McDonald's Corporation, simply known as McDonald's, is an American fast-food company in the United States founded in 1940 as a restaurant operated by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Nowadays, McDonald's is the world's largest restaurant chain by revenue, serving over 69 million customers daily in over 100 countries across 37,855 outlets as of 2018. It is impressive to read that each day McDonald's serves almost 1% of the global population. Although McDonald's is best known for its hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and french fries, they feature chicken products, breakfast items, soft drinks, milkshakes, wraps, and desserts. Recently, in response to changing consumer tastes and a negative backlash because of the unhealthiness of their food, the company has added to its menu salads, fish, smoothies, and fruit. As of 2020, McDonald's has the ninth-highest global brand valuation and is the world's second-largest private employer with 1.7 million employees (behind Walmart with 2.3 million employees).
The world’s largest burger chain is trying on a new sustainable look. McDonald’s claims to welcome and fully support the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap for its 'Scale for Good' journey (a framework set out by McDonald's that is ought to make people feel good about visiting the fast-food chain, about eating their food, about the company as a whole, and about the impact that McDonald's have on the world). While McDonald’s believes that its work globally touches on all the SDGs, it says to be focusing more on SDG 2 “Zero Hunger,” SDG 8 “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” SDG 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production,” SDG 13 “Climate Action,” SDG 15 “Life on Land,” and SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals.” However, I have got the feeling that you can name any of the SDGs and find an element that matches your actions. Moreover, McDonald's does not really go into detail about how they tackle SDG 13 and SDG 15, for example. Since April 2020, McDonald's claims to be a sustainable company focusing on five different impact areas: climate action, packaging and waste, sustainable agriculture and beef, forest conservation, and water stewardship. The company says it hopes actions within these pillars will help it to achieve the social and business imperatives necessary to secure a profitable future. McDonald’s began publishing Sustainability Framework data in 2002, and, nineteen years later, this paper contains its most ambitious targets. But, some key aims, for example on “verified sourcing” for beef, remain aspirational and somewhat general. When it comes to sustainable beef sourcing, McDonald's notices that "there hasn't been a universal definition of sustainable beef," but it says it's committed because "burgers remain some of our most iconic menu items." In other places, the framework is not consistent and is littered with caveats such as “we cannot guarantee that we will achieve these stated goals.” The document says market-by-market progress may vary and that it will be difficult to measure progress across all the countries where McDonald’s operates. Furthermore, McDonald’s says it “cannot prescribe” sustainability framework and sustainability measures to its franchisees or suppliers. At the same time, McDonald's promises its aspirational goals will focus on its top nine markets by revenue. Two of these markets, Brazil and Japan, are entirely operated by franchisees, and McDonald’s relies on the accuracy of performance data provided by their management. In other words, McDonald's promises a sustainable future while acknowledging that the corporation might not be able to globally pursue such a future. Frankly, it feels as though, with its unattainable sustainable goals, McDonald's does not really understand the importance of sustainability in the first place.
I do not recommend supporting McDonald's corporation if you strive to have a sustainable impact on the people and the planet.
According to McDonald’s, the corporation takes great care to ensure the safety, quality, and responsibility of all food that is served every day. They do so by using 100% real beef patties seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper, by offering Filet-O-Fish™ sandwich made with 100% whitefish sourced from sustainably managed fisheries, and by choosing white meat chicken for their Buttermilk Crispy Chicken and Chicken McNuggets™. Surprisingly, McDonald's admits that "our eggs are not organic, nor are they free-range; they are from caged hens." At the end of the 'Our Food' commitment to quality framework, they conclude by saying 'simply put, it means real, quality ingredients and always evolving what matters to you.' Although their outspoken commitment is appreciated, there is no further information on how McDonald's ensures sustainable production, which is why I am sceptical about their overall commitment. To be fair, their 'Our Food' statement seems to be contradictory to their 'Our Planet' statement. As mentioned above, McDonald's admits not to be able to control the sustainability framework and sustainability measures applied by its franchisees and suppliers, but at the same time claim to offer 100% real beef, sustainable whitefish, and white meat chicken. On top of that, McDonald's food production is heavily based on meat production which is inherently unethical and unsustainable. Feeding the world's population in 2050, which is expected to hit 10 billion, will require a 70% increase in global food production that will be detrimental to the environment. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock sector has a key impact on climate change, contributing emissions estimated at 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, representing 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Considering how McDonald's sells more hamburgers than anybody else on the planet, it's not unreasonable to question just how transparent and honest the corporation is. Other than the food, McDonald's requires packaging that also ends up rotting in landfills and causing pollution.
There are two solutions I would like to propose in this matter: firstly, technological advances have made possible the development of cultured meat. Cultured meat is meat produced by in vitro cell cultures of animal cells. It is produced using tissue engineering techniques traditionally used in regenerative medicines. Importantly, cultured meat is widely hailed for its potential to spare animal lives, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and help solve the global food crisis as current factory farming is an enormous problem. An Oxford study in 2011 estimated lab-grown meat production could involve up to 96 per cent fewer global greenhouse gas emissions, 98 per cent less land use, and up to half as much energy; secondly, the shift from a majorly meat-based diet to a primarily plant-based diet can serve as a helpful tool when striving for sustainable future. A plant-based diet can have a significant positive impact on both environmental and human health. Meat and dairy products are fueling the climate crisis, while plant-based diets — focused on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans — help protect the planet. Until a truly sustainable global change with a measurable step-by-step guide is proposed and fully implemented by all McDonald's chains and suppliers, I have no other option but to rate their 'Our Food' policy with 0 planets.
