Driving Food System Transformation within our Network and Beyond

June 05, 2020

On World Environment Day 2020, Francesca DeBiase, EVP, Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer, reflects on the decisions we need to take today, to make the food system stronger for the future 

Francesca DeBiase meetign with a U.S. flagship farmer

At McDonald’s, our purpose is to feed communities through the partnership of our people, franchisees and suppliers around the world. Over the past few months, we’ve seen COVID 19’s unprecedented impact on the global community and particularly on food security, as it disrupts production and supply. While we need to navigate these challenging times in the short term, the crisis is an important reminder to keep a long-term mindset to ensure a more resilient and sustainable food system for the future.  

That’s why, as we celebrate World Environment Day, I believe it’s important for the global community to unite on the urgent need to protect and restore nature. 

In my role at McDonald’s, I take seriously our responsibility to leverage our size and scale to help transform the global food system for the better. While COVID has revealed supply chain vulnerabilities in the near-term, climate change will have even more devastating impacts on our society in the long run - from changing weather patterns to the potential collapse of ecosystems. Supporting recovery is our immediate priority; however, we cannot put climate action on hold. This is why we remain vigilant about meeting our current sustainability goals and will look to set our future goals with the same level of scale and commitment. 

With the support of our franchises, suppliers and expert partners, we remain firmly committed to addressing four important questions that are critical to achieving a sustainable and resilient food system:  

1. How can we accelerate the transition to a low carbon future? Reducing emissions and preparing to adapt to climate change is critical to feed current and future generations and to ensure a stable economy for everyone. This rings true today as the world experiences the economic and social consequences of a health crisis. It’s why our commitment to climate action remains a business priority. 

We’ve been on this journey for a number of years and I’m proud that McDonald’s was the first global restaurant company to set a Science Based Target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to our restaurants and offices, and across our supply chain by 2030. By measuring the data and partnering with suppliers, franchisees and experts we can identify solutions and hold ourselves accountable. The climate scenario modeling we’re working on will continue to uncover key risks and opportunities to help guide future action across our system. We’ve increased our investment into renewable energy, including a wind farm and a solar farm that will expand the amount of renewable energy available in the U.S. and prevent carbon emissions - the equivalent to taking over 140,000 cars off the road. We’ve also engaged our suppliers to set targets, measure emissions, and make reductions, prioritizing those that supply most of our food and packaging spend.  

Cows in a field

2. How might we partner with farmers and ranchers to protect and regenerate nature? This is a vulnerable time for our suppliers and farmers – many of whom are experiencing labor challenges and uncertainties around supply and demand. We’re continuing to listen and offer support where we can as farming communities begin to rebuild and recover. The crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural supply chains and reaffirms McDonald’s work to make sure the beef in our burgers contributes to a sustainable food system. 

I’m encouraged by the movement on beef sustainability and the progressive grazing techniques and other practices being discovered that show it’s possible to produce beef in a way that can protect and regenerate nature. As beef production makes up a significant proportion of our carbon footprint, we’ve made it a global priority to champion sustainable approaches. Since 2011, we’ve supported and participated in global, regional and national roundtables, bringing together farmers, suppliers, NGOs and scientists to identify, develop and scale the most sustainable practices. We’re also working with partners to advance the science around sustainable beef farming practices. One example is the work we’re doing with the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research and universities in the U.S. to look at how regenerative grazing practices can capture more carbon in the soil and increase biodiversity.

3. How can we protect critical ecosystems? We can’t underplay the importance of forests in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting ecosystems. Forests also provide vital homes for many animals around the world. Failing to stop deforestation will increase the risk of more diseases spreading from animals to humans. In spite of COVID related pressures, McDonald’s remains committed to eliminating deforestation from our global supply chain by 2030.

I’m particularly proud of our work as it relates to beef. Previously, no credible certification or process existed for confronting deforestation in beef supply chains. We started working with AgroTools, a Brazilian ag-tech company and certified B-Corp, and Proforest, a not-for-profit organization, to track the origin of all Brazilian beef used by McDonald’s restaurants. After determining risk level based on sourcing location, we use a combination of satellite imagery of the farm area and data analysis to assess whether deforestation has happened at the farm level. This enables our suppliers to implement continuous improvement plans with farms that don’t comply with our policy. We’ve since expanded this project to include beef supplied from other high-priority regions and shared it through platforms, such as The Tropical Forest Alliance, to encourage wider adoption.

4. How can circular solutions help keep plastic out of nature? The current crisis has highlighted the importance of food packaging and also personal safety equipment, such as gloves and masks, which has been crucial to ensure the safety of our front-line restaurant employees. We are mindful of short-term challenges including additional waste caused by disposable safety wear, some increase in plastic use and shortages of fiber for packaging. Hygiene and safety are currently at the forefront of customers’ minds, and our challenge is to ensure they are balanced with long-term sustainability. Our strategy aligns with this challenge - we want to use our global scale to help accelerate a circular economy and keep plastic waste out of nature.  

Today, most of our packaging is fiber-based with around 22% remaining in plastic, and we recognize that when packaging isn’t recovered correctly, it creates pollution. Around the world, we’re testing new and innovative ways to learn how we can further reduce packaging, switch to more sustainable materials and help our customers to reuse and recycle. By using our restaurants as mini innovation hubs, we can get immediate customer feedback and identify the best solutions to accelerate and scale in other markets. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are key to accelerate change, examples include our role as a Principal Partner of WWF’s Resource Plastic platform and as a convening member of the NextGen Consortium, both of which address single-use food packaging and plastic waste globally. 

While today we celebrate World Environment Day, a sustainable supply chain is part of our long-term vision every day. And, the ongoing challenges from COVID have shown us that sustainability remains the key to safeguarding our food system. We continue to share learnings from this experience and prioritize actions that drive value for the communities in which we operate, taking our responsibility seriously by using our scale to protect and enhance the environment around us.  

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