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?
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.
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.
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.