Gap Score

McDonald’s faces global sustainability challenges from all fronts as a direct consumer of energy, purchaser of agricultural products, and contributor to the global waste stream. Against this spectrum of potential impact, the Quick-Serve Restaurant leader appears more committed than ever to making progress—but the consumer awareness of these environmental initiatives remains low. With 33,500 restaurant locations globally, McDonald’s Corp. could make a significant impact on sustainability through energy efficiency alone. With a global annual energy bill estimated at USD $2 billion, restaurant-level initiatives to save energy are credited on McDonald’s website in lowering energy use by over 5 percent per guest in 2012. The company credits improved energy management systems and competitions like one in Japan that encourages employees to use green technologies to lower greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20 percent. Initiatives focused on reduction of the impact of packaging take on a local focus and range from adopting unbleached bags and napkins in Canada to high-profile anti-litter and pro-recycling awareness initiatives in Europe and Australia. Austria’s McRecycle program claims to have reached a 95 percent recycling rate for restaurant waste. Supply chain has long been a major challenge for McDonald’s commitment to sustainable practices regarding their products. Two recent moves may impact the brand’s sustainability performance and perception. Beginning in January of 2013, all fish McDonald’s serves in the US will be Marine Stewardship Council certified, finally extending this program from Europe where it has been in place since 2011. Additionally, McDonald’s claims that 100 percent of the coffee served in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand derives from Rainforest Alliance or UTZ-certified farms. Reaching sustainability status for the core product, beef, remains the biggest challenge, as no global standard for sustainability exists. McDonald’s has helped found the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef in an effort to move this issue along.