McDonald’s going green – I’m lovin’ it. …?

Green is not just the color of hope; it stands for eco-friendliness, a factor of success that works to impress business partner and consumers.

McDonald’s is a firm on a mission. Tired of being vilified and seen as an example of greed, the company attacks at critics with a series of environmental and social initiatives designed to prove that they are totally environmental-friendly and thereby totally green.

Inspired by the regular feeding with green business ideas by SparklinGesine, I was wondering in how far companies might use a green image as a strong marketing campaign to participate in the current hype of being green. Is it just a way to maximize profits? Are companies forced to follow the mainstream of green initiatives to defend their market shares?

I always try to have a critical look on the things I hear, see or read and try to identify the intention behind a certain action a company takes. Firms like McDonald’s certainly do a lot to improve their environmental behavior but it is also always a matter of image. The question is: What do they expect to achieve by doing that? I have my difficulties to believe this whole together-for-a-better-world-thing and have a feeling that most firms are more selfish and follow a well-planed marketing-strategy. Does the end justify the means?

According to the article “Grün ist Hoffnung” (“Green is hope”), McDonald’s tries to change its image of a dripping with fat fast-food-chain by offering low-calorie food like salads or wraps.

In the German Newspaper “ Die Welt”, I even read about the first McDonald’s branch that offers no burgers. It makes use of the concept of a salad bar and is located in the business quarter of Paris, La Défense. Customers can order salads that cost about 7 Euro. They can choose between five classic recipes or combine their own mixture.

Another McDonald’s salad bar was opened in the Parisian suburb Clayes-sous-Bois. By replacing the prepared salads by the salad bar, the sales tripled from 50 to 150 per day. At the same time customers spend on average 4 Euro more in this particular branch in comparison to other branches. With this concept, McDonald’s tries to get its slice of the cake of the growing market of healthy food and organic products.

Nevertheless, the biggest part of sales is still heavy burgers, fries and sweet soft-drinks.

Besides offering low-calorie food, McDonald’s places its hope in coffee (sustainably grown coffee and organic milk), putting shops like Starbucks under pressure.

In an article by the German magazine “Der Stern”, the author Gerhard Hegemann explains that the German subsidiary of McDonald’s is regarded as pioneer for innovations and changes in range of products and design. For example: The first McCafé was opened 1993 in Australia but the concept came into action exhaustively in Germany. Germany has currently 1386 McDonald’s-restaurants of which 737 have an integrated McCafé.

Marianne Barriaux formulated in her article a perfect summary according to the changes in the restaurants design which were carried out in early 2006 in Europe: “Some of the group’s sites have been completely redone. A dark green or black facade replaces the trademark bright red and yellow one, armchairs, low-hung trendy lights, quirky designs and different types of seating areas are all an attempt to attract a more
discerning customer.”

A spokeswoman of McDonald’s said: “We are in a very competitive market and it is very important that we make sure we’re appealing to our customers, and that when they see a McDonald’s restaurant, it is inviting to them.”

The restaurants and hotels analyst at Standard & Poor’s, Mark Basham, said: “The revamped menus, the rebranded stores, the company’s more progressive stance on the environment have all had a positive influence on consumers.” He says the redesign “entices people to spend more time there and therefore spend more money, and it encourages people to go at different times of the day than they normally would”.

The new logo with green background was announced to be a Europe wide initiative. It seems as if America is not ready for a change like this. Comparing the German and American McDonald’s website about their environmental initiatives, it is conspicuous that on the German site the red sidebar is already missing. Both sites give detailed information about McDonald’s environmental-friendly behavior and about campaigns they participate.

In the article “McDonald’s rolling out green logo in Europe, I read the following: “With this new appearance we want to clarify our responsibility for the preservation of natural resources. In the future we will put an even larger focus on that,” Hoger Beek, vice chairman of McDonald’s Germany, said in the statement concerning the change in McDonald’s marketing campaign.

Talking about the future: In August 2008, McDonald’s USA opened a very future-oriented restaurant, its first corporate-owned pilot green restaurant in Chicago. Some of the green attributes of restaurant include energy-efficiency equipment and lighting, high efficiency plumbing fixtures, and permeable pavement and rainwater collection for irrigation.

In Germany and the UK for example, the spent cooking oil is turned into biodiesel fuel to power its vans. In Germany, 90 % of the waste McDonald’s produces is recyclable and in about 400 restaurants there are water free urinals to save water.

Greenpeace, which has worked with McDonald’s, says the company has been progressive. Pat Venditti, forest campaigner at the charity, says: “What we’ve seen is that they have taken a very good leadership role in terms of how they approach environmental issues.”

Sounds good but during my research for this blog post I found out that unexpectedly not many people are convinced by the new line McDonald’s is adopting and a lot of people have no in trust this whole campaign.