The 'Food Suppliers and Food Sources' published on the McDonald's official website introduced a beef supplier (Lopez Foods), a meat and fish supplier (Keystone Foods), a fish supplier (Kenny Longaker), a potato farmer (Frank Martinez, Jenn Bunger, 100 Circle Farms), an apple farmer (Mike Dietrich), a lettuce farmer (Dirk Giannini), a coffee supplier (Gaviña Gourmet Coffee), and a dairy supplier (Hildebrandt Farms, Milking R Dairy). By only looking at this section of their website, one might get the feeling that McDonald's is a transparent family company that is supporting local suppliers and farmers. In order to evaluate their claim to be caring of where their food comes from and how their food is produced, I will aim to research one of their suppliers and one of their farmers.
Lopez Foods, also known as Lopez-Dorada Foods, is one of the nation’s leading protein-processing companies that supplies beef, pork, and poultry products to some of the largest global restaurant chains and retailers. Recognised as a top company in the protein industry, Lopez-Dorada Foods claims to prioritise food safety and quality for all of its valued customers. It is, however, questionable whether safety and quality can be always achieved and maintained with such a high demand from the largest global restaurant chains and retailers. Furthermore, meat – or more specifically, ‘industrial meat’ – is bad for the planet. The United States (US) is the biggest consumer of McDonald's products. At the same, the US is the world's largest beef and buffalo meat producer, producing 11-12 million tonnes in 2014. As you can imagine, the industrial meat system requires a huge amount of land and energy to sustain itself. Forests, particularly in South America, are deliberately slashed and burned every year to graze cattle and grow enough crops to feed billions of farmed animals. In fact, industrial meat is the single biggest cause of deforestation globally. In Brazil, farmers are deliberately setting forest fires – like the Amazon rainforest fires you may have seen in the news – to clear space for cattle ranching and to grow industrial animal feed, like soya. By clearing forests, destroying habitats, and using toxic pesticides to grow animal food, the industrial meat industry is contributing to the extinction of thousands of species, many of which haven’t even been discovered yet. And, as if that was not enough bad news, cutting down and burning forests brings wildlife into closer contact with people, enabling deadly viruses to pass from animals to humans. The more forest that is destroyed, the greater the risk of a new pandemic. Lopez Foods does not take these factors into account, which is why I find it difficult to trust their overall consideration of how sustainable their food production really is.
Dirk Giannini, a lettuce farmer for McDonald's, publicly speaks of McDonald's high expectations of high quality and freshness on a daily basis. He also explains that their lettuce production is fast, saying that “within days, our lettuce is harvested, tripled rinsed and delivered to McDonald's.” At the same time, he emphasises the attention to detail that is secured through daily hard work. Lettuce-growing operations in the Salinas Valley are committed to protecting public health and working hard each day to provide products that are healthy and safe. For example, all of the shippers for which Giannini grow lettuce have joined the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. This programme incorporates science-based food safety practices and mandatory government inspections by auditors trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Based on the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement's official website, food safety is a high priority. However, Dirk Giannini does not have its own official website or social media to track its commitment and everyday effort. The only way to learn about this farmer is through the official McDonald's website.
The McDonald's company structure is as follows: at the top is the chief executive officer (CEO), followed by the chief operating officer (COO), the chief people officer (CPO), the chief financial officer (CFO), and then there is the development team. The main body of McDonald's officers is ordered by stakeholders, which McDonald's regards as the customers, suppliers, and employees. These stakeholders, according to McDonald's, have an impact on the operations of the restaurant and can be affected by it as well. When it comes to an individual chain's employees and the treatment of their farmers, it is difficult to learn about their conditions. However, Business Insider has done dozens of interviews with individual employees at McDonald's who were furious about the working conditions in the company. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the employees were deemed essential and, at the same time, were not allowed to take days off, work from home, or even wear a face mask as it might “put the customers off.” As the employees were forced to risk their lives to remain at work, it is ridiculous to read that McDonald's claims to have the best working conditions for its staff.
Achieving sustainability is not something simple that can be accomplished overnight; setting clear, science-based targets and drafting a roadmap for pursuing sustainability can facilitate a company to be successful step-by-step and guide the company to arrive at its desired destination gradually. But, before getting to that point, the company needs to truly understand why such a shift is necessary. Furthermore, if McDonald's wishes to remain an operating company, it should take on a truly sustainable journey that does not only talk the talk but walks the walk. Commitment to sustainable development should not only be verbal promises or empty words but substantial actions. Keeping detailed records of the targets set, actions taken, progress achieved, and plans made, are not only crucial for future review and improvement, but also for better reporting and more efficient communication with stakeholders.