Has McDonald’s Gone Walmart on Us?

McDonald’s just penetrated my prejudice-painted blinders to score some points.  Like Walmart before, McDonald’s was once my favorite company to malign. Animal cruelty, lousy work conditions, rainforest destruction, supplier coercion, detrimental marketing and obesity (yes, I think McDonald’s has a responsibility for the products they sell) were some top offenses.

But McDonald’s has been systematically planting a garden of social responsibility. And the first blooms are here, from oil recycling programs (more than half of American McDonald’s participate) to electronics recycling in Chile.

McDonald’s is using a three-leg framework to engage employees, suppliers and owners in profitable sustainability worldwide. The effort required to transform systems and expectations from Iowa to Mumbai to Stockholm to Beijing is tremendous, particularly when 70% of the locations are independently operated. Absolutely, there is still much to be done, but praise is a great motivator for future action, so let’s begin.

A new portal shares success stories and tactics for environmental and supplier sustainability, meant to encourage replication by other owners, suppliers and operators.  The “Sustainable Supply Vision” covers seven topics including animal welfare, employee wellness and waste, while “Best of Green” has nine best practice categories from anti-littering to sustainable food. McDonald’s has committed to update these resources as new practices become available.

While many of the examples mentioned are still single occurences or pocketed within a region (50 McDonald’s in Germany are using a new tracking software to manage and reduce waste), the strategy is–or should be–to string these regional successes together to demand greater responsibility from suppliers, employees, owners and consumers.

The small act of naming the individuals on the Global Environmental Council and Sustainable Supply Steering Committee is significant, particularly for a large (often defensively crouched) company like McDonald’s. Score one for transparency and accountability.

A closing note. I had a moment of moral wrestling before writing this article. I’m a lifelong vegetarian who’s seldom set foot in a McDonald’s (when I was young I ordered the safest bet on the menu, a salad. Alas, it was a Chef’s Salad, topped with ham…). As I wrote above, I think McDonald’s (like Coke, Pepsi, KFC and Philip Morris) has a responsibility for what it sells. But I’m also an optimist and a disciple of positive reinforcement.

McDonald’s, you’ve taken some great steps. Do you feel the momentum building behind you?

McDonald’s Going Green credit: VentureBeat

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