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Drive-Thru Blues

February 6, 2009 – 12:14 am

A lot of fast food companies have made a fairly big deal about the concessions they have made towards becoming more environmentally conscious. The list includes steps such as substituting recycled packaging for their traditional wrappers, looking for ways to reduce the amount of energy and other resources such as water that are used in cooking, and generally limiting the environmental impact of each particular franchise location.

While these efforts are to be applauded – and don’t worry, companies like McDonalds and Taco Bell are getting the maximum publicity mileage out of each effort, no matter how small – there remains a significant source of pollution, waste and disregard for our planet that has yet to be addressed by any of the major players in the burger, fries and shake industry.

I’m talking about drive-thrus. The next time you stop by Wendy’s for a mid-day snack, count how many cars you see there just sitting, idling in line waiting for their food. Have you ever considered just how colossal a waste this is? I’m not going to lie – drive-thrus are convenient, especially when it’s cold or late at night and you just want to grab something quickly. But I’m having more and more of an issue with the idea of sitting in my car burning fuel and spewing out emissions just because I am too lazy to park and order from the counter inside.

Burger King & co might make ecologically-friendly overtures in the form of charitable donations and altered business practices, but in the one area where they could make a huge dent in global greenhouse gas emissions and take a strong leadership role when it comes to changing the habits of North American consumers, they have faltered.

The clean choice is clear – and it’s also the hardest choice. It’s obvious that a substantial percentage of profits are derived from drive-thru business, and if one chain were to shut down its windows they would lose customers to those who would forge ahead with the status quo. However, being the first also tends to have intangible benefits which could positively affect the bottom line further down the road, and the possibility of a strong consumer response could sway competitors to follow those brave enough to set an example.

Can our car culture divorce itself from the ‘need’ for drive-thru fast food service? What do you think?

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