Fast Food Giant Shares Its Take On Sustainability

Ask 10 people to define sustainability, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Individuals and companies alike have struggled to get their arms around the meaning of sustainability in recent years. Fast food giant McDonald’s is no exception, but the company has made a lot of progress, says Townsend Bailey, director of U.S. supply chain sustainability for the company.

Bailey told participants at the annual Top Producer Seminar earlier today that sustainability is something McDonald’s is working to put into practice from farmers’ fields to the front counters of its 14,000-plus restaurants.

“Sustainability is important for McDonald’s because it assures supply and risk management; increases resource efficiency and supply chain savings, and strengthens trust with our customers,” Bailey says.

Trust is particularly paramount for a food company, he notes, and the only way to sustain it long-term is through transparent, ongoing conversations to answer customer’s questions and concerns.

“This is not a one and done conversation we’re having; it’s an ongoing journey and will take the whole value chain’s engagement to tell the story,” Bailey says. “It also takes respect for the consumers’ concerns and recognizing that customers have a right to be concerned. And, you know, we can’t scoff at that.

“Ultimately it is a good thing that customers are concerned about where their food comes from,” Bailey adds. “For McDonald’s, we believe we’ve got a great supply chain and great suppliers, and we’re proud of where our food comes from. So that curiosity [provides] another opportunity for us to tell our story.”

One of the stories Bailey likes to tell is how McDonalds is investing in a two-year pilot research project with the Noble Research Institute (NRI) to identify ways to improve how the restaurant’s beef is sourced and explore scalable solutions. Ranchers who are part of the NRI’s Integrity Beef Alliance are raising the cattle for the project and emphasize progressive and humane management methods. Partners in the NRI research program also include Tyson Foods, Beef Marketing Group and Golden State Foods.

Another story Bailey references is McDonald’s commitment to serving coffee by 2020 that is only from sustainable sources. To build upon its goal, the company launched its McCafe Sustainability Improvement Platform (SIP) two years ago. Through it, McDonald’s supports farmer best practices and production improvements for coffee, which is produced in often fragile, tropical climes. Currently, only 37% of McDonald’s coffee comes from a certified sustainable source, an issue the company is working to improve.

“You know, there’s no longer any luxury for companies to not have a position on issues,” Bailey says. “I want producers to understand that McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good and we’re committed to engaging and listening to stakeholders across the value chain.”

-Rhonda Brooks