The Golden Arches go for the Green
Irwin Miller in 2012 Olympics: Sports, Beyond the Games, Los Angeles, Sports

Photo courtesy of Flickr user diamond geezer

Like all things Olympic, I was struck by the imagery of the newest and largest McDonald's that just opened at the Olympic Games this week in London. The innovation of this 32,000 square foot fast food location (the largest in the world) is not just the sheer size and efficiency of serving and seating 1,500 customers by 500 employees, but the aspect that the entire facility will be dismantled after 6 weeks and the majority of materials will be repurposed or recycled. The structure is made primarily of Glulam, timber cladding and wood decking and has been 3 years in planning, design and finally construction, which completed last month. But there is more than an architectural design story here…

The project reflects an idea we have been hearing the past few years from retail clients and emerging companies that we work with – they want to create something successful – but they need it to perform on multiple levels. Designing a space, selling goods and hoping you survive and thrive is not good enough in the competitive world of retail and a customer base that is more informed than ever.

What McDonald’s is doing in this project is going beyond brick-and-mortar architecture and infusing the message of the 'Greenest Games Ever' into how they operate the Olympic facilities. Among the sustainable practices, they are using energy efficient kitchen equipment and low flow water devices and even the cooking oil from the various venues that will be processed into a bio-diesel blend to fuel most of the delivery trucks all over the UK. They are starting these ideas at the main restaurant venue and then spreading these practices throughout the UK.

McDonald’s estimates that between the four facilities in the Olympic Park, they will serve 1.75 million people in 29 days, with Britons accounting for 85 percent of their customers during that time. The company has taken the idea of Olympic diversity to heart as well in their staffing strategy for the games, inviting more than 2,000 of their top performing managers and crew from 42 countries to staff these facilities during the games.

Photo courtesy of HEMINGWAYDESIGN

Beyond food service operations and back of house changes, the UK branch of McDonald’s has enlisted the apparel designers Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway to design a line of eco-friendly uniforms using plastics and recycled fibers. The uniforms feature upcycled fabrics that are part of a closed loop system – which ensures as uniforms and aprons are retired – they are reused in the next batch of uniforms.

Photo courtesy of McDonald's

As one would expect, McDonald's is facing criticism for the unhealthy nature of their food and there have been calls in London for a ban of them from the Olympic Games. To counter these arguments, the restaurant chain has shown they are committed to using high-quality and local British food – over 17,500 British and Irish farmers provide beef, free–range eggs, pork and organic milk for the UK McDonald's. Since offering alternative side dishes with Happy Meals a few years ago – those alternate offerings have quadrupled in sales vs. the standard French fries. Globally, some of these alternate food choices include kiwi-on-a-stick, carrot flowers, corn cups, and apple slices in the US.

"We're using the scope of our global reach to deliver positive messages in a way that is fun and meaningful, and we're confident we can play an appropriate role in helping address the important subject of children's well-being," said Don Thompson, McDonald's President and CEO. The company has also rolled out a program called 'Champions of Play’, which includes booklets and an online program to inform children of the importance of play to contribute to children's healthy development on mental and physical levels. Again, they are creating a program that is not simply food related but touches upon healthy food and lifestyle options and a more holistic view of how children develop.

Lastly, the food chain is using QR codes to deliver any products nutritional information in an instant on their own mobile devices for the first time in their history. The premise is that all food products can be scanned on one’s smart phone and the customer can instantly be informed about their food decisions.

While the Olympics affords the scale and exposure that is unique and only happens every few years, the variety of experiences, actions and outcomes that McDonald’s has tied into this venue will be long lasting and rolled out nationally in the UK and globally thereafter. The lessons other retailers both large and very small can learn are the following:

Irwin Miller
Irwin Miller is a co-leader of Gensler’s global retail practice, and a design principal in the Los Angeles office. Focused on brand integration and user experience in retail environments, Irwin is forever motivated by his own daily encounters with design – finding inspirations everywhere from the county fair to summer holidays with family in Europe. Contact him at
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