Sustainability, a term that has only recently reached mainstream agreeance, has encouraged companies and governments throughout the globe to take more eco-friendly approaches and work toward lowering their environmental footprint. Additionally, the International Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) suggestion to keep the global temperatures below 1.5C of pre-industrial levels has introduced added pressure for humanity to make changes and do their part.
In early October, McDonald's released their new set of sustainable targets, including cutting their global greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. To do this, McDonald's includes a slew of initiatives all the way from the food they serve to their lightbulbs.
The Mega-Chain Makes a Commitment
What started as a small burger restaurant in San Bernardino, California has since become one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The chain services more than 36,000 storefronts in 100 countries and has historically partnered with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Recently, McDonald's announced its shift toward a more aggressive approach to combat climate change. When considering its massive size and influence, this could have a substantial impact on its environmental footprint.
The company's Chief Sustainability Officer, Jenny McColloch, states that they are “trying to send a signal to our partners, to our investors, to our suppliers, to other brands in the global community, to policymakers, that we share that vision for 2050."
The initiatives will focus on the incorporation of LED lights, improving and limiting unnecessary packaging, and introducing mitigation techniques from the Science-Based Targets (SBTi).
SBTi, created as a partnership between the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), United Nations Global Compact, and CDP, plans to "Lead the way to a zero-carbon economy, boost innovation and drive sustainable growth by setting ambitious, science-based emissions reduction targets." Their website includes a comprehensive layout of sector guidance, how to reach net-zero, the company's taking action, and many other resources that can undoubtedly be helpful to the burger giant.
Reports also state that McDonald's will predominately be targeting its supply chain to improve its land management practices, conserve forests, and limit transportation. Their website, though minimal in content, does provide information surrounding these initiatives. It provides sustainable reports outlining its future goals and current progress to allow for public transparency. Their 2020-2021 report states that the restaurant chain has "achieved 98%-100% sustainable sourcing" for their meat, including obtaining their palm oil and coffee from ethical suppliers and actively working to eliminate deforestation throughout their supply chain.
Animal Agriculture and the Environment
Considering the company is one of the largest beef purchasers in the world, it’s certain to carry a large environmental footprint. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the beef production industry utilizes 25% of global land use and leads to excessive water usage and pollution, industrial pollution, soil degradation, and habitat loss.
Nevertheless, a study published by Oklahoma State University found that, when compared to other parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, the United States produces beef with a significantly lower environmental impact due to improved farming techniques, genetic altering, and better processing practices. This means that though beef production does consume a lot of resources, there is potential for improvement. Therefore, McDonald's holding its supply chain accountable for better farming practices could reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions substantially.
The growing popularity and mainstream adoption of meat alternatives, such as Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat, can potentially supplement said beef consumption and therefore help improve McDonald’s environmental footprint.
Earlier this year, Beyond Meat announced a 3-year global strategic plan in cooperation with this notable fast-food restaurant. This partnership will aim to introduce more Beyond Meat products into McDonald's storefronts, including beef, chicken, pork, and egg replacements. A study conducted by the University of Michigan concluded that producing the original Beyond Burger can yield 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional beef. Given this massive environmental benefit, the incorporation of more Beyond Meat products into McDonald's restaurants is certain to produce positive outcomes.
That said, the company’s statements are certainly welcomed, as the growing push for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and operating more ethically remains a large concern in consumer purchasing trends. Besides, the company’s commitment will most likely only improve with time, meaning that even more initiatives will be implemented equating to a lower footprint.
McDonald’s announcement is not the first of its kind. With the growing consumer demand, there is a sustainability boom where company’s and governments around the globe are seemingly introducing goals and targets to help lower their environmental footprint. This will ultimately result in a world with less waste, emissions, and thriving eco-systems.