Sustainable coffee, from Colombian farms to downtown Chicago

December 18, 2018

Sustainable coffee, from Colombian farms to downtown Chicago

McDonald's believes coffee should not only taste great but also be sustainably sourced. This commitment is evident in everything we do from coffee sourcing and industry partnerships, to investments in farmers who grow McCafé coffee and the land where it’s grown. 

However, it’s critical to ensure coffee farming is done sustainably, in a manner that will allow consumers to enjoy a daily brew for generations to come, because research shows the land suitable for farming is expected to be cut in half by 2050. That’s why McDonald’s has made a commitment to source 100 percent of our ground and whole bean coffee sustainably by 2020. This includes espresso-based drinks and coffee brewed at restaurants, as well as all coffee retail products.

Through our work with suppliers and partners, we’re on track to meet that goal. However, sustainability can be a difficult concept to explain, particularly what changes look like in real life throughout the supply chain. To help consumers better understand what sustainability truly means, why it’s important, and how McDonald’s is supporting sustainable farming practices to help protect coffee from the impacts of climate change, the company recently created the McCafé Sustainable Coffee Journey – a one-day event featuring a replication of a South American coffee farm in downtown Chicago.  

On November, 29, McDonald’s invited consumers to come take a first-hand look at what sustainability means across the coffee supply chain with a walkthrough inside a climate-controlled dome, taking them from Arabica tree to cup.  

“Sustainability can be viewed as merely a buzzword, and few really understand what the transformation toward a sustainable coffee crop looks like, for the roasters, suppliers and farmers,” said Townsend Bailey, McDonald’s Director of U.S. Supply Chain Sustainability, who participated in the event. “By holding this unique event in Chicago, we wanted to allow coffee lovers to see the company’s sustainable vision for themselves.”

To help preserve the land where McCafé coffee grows, McDonalds’ turns to Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and other verified sustainable sources. Last year, less than 6 percent of the McCafé global coffee supply came from high-risk deforestation countries.

Still, there are other challenges that McDonald’s is working to improve in the resource-intensive process of coffee farming. For instance, it takes 37 gallons of water to grow and process a single cup of coffee, and visitors learned this fact through a visual installation in the dome that laid out that amount of water before their eyes. McDonald’s believes challenges like this one can be overcome, but raising awareness is key. That’s why McDonald’s coffee suppliers work to train and educate farmers to reduce water use.

Two Colombian coffee farmers who provide beans to McDonald’s suppliers were part of the one-of-a-kind farm experience as well, sharing how their coffee operations have changed amid the shift to more sustainable farming practices. Both of these farmers are actively a part of McDonald’s Sustainability Improvement Platform (SIP) — a program founded in partnership with Conservation International to spread and teach sustainable farming practices around the world. Besides growing the sustainable movement, SIP aims to help enrich its famers’ business practices, and invest in growers and communities for the long-haul.

“My farm was a tradition, and now it is also a business,” Colombia-based coffee farmer Arley De Jesus Montoya Solis said.

“We saw early on that we at McDonald’s needed to do more to transform the coffee supply chain – rather, we needed to do whatever it took to become more sustainable at the farm level as well,” Bailey said. “That’s why sustainability has been a collective effort.”

Because McDonald’s knows there are more ways to enjoy coffee than black, they invited an Illinois dairy farmer to come and highlight their quality animal and farm management practices and wholesome dairy products. McCafé beverages have already embraced these standards, and McDonald’s plans to build on dairy sustainability alongside coffee’s sustainable journey. By 2020, nearly all dairy products served in the U.S. will come from farms that participate in the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, which strives to hold its members to high standards of animal care, and environmental and antibiotic stewardship. 

The more than 1,000 consumers who visited the McCafé Sustainable Coffee Journey also learned about the changes taking place throughout McCafé’s supply chain to shield it from the adverse effects of climate change. At its core, McDonald’s sustainability promise means that farming practices will protect the land and water coffee needs to grow and will support the 125 million people worldwide who depend on coffee for their livelihood.

A video highlighting the event and McDonald’s efforts toward coffee sustainability can be found above.