With a menu revolving around beef, more than 37,000 locations around the world, and a sprawling supply chain, McDonald’s isn’t exactly synonymous with sustainability.
But the hamburger and fries brand is trying to do its part to mitigate global climate change, becoming one of the first major fast food chains to announce emissions reductions targets earlier this week.
By 2030, the company is aiming to reduce emissions in its restaurants and offices by 36% by 2030 compared to 2015 levels, and reduce emissions intensity across its supply chain by 31% over the same period, according to a press release.
In doing so, the company claims it will prevent 150 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of taking 32 million cars off the road for a year or planting 3.8 billion trees and letting them grow for 10 years.
"To create a better future for our planet, we must all get involved,” said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald's President and CEO, in a statement.
"To meet [our] goal, we will source our food responsibly, promote renewable energy and use it efficiently, and reduce waste and increase recycling,” he added.
McDonald’s will be incorporating energy efficiency measures such as LED lighting and efficient kitchen equipment in restaurants, as well as packaging with less plastic and recycling programs.
It will also support more sustainable agricultural practices, according to the press release, as it sources its ingredients.
Since beef is the largest source of ingredient-related emissions for the company, the brand has embarked on a sustainable beef procurement program.
Further, the company will continue efforts with the World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund to protect forests around the world.
"McDonald's footprint touches all parts of the world,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the United States, in the press release.
“Their announcement matters because it commits one of the world's biggest companies to deliver, with the full breadth of their food chain system, significant emissions reductions based on science,” he added.
By itself, McDonald’s efforts hardly matter in the global campaign to mitigate climate change — as of 2012, there were 2.4 million pounds of carbon emissions per second globally.
Beyond that, the brand’s business model is intrinsically negative for the environment because of the sheer scale of its operations, which involve enormous amounts of transportation, energy consumption, and foods such as beef.
But by calling itself out and challenging its many restaurants to do better, McDonald’s is showing that inertia and evasion of responsibility don't have to be status quo.
Companies can take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and become more sustainable.
If McDonald’s, with its unmistakable yellow arches looming on streets everywhere, can incorporate changes that ripple across the world, then there’s no reason why other companies can’t do the same.
"While private-sector actions can't entirely solve the climate crisis facing our planet, significant announcements like these, and coalitions like these working on climate together, create momentum and movement toward the scale of solutions that we ultimately need,” Roberts of WWF said.
Global Citizen campaigns on the UN’s Global Goals, which call for the private sector to play a leading role in the fight against climate change. You can take action on this issue here