Has McDonald's really gone Net Zero?
'I was asked this by my brother today, after he'd seen this BBC report online. The simple answer is "no, of course not", but it made me look at the story a bit more closely, especially in light of the recent publication of the government's Green Claims Code. I know it can feel a bit pedantic to forensically analyse business press releases for over-claims or getting details wrong, but this stuff matters, so...
The official press release headline from McDonald's is -
MCDONALD’S OPENS FIRST UK NET ZERO CARBON RESTAURANT
but the document has a footnote "McDonald’s Market Drayton restaurant is the first restaurant in the UK due to be verified as net zero emissions "
So the first question: is it Truthful and Accurate to claim that this IS a net zero restaurant and then admit it's actually DUE TO BE verified as such in the future?
The footnote goes on to say that the restaurant will be verified as net zero emissions "for construction using the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC)'s net zero carbon buildings framework"
The UKGBC net zero framework doesn't verify restaurants as net zero, for the same reason that it doesn't verify refineries, or power stations, or factories - because it would be misleading. It verifies the building only.
So the second question: is it clear and unambiguous for McDonald's to claim that this is (will be) a net zero restaurant, when the standard against which they are claiming to be net zero is exclusively for the building.
This matters because by calling it a net zero restaurant, the impression is created that the claim applies to all the greenhouse gas emissions sources you'd reasonably expect to be covered by a net zero restaurant - most importantly the production emissions of the food served. In the case of the UKGBC code these are not included, neither are emissions from food waste, packaging, customer travel, employee commuting, etc.
When it comes to net zero claims I'd suggest that there are 4 questions we need to ask:
1. Have they calculated emissions from full value chain
2. Have they set ambitious reduction targets and started to achieve them
3. Have they invested in certified emissions avoidance and removal projects
4. Have they shared their emissions data, targets, actions and offsets transparently and in full
Anything less than 4 x Yes is going to attract accusations of Greenwash.
Perhaps a fair press release, consistent with the Green Claims Code, would be -
"NEW McDONALD'S IN MARKET DRAYTON OPENS IN A BUILDING THAT THE UKGBC PLANS TO VERIFY AS COMPLIANT WITH ITS NET ZERO CODE SOME TIME IN THE FUTURE"...
...but I can see why that might not get the headlines that the company wants.'
Written by Simon Heppner, Founder of Net Zero Now.