McDonald’s UK energy manager talks to edie

Life could have been very different for McDonald's environmental consultant, Peter Schroeder if it hadn't been for the 'stop-gap' job which quickly became a lifelong passion and career.

Peter graduated from Oxford University with a degree in physics about 25 years ago and while planning what to do with his life he took a job working as a trainee manager with McDonald’s.

Peter found the job quickly becoming a career, and one that enabled him to progress rapidly through the ranks.

“I enjoyed the job, it really is as simple as that,” says Peter: “Then after about 13 years of running and opening restaurants I was waiting for planning permission to come through to open a restaurants in Reading, which was near to where I lived.

“Whilst I was waiting, another challenge crossed my path when my regional manager asked me to look at energy reductions in a group of 100 restaurants in the south east, of England.

It was a challenge, which I enjoyed immensely and when I made great energy savings for this group of restaurants I was offered the fantastic opportunity to become McDonald’s first energy manager.”

Peter has not looked back since. Having started out, like many other McDonald’s head office employees and senior management on the restaurant floor he has an instant camaraderie with McDonald’s restaurant managers and franchise owners.

He understands how the restaurant works, and he knows the challenges and opportunities they face every day. This insight, is truly invaluable to his job.

Peter, who is a previous winner of the ESTA Energy Manager of the Year, says he loves going to the restaurants but he regrets getting less time these days as he has overall strategies to formulate and action.

“I know the day-to-day issues our restaurant managers can face and I realise it can be difficult for them to put energy efficiency at the top of their agenda.

However, with the extensive knowledge Peter has of restaurant operations, he has managed to to implement a simple way to assist staff about the company’s energy usage.

Peter, working with Siemens, helped create Sie-Smart, a system which has a basic operational effectiveness that belies the complex work it does.

The system emails a graph to each restaurant before 11am showing the previous day’s electricity consumption details, by the half hour.

“They’re all very busy people, I know that, and we could have easily given them a system where they go on to a website, log on to find their restaurant or restaurants – but all this takes a few minutes.

“Now that might not be very long but when someone only has a short time for admin work it’s might become a deterrent.

“The manager gets an email which they just need to click on and have a look. Where there is the opportunity to make energy savings, they can see it immediately and take the appropriate action.”

Over the last few years, McDonald’s has undergone an extensive programme of reimaging its restaurants.

The last few years has seen McDonald’s seize the opportunity to incorporate energy efficiency technology when the restaurant is being reimaged.

As McDonald’s faces increasing costs from food suppliers and higher energy, water and waste bills in 2011 its focus is increasingly on sustainability.

“It’s my role to explain to our franchisees the benefits of all the technologies on offer and to demonstrate how they will make energy and cost savings with them.

“However, through our company-wide reporting it soon becomes obvious there are considerable savings available to those who are willing to invest time and resources.”

Savings are being made through everything from LED lights being retrofitted throughout McDonald’s restaurants to waterless urinals.

Other energy and water saving technologies are either, under consideration, or being installed including variable speed HVAC, reduced speed kitchen extracts, low energy hand-dryers and reduced energy kitchen equipment to name only a handful.

Across the UK McDonald’s has also put waste reduction at the core of its business and, thanks to automated food ordering, has only about 3% food wastage.

Recycling takes place at many levels of the chain with used cooking oil from all of restaurants converted to biodiesel to be used in our distribution fleet.

As well as the re-imaging of restaurants McDonald’s has also moved into the growing coffee market and now has the vast majority of its restaurants, which are not already 24 hours-a-day, opening their doors to customers from 6am.

Obviously, increased hours and new equipment for making a range of coffee creates further challenges and opportunities to control emissions and energy costs.

“Serving more customers is going to use more energy, but if we hadn’t put in energy reduction measures we would’ve have seen a significant surge in energy usage.

“I’ve been able to reduce energy usage whilst our customer numbers have increased by nearly 20% in the last three years.”

Looking at the most recent figures across the portfolio of about 1200 McDonald’s restaurants, the chain has invested almost £8 million with much more planned, and has so far achieved a payback of well under two years.

Looking at the future the future Peter is working on McDonald’s Planet Champions initiative which works, on a voluntary basis, by getting staff from every restaurant to put forward someone to promote environmental initiatives.

“This is something that has gone on for years within the restaurants, but this is the first time we’re making it an official role.

“The volunteers will be given proper training at our regional headquarters and take back this knowledge to their colleagues.”

“Take up of this initiative has been very positive we have a young workforce who are very open to engagement in environmental issues.

“Keeping these Champions engaged is how we’ll continue to move the environmental agenda forward and also how we’ll find the energy managers of the future.”

Luke Walsh

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