Cooking Up Interest in Energy Efficiency: An EDF Climate Corps fellow's lessons as a change agent at McDonald's

EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 20, 2011


By Pia Kristiansen, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at McDonald's, MBA Candidate at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business

With 1.7 million employees worldwide, it's no wonder McDonald's is an industry leader in employee education – boasting an extensive e-learning suite and pillar institution, Hamburger University.

The majority of its employees work in restaurants as crew members and managers so it's also not surprising McDonald's identified an opportunity to increase awareness and participation in energy efficiency initiatives at the restaurant level. Less commonly known, however, is that McDonald's already has a number of energy management strategies in place and would like to see them more widely utilized. With this goal in mind, McDonald's is a returning participant to the EDF Climate Corps program. And it's tasked me to improve employee education on and awareness of energy-saving tools and practices in its restaurants, contributing to a company-wide effort to reduce energy consumption.

Like most McDonald's new hires, my orientation included "in-store training." Yes – I "flipped" burgers and worked the fryer. Although, technically, nobody is "flipping" burgers at McDonald's these days – the restaurants are equipped with specially designed "clam shell" grills that cook both sides of the burger simultaneously and use less energy. Did I wonder how my Climate Corps fellowship brought me to a kitchen where I franticly attempted to keep up with the lunchtime rush for delicious McDonald's French fries? Absolutely.

This experience provided extremely valuable insight into the complexities of designing and implementing an employee engagement strategy. In the case of McDonald's, I never expected that some of the company's esteemed corporate qualities would simultaneously create a very complex system for enacting change.

Diversity: McDonald's prides itself on its extremely diverse employees. It is the biggest chain restaurant in the world. Seventy-five percent of its locations are owned and operated by entrepreneurial franchisees – each with the responsibility of running their franchise effectively. At the restaurant level, owner-operators, managers, and crew members are all valued as a resource to the company and represent the diverse communities from which they come. With a commitment to increasing participation in energy efficiency initiatives at restaurants, I'll need to develop a dynamic program that successfully engages the diverse audience that comprises McDonald's restaurant employees.

Brand: Synonymous with McDonald's brand is speed, consistency and quality. Serving more than 64 million people in 117 countries each day, McDonald's in-store experience is down to a science. For successful implementation, my recommendations for an employee engagement campaign need to be designed to enhance – not disrupt – McDonald's equation for success.

While the majority of Climate Corps fellows address equipment and technical investments in commercial buildings, a few of us will be tackling the unique challenges associated with relying on the employees inside of those buildings to drive energy use reduction and cost savings. At McDonald's, I am working on a strategy that leverages the company's resources and engages the spectrum of restaurant level employees. As I explore projects that range from designing an e-learning tool to innovating communication channels for energy efficiency information, I look forward to sharing my progress as I make the business case for investments in energy efficiency focused on a less traditional definition of capital – human capital.

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.