New look McDonald's uses less water

Friday, 03 February, 2006

Arterra, the landscape company responsible for creating a new exterior for a McDonald's Restaurant, has installed water saving features in almost every part of the landscape.

Sustainability is the focus of the McDonald's restaurant located at Delahey in northwest Melbourne, completed in mid-2005.

This store is a trial of a new approach to environmental issues that could be rolled out to all McDonald's sites, not only to enhance landscapes and help the environment but save on water costs.

The landscape design incorporates swales (a shallow valley of land designed to catch and convey moisture), hit and miss kerbs that allow water into planting areas and other water sensitive urban design principles.

The landscaping changes are part of a new image for the restaurant chain that includes new building designs, interiors, menus and product packaging.

"The landscape was the missing link in their image upgrade. The building of this store is interesting because McDonald's as an organisation is focused on systems and repetition, all the stores are uniform, and this represents a break from that tradition," said Paul Hardyman, director of Arterra Design.

The McDonald's brief to designers was that it wanted the entrance and exterior of the store to communicate a message to its customers, one of environmental sensitivity.

It's difficult to put a figure on the anticipated water savings but it could be as high as 75% less water usage than a typical McDonald's Restaurant.

The new design uses a sub-surface drip irrigation system which has low evaporation levels and reduces vandalism due to the absence of sprinkler heads. However, this is mainly required during establishment of the site and in extremely dry weather and could eventually be switched off.

The other major sustainable features of the landscape are the use of native drought-tolerant plants and a new soil additive, a foam-like product called Hydrocell mixed into the soil, that has good water storage ability.

At Delahey the site engineering was adjusted to allow for the harvesting of a large amount of the pavement run-off water to be directed into the planting areas (instead of directly into Council's stormwater system) and thus reduce irrigation needs and site runoff. This adjustment required no site layout adjustment and minimal changes to the previous engineering practices.

This is a significant departure from the way McDonald's have designed landscapes over the past 30 years, using less then 10% native plants and areas of turf that use large amounts of water and resources.

They have also traditionally used brightly coloured plants and have yet to embrace an Australian 'bush' aesthetic and plants with more grey coloured foliage.

The lifecyle analysis of the landscape was based on a 20-year model (the average duration of a McDonald's licence), and took into account the costs of such activities as lawn mowing, plant pruning and irrigation.

The Delahey store will see a return on the maintenance costs of the landscape within the first five years and this is at the upper end of the cost spectrum due to the nature of the site.

"A lot of it is common sense. The design was driven by my awareness of water issues and also the design character of the new stores, they are using a lot of new materials like stone," said Hardyman.

He has received several enquiries from McDonald's wanting to find out what kind of gravel mulch is being used to satisfy questions from its customers. "The interesting aspect has been seeing people's uptake of the new store," said Hardyman, "It looks so different from any McDonald's they would have seen before but customers like it's setting McDonald's apart in an aesthetic and environmental way."

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