OAK BROOK, IL — McDonald's has laid out a plans to move to more sustainable meat, coffee and packaging.
The company's Sustainable Land Management Commitment will require suppliers to gradually source food and materials from sustainably-managed land, though there are no specific timelines for now, and it is initially focusing just on beef, poultry, coffee, palm oil and packaging.
Those five were chosen, with the help of analysis from the World Wildlife Fund, since they have the most potential to be changed to have lower impacts. Beef, especially, has some of the biggest impacts among McDonald's foods.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2006 that beef accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, pumping out not only carbon dioxide, but nitrous oxide and methane, which are more potent than CO2 in contributing to global warming.
Beef production also degrades and pollutes land and water due to animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, as well as fertilizers and pesticides used on crops for feeding livestock.
McDonald's is initially sponsoring a three-year study, by the E-CO2 Project, of carbon emissions from 350 beef farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it is working with the Global Conference on Sustainable Beef.
Growing demand for beef has also led to deforestation, such as in the Amazon and its related ecosystems. Since 1989, McDonald's has had a policy to not buy beef from deforested areas of Brazil. The company now plans to create a program for tracing and certifying beef raised sustainably in the Amazon.
As for poultry, McDonald's has worked to avoid sourcing feed, mainly soya, from deforested areas by working with major soya purchasers and creating a voluntary agreement to not buy soya from deforested lands. The company will also gather best practices for managing poultry waste, which, like beef waste, can harm water systems.
The company's European and other non-U.S. operations have already made headway in buying more sustainable coffee, with all stores in Australia, New Zealand and 39 European countries buying coffee that's certified by the Rainforest Alliance or Utz. In the U.S., McDonald's says it will create a plan for giving farmers training on sustainable operations and work on reporting purchases of certified coffee.
For palm oil, the company plans to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and aims to only buy palm oil certified by the roundtable by 2015, a goal shared by companies like Walmart and General Mills.
Since the bulk of McDonald's packaging is paper, it's packaging work has revolved mainly around getting fiber from "legal and acceptable" sources and giving preference to certified sources. Among the various wood certification programs, McDonald's gives preference to Forest Stewardship Council certification, but also recognized the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification, CSA International and Cerflor.
Along with announcing the Sustainable Land Management Commitment, McDonald's released its latest corporate responsibility report, in which it says it will put out a report later this year on pesticide and fertilizer use on potato crops. The report is based on a survey of suppliers that was created in response to a shareholder resolution.
Cattle - CC license by jon smith 'una nos lucror' (Flickr)