McDonald's New Social Impact Goals Target Salt, Sugar, and Fat

McDonald’s on Wednesday listed its new sustainability goals for 2020 (pdf), touching on some sensitive issues as the chain continues to fret over food quality and health.

McDonald’s releases a Corporate Sustainability Report every year or two, and its new goals don’t veer dramatically from the company’s previously stated intentions. The major difference, says Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president of corporate social responsibility, is an emphasis on specific, measurable improvements. “This is a leap forward for us,” Langert says. “You’re not going to find in the 2010 CSR report [pdf] that we’re going to reduce energy by 20 percent by 2020.”

Courtesy McDonald's

Critics are bound to spot weaknesses in the new framework. For instance, few of the goals are global, focusing instead on the chain’s top nine markets—the U.S., Canada, Brazil, France, the U.K., Germany, Japan, China, and Australia—most of which are already fairly mature for the chain. Also, none of the goals address worker wages or benefits, a social issue that’s become a lightning rod for the company in recent years. Here’s a summary of McDonald’s main goals for the next six years:

• In the top nine markets, serve twice as much fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. For instance, restaurants will offer a salad, vegetable, or fruit as a side option in meals in place of fries and use more of these ingredients in sandwiches and other items.
• Reduce salt, sugar, saturated fat, and calories across the menu in these markets. McDonald’s in Europe has already cut the salt on fries by 20 percent, and in the U.S., restaurants switched from 1-percent chocolate milk to fat-free chocolate milk.

• Develop global criteria for sustainable beef production in 2014 with the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Begin purchasing verified sustainable beef by 2016.
• Use only verified sustainable coffee, palm oil, and fish. All the fisheries the chain buys whitefish from are already verified sustainable, and in 2012, about one-quarter of global coffee bean purchases came from farms that were Rainforest Alliance Certified, UTZ Certified, or certified by Fair Trade USA or Fairtrade International.
• Use paper packaging that’s recycled or from certified forests—only 13.9 percent was in 2013—and redesign packaging to reduce the weight and number of materials used.

• Improve energy efficiency of company-owned restaurants in the top markets by 20 percent, through building and kitchen equipment, for instance. Set a goal for franchisees in 2016.
• Recycle 50 percent of waste by weight from restaurants’ trash, kitchen, and parking lots in the top nine markets, compared with 36 percent in 2013.

• Train its global workforce with professional skills (“second language instruction, organization skills, customer service acumen, literacy and math skills, and accelerated degree completion through accreditation and financial support”) and improve career opportunities.
• Promote diversity (for example, in gender and age).

• Support children and families through Ronald McDonald House Charities and other organizations.
• Help address such community needs as education and exercise.

Langert says consumers demand more transparency, and the company has stated plans to invest in measurement, performance tracking, and validation systems. But the food-related goals are the most important to consumers, Langert says, including healthy menu choices and sourcing. “We’re a restaurant company that serves food, so that’s a sweet spot for us.” Now McDonald’s will have to prove that its new policy on beef and nutrition will be more than just marketing spin.

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