McDonald’s Pushed to Do More to Address Climate Change, & from the Ground Up

McDonalds barbie

First, let’s do the numbers: McDonald’s has over 32,478 restaurants in 60% of the world’s countries and recorded $24 billion in revenue last year. That’s more restaurants than any other company in the world, and $24 billion is…well, it’s a lot of money.

Moving beyond that extraordinary number of drive-thrus, global presence, and Fortune 150 revenue of McDonald’s, what’s more impressive is how quickly the company can change, particularly in response to the voices of consumers.

We can all agree the pace and aggressiveness with which McDonald’s addresses its own climate impacts and the much larger impacts of its suppliers will only accelerate if its consumers make it clear that climate action matters to them. Consumer choice doesn’t just have the potential to alter the direction of environmentally flavored ad campaigns; it can transform corporate decision-making and, yes, even corporate culture.

McDonald’s Green Efforts in 1980’s & 1990’s

If you’re old enough to remember the consumer unrest around McDonald’s Styrofoam packaging in the late 1980’s, then you’ll appreciate the subsequent achievements the company has accomplished through its partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Here are the McDonald’s sustainability achievements that came out of its initial partnership with EDF:

  • Switched from polystyrene foam “clamshells” to paper-based wraps for sandwich packaging, providing a 70-90% reduction in sandwich packaging volume, reducing landfill space consumed, energy used and pollutants released over the lifecycle of the package
  • Converted to unbleached paper carry-out bags, coffee filters and Big Mac wraps
  • Reduced paper use by 21% in napkins, and incorporated 30% post-consumer recycled content
  • Asked suppliers to incorporate 35% post-consumer recycled content into all corrugated shipping boxes
  • The company saves an estimated $6 million per year as a result of these packaging changes and in the decade following the partnership, McDonald’s eliminated over 300 million pounds of packaging, recycled one million tons of corrugated boxes, and reduced restaurant waste by 30%.

All of these changes were implemented in less than a two-year span.

The McDonald’s EDF partnership marched on through the 1990s, and by 2000, McDonald’s cut more than 510 million kilowatt-hours of electricity usage and 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by installing energy-efficient lighting.

What is McDonald’s Doing Now?

That’s a good start, but what’s the latest?  What is McDonald’s doing now and how can we remind McDonald’s that consumers care deeply about its response to its impacts on global climate change?

If you’re wondering what McDonald’s is doing to address climate change in 2011 and what its future plans are, join Climate Counts and the Bard Center for Environmental Policy at noon on March 16 for a dialogue with Bob Langert, McDonald’s VP of Sustainability. If you care about changing McDonald’s from the ground up inside out, lend your voice to our Green Watching campaign where we’re sending e-mails and tweets to McDonald’s encouraging them to take more climate action and to be more actively engaged with fast-food consumers on corporate climate responsibility. Visit to learn more.

As part of the Climate Counts Green Watching campaign and the Bard Center for Environmental Policy Campus to Corporation (C2C) webinar series, consumers will be asked to listen in and engage McDonald’s in a productive dialogue around their climate action.

Mark Harrison is the Campaign Coordinator at Climate Counts and can be reached at [email protected].

About Climate Counts

Climate Counts is a non-profit campaign that scores companies annually on the basis of their voluntary action to reverse climate change. The Climate Counts Company Scorecard helps people vote with their dollars by making climate-conscious purchasing and investing choices that put pressure on the world’s most well-known companies to take the issue of climate change seriously. Launched with support from organics pioneer Stonyfield Farm, Climate Counts believes everyday consumers can be the most important activists in the fight against global warming. Climate Counts has currently evaluated nearly 150 companies in sixteen major consumer sectors. Climate Counts’ work has appeared in many of the world’s leading media outlets, among them the New York Times, National Public Radio, The Economist, BBC World Service, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and the Harvard Business Review. The organization launched its free iPhone app and its voluntary Climate Counts Industry Innovators (i2) program in early 2010.

Photo via Thomas Hawk

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