Business as usual should be the gold standard for McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain. But the rapidly changing climate may strike directly at the heart of “business as usual” for the fast food giant.
McDonald’s operates 36,538 outlets across 119 countries, serving 68 million customers. Dining at McDonald’s should evoke a very familiar experience globally: a typical meal consists of a hamburger, french fries, and a soda. Behind that experience, though, reveals the end product of one of the most prolific supply chains in the world – one that carries an enormous impact on the climate.
For McDonald’s to continue to be a mainstay in consumers’ lives, it must be able to adapt its business practices.
So how is McDonald’s affected by climate change?
To supply a world’s worth of food at a cheap cost, McDonald’s has understandably tried to control its costs as strictly as possible. Unfortunately, however, this can often have unintended but still serious ecological impacts: for instance, McDonald’s was found in 1986 to have been sourcing beef from cows raised on deforested land in the Amazon1. As time went on and the public became keenly aware of the impact of the devastation of one of the world’s great rainforests, McDonald’s had to change its supply chain dramatically to bring more sustainable products to its perceptive customers. Those same customers with concerns about the impact that McDonald’s has to the environment have also started to vote with their dollars: beef consumption has continued its steady decline in pounds of beef per person consumed per year. Much of that is fueled by further understanding of the methane emissions caused by cattle farming2. McDonald’s must then also change its core offering to please a more ecologically conscious consumer base3,4.
In addition to pressure from public perception, climate change has the potential to affect the offerings that McDonald’s counts on to create a thriving business. The extreme and unpredictable weather patterns that have emerged because of climate change have started to affect crops needed to make McDonald’s products. For instance, avocados in California have started to increase in price because of surprisingly low yields following years of drought5.
So what’s McDonald’s doing?
Well, quite a bit, actually:
- Supply Chain
- Beef: McDonald’s has participated and adhered to the guidelines set by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). The GRSB commits McDonald’s to perform regular check-ups not only on the raw material consumption (water, grass, corn) needed to produce beef, but also restricts McDonald’s from procuring beef from cattle raised on native forests, grasslands, or other high conservation value areas6.
- Fiber: Due to the huge amount of packaging that goes into every McDonald’s product, McDonald’s has agreed that by 2020, all fiber-based packaging will be sourced from raw materials according to the Forest Stewardship Council7. Among other criteria, the FSC prevents the use of any paper goods derived from illegal logging.
- Restaurant Operations
- Energy Efficiency: Through world-class design standards, updated technology, and better operational processes, McDonald’s will increase the energy efficiency of its company owned stores by 20% by the year 20208.
- Renewable Energy: By 2014, McDonald’s had committed its European restaurants to purchase 76% of their electricity from renewable sources8.
Wait, is that it?
For a company with the expansive footprint of McDonald’s, there seem to be a number of glaring areas of focus that don’t seem to have been addressed.
- Transportation: 15% of all CO2 emissions are attributed to the transport sector. By introducing locally sourced products, McDonald’s may be able to dramatically decrease the eco-footprint of its supply chain.
- Commodity Crops: Reducing the amount of menu items that rely on commodity crops such as corn and soybeans. The so-called “monoculture” of commodity crops helps to propagate the use of pesticides and heavy application of fertilizers, which can be both soil-depleting and pest-attracting9.
- Experiment with Composting: With the amount of food waste intrinsic to fast food, it seems to make sense that consumers should have the option to compost their waste rather than throwing it all into the trash bins. Composting, among many other benefits, can help local areas create richer soil, reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers, and encourage healthy root systems, thus decreasing the impact of runoff10.
A Global Leader
Finally, McDonald’s is looked toward as a icon in not only the restaurant industry, but in the business universe as a whole. If McDonald’s can truly become a sustainable organization while maintaining its tremendous performance, the effect of its sustainability efforts wont be contained to just McDonald’s own supply chain: it can act as a sterling example for other high-powered organizations who currently fear that taking these types of actions would take away from their profitability.
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1: Astor, Michael, “Greenpeace: McDonald’s Harming the Amazon.” USA Today, April 2006, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2006-04-06-mcdonalds-amazon_x.htm, accessed November 2016
2: Barclay, Eliza “A Nation of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up.” NPT, June 2012, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters, accessed November 2016
3: McDonald’s Corporation FORM 10-K. December 2013, https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/63908/000006390814000019/mcd-12312013x10k.htm, accessed November 2016
4: Greenpeace, “Eating Up The Amazon.” Greenpeace, April 2006, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/7/eating-up-the-amazon.pdf, accessed November 2016
5: Eastwood, Joel, “Climate Change Could Take a Toll on Fast Food Menus.” The Star, March 2014, https://www.thestar.com/business/2014/03/05/climate_change_could_take_a_toll_on_fast_food_menus.html, accessed November 2016
6: Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Website, “Natural Resources.” http://www.grsbeef.org/what-sustainable-beef/natural-resources, accessed November 2016
7: McDonald’s Corporate Website, “Commitment on Deforestation.” http://corporate.mcdonalds.com/content/mcd/sustainability/sourcing/priority-products/commitment-on-deforestation.html, accessed November 2016
8: McDonald’s Corporate Website, “White House Climate Pledge.” http://corporate.mcdonalds.com/content/dam/AboutMcDonalds/2.0/pdfs/McDonalds_White%20House_Climate%20Pledge_Oct%2019%202015.pdf, accessed November 2016
9: Mulik, Kranti, “The Healthy Farmland Diet.” Union of Concerned Scientists.” October 2013, http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/expand-healthy-food-access/the-healthy-farmland-diet.html#.VXh-AmOGfdk, accessed November 2016
10: Washington State University Website, “Compost Fundamentals.” http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/fundamentals/benefits_benefits.htm, accessed November 2016