Last July, Ric Richards — a fast-food franchisee — opened the first green McDonald’s in North Carolina, proving that it can be affordable and effective to build a sustainable fast-food restaurant. One of the key green elements to the Cary, NC-based McDonald’s is energy-saving, high-quality LED lighting.

Richards, who owns seven McDonald’s in the state, spent more than two years researching and planning the green restaurant. In 2009, the site’s original McDonald’s was demolished and rebuilt specifically to be one of the first LEED Gold-certified fast-food restaurants in the United States. Richards and his team re-used or recycled nearly 100 percent of the previous building’s materials.

Ninety-seven percent of the store is lit with LEDs, featuring Cree’s LED lights in dining areas, the kitchen, breakroom, hallways, restrooms, and storage areas as well as the drive-thru and entryways. LEDs are more than four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and are more efficient than compact fluorescents (CFLs), the next most efficient light source available today. Compared to the traditional lighting systems used in McDonald’s, the Cary store’s lighting consumes 78 percent less electricity.

A fully automated, intelligent lighting-control system uses a photo sensor to combine light from high-efficiency Cree LED lighting and daylighting from Solatube skylights, maintaining the proper light levels on work surfaces. If it rains and the daylighting is reduced, the LED light levels are increased to compensate. In order for the system to work effectively, Cree’s dimmable LR24 was chosen to provide this flexibility.

One of the first LEED Gold-certified fast-food restaurants in the United States.

The restaurant also features LED lighting in the parking lot, an increasingly popular use for LEDs because of the maintenance cost savings. LED fixtures can last up to 20 years, so there’s no need to regularly call in an electrician with a bucket truck to change a lightbulb. The outdoor lighting adds to the aesthetics of the store, as the LEDs deliver more uniform light across the parking area without ‘hot spots’ or wasted light like traditional streetlights.

In addition to LED lighting, the Cary McDonald’s features many design innovations that save both energy and resources. High-efficiency energy- and water-saving fixtures are used, including a hydronic boiler system that pumps hot water through building ducts. Low-flow toilets and faucets and low-irrigation landscaping are also part of the restaurant’s water conservation measures. Rapidly renewable resources like sunflower seed board, wheat board, bamboo, and Kieri board were used for tabletops and wall decorations.