McDonald’s restaurants are often red and yellow, but some in Cary are also green.
The eatery on Walnut Street near Crossroads Plaza underwent a transformation to become Gold LEED certified. The designation is given to buildings that meet requirements for energy savings and other environmentally friendly features.
The McDonald’s on Kildaire Farm Road earned the certification in 2009. Both locations are owned by Ric Richards, who runs 11 McDonald’s eateries throughout the Triangle.
Only nine McDonald’s restaurants nationwide have the certification, and Cary is the only city in the country with two.
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“Cary is a very educated community,” Richards said. “It’s mindful about recycling, and I just thought that maybe it made for a good fit to look at an environmentally friendly building in an environmentally friendly city. And the more passionate I got about it, the more I could get McDonald’s behind it.”
The Walnut Street location received the certification earlier this month. The restaurant re-opened in November after undergoing a green renovation.
It now has solar panels, skylights and LED lights, restroom and kitchen features that require less water and plants that can withstand drought so an irrigation system isn’t needed.
There are also charging stations for electric vehicles.
Richards said the site is the only McDonald’s east of the Mississippi River that composts its food waste.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said of his decision to compost.
Since the eatery re-opened last fall, he said, “20,000 pounds has already gone back into becoming fertilizer rather than going into a landfill.”
The Walnut Street site is the largest McDonald’s Richards owns. At 6,700 square feet, it’s about double the average size – but it has the lowest electric bills.
As part of the restaurant’s expansion, workers had to cut down six large trees, which drew criticism from some in the community.
Richards acknowledged the controversy, saying the trees at least didn’t go to waste – their wood was harvested and sold.
“It made a few people upset ... but we did try to be a good neighbor when we took them down,” he said.
At the renovated site, Richards said, he planted 43 new trees.
Richards also built an advanced retention pond, complete with rock lining and plant coverage, which he said should cut down on bad runoff during storms compared to normal retention ponds.
The eco-friendly work was more expensive than if he had just remodeled using standard practices, but Richards said he expects to recoup his costs.
The main cost was solar panels, he said, but the array “will pay for itself in five years, and it will last for 50 years.”
He has no immediate plans to re-fit his other nine restaurants to the same high standards, since they don’t need to be renovated yet. But he said he will attempt to make them more efficient, bit by bit.
“It’s hard to convert an existing restaurant,” Richards said. “But I will tell you that as I remodel them, I will add in green features.”