McDonald’s Wants to Know Whether Its Beef Is Sustainable

By Agnes Teh

Energy is “the big kahuna,” for McDonald’s Corp., the world’s biggest restaurant chain, according to Bob Langert, its vice president of sustainability. With the fast-food restaurant’s global annual energy bill estimated at $2 billion, it’s looking at everything from simple fixes, such as using more energy-efficient LED light bulbs, to complex, systemic changes -- working with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the WWF and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to rethink livestock-raising practices and its global food supply chain. Here’s an excerpt from Langert’s interview in Bloomberg’s Clean Energy & Carbon Brief:

Q: How has sustainability evolved over the years at McDonald’s?
A: This trend of the global consumer really wanting to know where their food comes from is something that wasn’t the case 10-20 years ago. Sustainability is everybody’s business now -- that’s the main message. My team works with our leadership and all the other functional department heads. If we’re going to be sustainable, it comes from all the other departments and all the other leaders making it a part of what they do.

Q: Several industries are writing voluntary standards that define what sustainability should mean to companies. Where are you in buying food from verifiably sustainable sources?
A: That’s a mighty task. With some products [like beef], there’s not even a definition for what sustainable is. We want to use our size and influence to work with the industry and NGOs to come up with definitions of sustainable beef. Ultimately we want to scale the very best practices.

Q: What have you learned from looking at the full life cycle of the beef you buy?
A: We have studied our CO2 footprint and supply chain. We’ve not published our data yet because it’s awfully complicated. Roughly speaking, our 33,500 restaurants are one third of our CO2 footprint. The other two thirds are in supply chain, which largely comes from livestock. The biggest sustainability impact is the raising of the cattle in the fields and ranches, which is about three to four steps removed from McDonald’s.
Can we say we’re buying any sustainable beef today? No, we can’t. Could we be buying sustainable beef? We might be. What I mean by that is that there are no standards, measures, accountability and traceability to make those claims today.

Q: Is locally sourced food more environmentally friendly?
A: From all the studies that I’ve seen – to say that local always means more efficient – I don’t believe that’s the case. We’ve done our analysis of transportation impacts. It’s one of the smallest slices there is, in terms of our own profile. Sometimes it can be more efficient to do it elsewhere and use transportation to move it somewhere else because the production is more efficient. For instance, I’m in the U.S., so we’re looking to buy within the U.S. You’re only going to get potatoes, beef, and lettuce in certain parts of the country. To us, that’s buying locally.

Q: How much McDonald’s do you eat a week?
A: I like a variety of McDonald’s every day. I’m very passionate about food and nutrition. I believe McDonald’s can be a very healthy lifestyle. I love to be healthy and I love the variety. I love that I can have a wonderful grilled chicken salad today, and a quarter pounder with cheese tomorrow or a grilled chicken. I tend to take the mayonnaise off of it. I have it all and balance it out. I think our company does a great job of providing balance and choices.

Q: What’s the company’s cafeteria like?
A: It’s a McDonald’s restaurant. We go to lunch here on the third floor. We might have new items from time to time. Otherwise it’s like a normal restaurant.

Teh is assistant editor of the Bloomberg Clean Energy & Carbon Brief.

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-0- Sep/25/2012 13:30 GMT
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