The findings by M/A/R/C Research point to a public relations disaster for the segment. Consider that the data, based on an online poll of some 7,000 consumers, also reveal that 62% of the public would be drawn to a quick-service place that was eco-minded, and that 21% would increase their visits if fast-food restaurants were green.
There can really be only two explanations. The obvious one is that the chains are doing a lousy job of letting the public know how they’re striving to be more ecologically responsible. Maybe they’re afraid of being accused of not doing enough, or of being slammed for “greenwashing,” a serious crime among the eco-minded. That community is sensitive to over-hyped or false claims of helping the environment.
But the other possibility is more problematic for the industry. What if the public is refusing to see what the chains are doing? If that sounds crazy, consider this excerpt from a Letter to the Editor that recently ran in the Santa Barbara Independent:
We are shocked and dismayed that a McDonald's restaurant on State Street has been certified by the Green Business Program of Santa Barbara County.
What's next, giving an award to Monsanto for putting up a single solar panel?
While we are sure that the local owner of this McDonald's franchise was sincere in trying to reduce his or her carbon footprint (and save a few dollars) by putting in waterless urinals, an Energy Star ice machine, and an upgraded irrigation system, it is a bad joke to "certify" this as a green business. It makes a mockery of genuine efforts toward true sustainability.
In our opinion, this award is one of the most egregious cases of greenwashing we have ever seen. — Larry Saltzman and Linda Buzzell, founders, Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club
Like it or not, McDonald’s is taking substantive steps to be greener, from exploring alternative energy sources to testing ways an operation of its size could feasibly compost its food scraps.
And it’s just one of the fast-food concepts that are trying to act more responsibly. Undoubtedly, those steps are still small ones right now. They’re balanced against the impact on profits. And maybe there’s more that should be done. We can even concede that the impetus may be public pressure, from employees and eco-minded shareholders as much as patrons.
But there is a lot being done by the industry—right now, primarily by fast-food chains and independents. The trade has to focus on making the public see and appreciate that effort.