The McDonald’s restaurant in Cary, NC, will become the first location in the fast food restaurant chain in more than a decade to offer electric car recharging. The deployment of a ChargePoint charging station for plug-in vehicles is part of the Cary restaurant’s efforts to go green. Ric Richards, the independent owner of the McDonald’s, is building the new restaurant with eco-friendly materials and technologies.

McDonald's marquee with electric car charging message

For decades, critics have criticized McDonald’s for questionable enviromental practices. Now, the McDonald’s in Cary, NC installed a charging station for low- or zero-emission plug-in cars.

“Our customers will have a dedicated place to park and recharge their vehicles,” said Richards. “McDonald’s is enabling a better environment for future generations by supporting zero-emissions transportation infrastructure.” The new “green” McDonald’s in Cary will open on July 14.

A McDonald’s location in Phoenix, Ariz., installed a charging station in the late 1990s to accommodate a previous wave of electric cars. There are also plans to install plug-in car charging stations at McDonald’s locations in Sweden.

Widespread adoption of plug-in cars will partly depend on the establishment of convenient recharging locations where drivers live and work. ChargePoint and other providers are installing its first charging stations to anticipate the introduction of electric cars and plug-in hybrids—not expected in significant numbers until 2011 or later. Analysts forecast that as many as 1 million charging stations will be installed throughout the United States by 2015. ChargePoint is a private fee-based network of charging stations, providing grid access and related services for owners of plug-in cars.

After decades of criticism for its questionable environmental practices—including destruction of the rainforest to make way for cattle ranching and production of millions of tons of unnecessary packaging—McDonald’s has recently improved its policies regarding energy and waste. The charging station parking spot at the Cary McDonald’s could be empty for a number of years—until plug-in cars are introduced and sold in North Carolina. At this stage, the usefulness of charging a car for 30 minutes or so—the length of a fast food meal—remains uncertain.

U-Turn at the Drive-Through Lane

In 2006, McDonald’s came under fire for giving away 42 million toy Hummers with Happy Meals. Critics said that Hummers were the worst example of the lack of commitment to cleaner and more efficient vehicles by General Motors and other American automakers—and should not be promoted to children. At the time, Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, said, “McDonald’s has helped make American kids the fattest in the world, so now they’re looking for new ways to promote an unhealthy lifestyle.” He added, “They’re selling future car buyers on the fun of driving a vehicle that emits 39 times more smog-forming chemicals than the cleanest cars on the road.”

The installation of the first plug-in car charging station at a McDonald’s is an example of the rapid dramatic shift in public sentiment about cars, energy and the environment—or at least public relations efforts catering to green-oriented consumers—and is seen as a sign of the potential widespread adoption of cars that can be powered by electricity.