How Going Green Can Transform a Struggling McDonald’s

The leader of the fast food revolution, McDonald’s, is in full crisis mode after disappointing sales in the last six months. After their CEO reported last month the restaurant chain has “lost some of our customer relevance,” McDonald’s is running around like the Ham-Burglar searching for the next big thing.

The biggest complaints from consumers are that service has slowed – mainly because the kitchen is trying to deal with a menu that’s grown to 150+ items – and the chain has drifted away from its core value: offering simple food at the lowest prices … i.e. the best value.

McDonald’s has also been hit by the healthy food revolution. Consumers are reading labels, concerned about fats, glutens, sodium and overall, searching out fresh, local fare, as well as green, sustainable alternatives.

In addition, it’s reported that McDonald’s biggest fear is that it’s losing one of the most important audiences: the Millennials, adults ages 18 to 32. This group has the most interest in organic foods, grass-fed beef, hormone-free dairy, and a green lifestyle and therefore, can’t relate to McDonald’s. Millennial traffic into the Golden Arches has slid 16 percent in the past five years.

McDonald’s has tried to counter these healthy food complaints by adding choices such as egg white sandwiches, smoothies and McWraps. Besides new menu items, another way to appeal to the Millennials and the new health-conscious and sustainable-focused consumers is to lead the green revolution in the fast food trade.

Start with packaging and trash. In 2012, McDonald’s finally got rid of its foam coffee cups, switching to double-walled paper containers that are 100 percent recyclable.

The next step would be switching to 100 percent compostable containers for serving its Big Macs, French fries and other offerings. The current paper packaging may be recyclable, but recycling centers have long balked at taking paper or cardboard stained with grease or leftover food. Pizza boxes are a prime example, as only the top is really recyclable, not the bottom which too often is filled with grease. By switching to compostable containers, McDonald’s would show the rest of the food industry that they’re serious about the environment.

Another important green change for McDonald’s would be to install separate trash containers in the restaurants: One for Recycling, another Compostable, and a small one for Trash. The Millennial crowd would relish the opportunity to feel good about saving the world one Big Mac container at a time.

A final suggestion would be to get rid of any plastic utensils and switch to reusable flatware in the restaurants. The initial investment would pay for itself by saving the recurring costs for plastic forks and spoons.

McDonald’s is at a critical crossroads, trying to figure out how to be “relevant” again, especially to the younger generation. Going green and using its multi-million dollar ad budget to promote the changes, would go a long way to attract today’s consumers. And more importantly as the industry leader, the rest of the fast food chains would soon follow and effect real change in our environment.