When a Cary McDonald's restaurant was torn down and replaced this past summer by a new "green" one, the chain received national attention for the effort. In addition to a green roof and PHEV charging station, the new McDonald's incorporates many sustainable practices, such as low-water use faucets and toilets, and energy-efficient lighting and air conditioning.
Recently, in a showing of the PBS-produced The Green Machine, a program that highlighted Chicago city government's sustainability mandates, Blair Kamin, an architectural critic and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, pooh-poohed the Windy City's green roof program and criticized attempts by McDonald's to go green.
"Those are green Band-Aids. It's incredibly ironic to have a green roof on top of McDonald's, which is really about the drive-in culture. That's the ultimate contradiction. It's like putting a piece of lettuce on top of a bacon double-cheeseburger and saying that it's going to help you control calories."
Kamin generally agreed with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's mandate to green Chicago municipal roofs. Kamin said, "The symbolism of taking the roof of City Hall—this traditional, powerful-looking seat of public authority—and greening it really sent a signal, and that was kind of the political kind of brilliance of it. It said to developers and to public agencies, we're serious."
Green roofs have a well documented payback that includes helping control storm water runoff, combating the so-called Urban Heat Island effect, providing a natural plant and animal habit, and improving air quality by filtering out smog and dust.
Kamin's negative reaction to the green efforts of both Chicago and McDonald's points out that there has been a lot of progress, but much is left to be done. But at least when the third-largest city in the U.S. and the world's largest fast-food chain decide to do something to improve the environment, however insignificant in the eyes of the critics, it deserves kudos.