net zero emissions for construction using the UK Green Building Council’s net zero carbon buildings framework.

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