Ariel Schwartz

IS IT GREEN?: McDonald's

by , 09/02/09
filed under: is it green

mcdonalds, fast food, corporate responsibility, eco-friendly meat, supply chain, fast food companies, free range meat, sustainably-farmed meat

McDonald’s is a fast food chain rife with contradictions. The restaurant ships in food from all over the world on carbon-intensive planes and trucks, while simultaneously installing electric vehicle plug-in stations at a “green” branch of the chain. PETA accuses McDonald’s of treating animals cruelly while the company brags about using sustainably-farmed meat. So which is it? Can McDonald’s actually claim any green cred?

mcdonalds, fast food, corporate responsibility, eco-friendly meat, supply chain, fast food companies, free range meat, sustainably-farmed meat

Whether or not you like fast food, it’s impossible to deny the potential impact that McDonald’s could have on supply chain sustainability — the company operates 31,000 stores with yearly sales of over $23 billion. Bob Langert, McDonald’s VP of Corporate Responsibility, knows this. Much like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s is working on an environmental scorecard for its suppliers that will most likely give high-scorers first dibs on supplying products for the chain. Fortunately, McDonald’s is already working on phasing out the worst suppliers — the company supports a moratorium on soya suppliers to prevent harmful environmental practices in the Amazon.

mcdonalds, ronald, chargepoint, ev

McDonald’s is also beginning to explore sustainability in individual locations. The chain’s first self-proclaimed “green” restaurant, located in Chicago, is LEED Gold-certified, while a North Carolina location features ChargePoint electric vehicle charging stations. And in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, 270 McDonald’s restaurants deliver used oil to be converted into biodiesel. These are all admirable efforts, but are they enough?

The company still has a lot of work to do in improving its packaging. Most McDonald’s packaging is paper-based and can be composted, but thus far, McDonald’s hasn’t found biodegradable materials that don’t warp or retain heat.’

With PETA accusing McDonald’s of cutting chickens’ throats while they are still conscious and soaking them in tanks of scalding hot water, the chain has yet to convince environmental activists that it is kind to animals. Langert admits that there is a problem, stating “We think a lot of these industry issues are systemic in nature and are best addressed with collaborative efforts.” “Systemic in nature” is a bit of an understatement – as there is no way not to engage in animal cruelty when you are running a franchise that peddles in cheap meat.

Of course, McDonald’s can never truly claim to be green as long as it sells meat products–the average Holstein cow produces up to 180 kilos of methane each year. Ultimately, cows produce 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and the meat industry is one of the leading contributers to climate change.

mcdonalds, fast food, fat, meat

And we hardly need to point out that fast food is harmful to human health as well as the environment. With the obesity epidemic skyrocketing in America, we need more ‘slow food’ – not fast food. Processed fat in McDonald’s fast food causes endothelial dysfunction – essentially circulatory dysfunction – for up to five hours after  being eaten. Want more proof? Check out the film Super Size Me.

IS IT GREEN?

Not really. As Greenopia points out, “it would be nice to see natural and/or organic products offered and some widespread green building design elements.” The Chicago green building pilot project (and the nine other green building projects in the works) indicate that McDonald’s is considering the implementation of a widespread building efficiency effort, but the chain has no plans that we know of to source local or organic food (with the exception of organic coffee and milk). And we seriously doubt that McDonalds will ever stop selling its iconic meat patties. Since McDonald’s is a fast food chain, all the green buildings in the world won’t cancel out the company’s inherently unsustainable nature. Still, we hope that McDonald’s’ planned supply chain sustainability scorecard leads to widespread changes among fast food suppliers.

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8 Comments

  1. What is H&M's Fast ... September 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    [...] Frappuccino at Starbucks and it’s cheaper than a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Value Meal at McDonalds. You could take that money to your local drugstore and still come up short on a $5.99 tube of Wet [...]

  2. New Burger King Restaur... June 17, 2010 at 10:41 am

    [...] story with a critical eye – no matter how many eco-friendly bells and whistles you put on a fast food restaurant, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fast food restaurant selling mass-produced, [...]

  3. mike016256 September 3, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Dear Inhabitat,

    I used to enjoy reading your site until you started publishing these ridiculous “Is it Green?” articles. Do you really need to write an article arguing that Exxon and McDonald’s don’t meet your standards for sustainability? Your attempts to write these “unbiased” articles are an insult to web journalism.

    As long as you continue this series of articles, I can no longer take Inhabitat seriously.

    Sincerely,
    Michael

  4. speshalkay September 3, 2009 at 9:24 am

    If you don’t want to support MacDonalds, don’t buy their products!

    I don’t!

  5. uglyMood September 2, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    I agree. McDonald’s is so huge that any attempt to mitigate their impact on the environment is helpful. I would also point out that this further legitimizes the green movement in the eyes of industry and the public. They are making changes for the better and providing good publicity for the cause. They’re trying to clean up their act. Cut them some slack.

  6. atomfullerene September 2, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I think the thing to keep in mind is that companies aren’t divided into “green” and “not green”. there’s a whole continuum of greenness, and while mcdonalds is never going to be as green as the local granola shop, just becoming a bit more green is still an improvement. People shouldn’t stop eating at the granola shop and switch over to mcdonalds, but all the people already eating at mcdonalds will now be eating slightly greener.

  7. Dead_Unicorns September 2, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Since when does a companies greenness depend on PETA’s blessing?

    The more pertinent question is; Does America care if it is green or not?

    Look! 99¢ Double Cheese Burgers!

  8. JAMMINONTHE ONE September 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I think no one is truly GREEN. At less MCDonalss is making an effort but have too many people crying over what they should do in order to be Green. When Gas is made from Water then we can all be free from being call non-eocfriendly. Get off of McDonald’s back!!

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