McDonald’s has definitely still a lot to do. It is, for example, still producing way too much waste. I heard that supposedly the daily consumption of disposable pack in the US is about 100 million pieces. Doesn’t sound that green anymore, right? Actually it is certainly a good thing that such a high percentage of Mc Donald’s waste can be recycled but the restaurants are still following the principle of too much packaging.

Now it is your turn. Real interest in eco-friendliness or just a smart marketing-strategy? Or maybe both at the same time? Tell me what you think!


About NerdyLaura

Born and raised in Berlin, Germany. 20-year-old girl. Studying "International Business Management" at Berlin School of Economics and Law although my Time-Management is really bad ;). Hates: Rainy days and people who are driving 30 km/h when 50 km/h are allowed. Loves: Kitschy staff, jewellery, gardening (green fingers) and movies (good and bad ones). View all posts by NerdyLaura

9 responses to “McDonald’s going green – I’m lovin’ it. …?

  • domwoj

    Hey Laura.
    First of all very interesting topic and good research work.
    I think that McD just follows a smart marketing-strategy. A sign for that is e.g. the difference between Germany and the States. It Seems like nobody in the States cares about waste reduction, healthy food or saving water. In Germany people are different and develop more and more an environmental awareness, the “green aspect” is just everywhere and sells quite successful.
    McD has been progressive for sure, however there is still a lot of space left to improve. The company always just states which positive things they do, but never the negative. I have never seen for example an ad informing about the origin of the meat they use, yet I guess nobody of us really wants to know.
    Nevertheless I hope that McD will continue turning their business into a green one, also globally and not just because they wanna manipulate customers, making them buy more.

  • angiethiem

    Thank you for the really informative post and just as domwoj said: the good research work. I am really convinced and amazed about how many articles you read and how u managed to filter all the importanat information!
    I think in this case the intention of the change is just less important since it has a positive outcome. image or not – what they do is good and we can just hope that they will continue their work since pressure from society gets bigger. I hope they will improve their work also behind “the scenes” and aplly the change there, where we consumers wont notice is so fast.

    Thanks for the post! Good work and good chosen topic! :)

  • A green droplet in the ocean? « BusinessNerds

    […] that with my friend NerdyLaura and apparently, I got her with me on the green wave. In her latest blog post, she discusses McDonald’s going-green-campaign and the money-making strategy that might be behind […]

  • Bruce Spear

    Excellent, excellent, EXCELLENT! The one thing you might do is replace the linked “this article” with the author’s name or the post’s title: write like you talk. And it is wonderful how you guys are referring to each other: that’s a very high level you are reaching!

    • NerdyLaura

      Thank you for your nice and helpful comments and for the exchange of views. You are really great, guys.
      And thanks Dr. B. for presenting a little criticismn. I followed your advice! :)

  • Iris Ng

    hey laura! Your catchy headline grabbed my attention and i really enjoyed reading your blogpost! You mentioned many things that I didn’t know before, like Macdonalds having salad bars and not selling burgers at all in certain outlets. The effort they put into recycling is also commendable.

    I agree with domwoj that what Macdonalds is doing is just using these “going green” campaign to further strengthen their market share and improve their brand image at the same time. However, that’s not a bad thing, as long as a win-win situation can be achieved – where REAL environmental issues are addressed, and where Macdonalds channels its hugs profits into doing something less harmful (if not beneficial) to the environment. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words”, so it doesn’t matter if their purpose of doing this was to attract customers or not, as long as they DO carry out these green initiatives they so promise.

    In all, thank you so much for the awesome read!

  • Julia J.

    Dear Laura, I wanted to read your article because we had this topic in marketing class. Also another classmate had a presentation on ESSO going green in Self Management class back in the days….:)
    You gave as a good summary of Mc Donald’s progress to become greener! I was just like you also wondering if such campaigns can really change the image of a brand and guarantee more profits. Just as you said, many people are still not convinced about Mc Donald’s eco-friendliness. But a fact is that sales have gone up since they started their campaign. That might maybe not be because people now thing that Mc Donald’s is green but because they adapted more to the consumer’s preferences. As you demonstrated, they changed the furniture and so one. It is now a place where it is much more comfortable to eat and stay for a while. They have new offers and so on. It is always hard for a company to change the image and as you correctly said, there is still a long way to go for Mc Donald’s, but they are progressing and a change cannot come from one day the other.
    Your question in the end really makes the reader think about the whole topic and I think it is both. Mc Donald’s is a huge brand and they could not survive if they only used the eco-friendliness as a marketing tool. Only with the combination of the two it is possible to retain customers for a long time!

  • Lea


    do you think you can say where you find that people doesn’t trust the green image? Thanks!

    I’m going to do a thesis exactly on the subject of this article : )

  • kaleb114

    very informative i can finality finish my school report!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: