Protecting Water Resources

With agriculture accounting for 70% of global freshwater usage, and a reliance on local water sheds to provide beverages to our customers and keep our restaurants running, water is vital to our business model. As a company, we intend to develop a holistic strategy, spanning water conservation, stewardship, quality and use.

Why it matters

Whether from the seas and oceans or from freshwater sources, water is one of the world’s most precious – and under-pressure – resources. Farming uses over two-thirds of the world’s fresh water, making it critical to our business. We need clean water to process raw materials in our food and drinks, and to keep McDonald’s restaurants clean.

Climatic events, extreme weather and growing demand for water are all adding pressure to water supplies. Heavy storms and extreme temperatures can destroy crops, contaminate freshwater supply and strand our operations. What’s more, the infrastructure in place to help mitigate some of these challenges is crumbling and costs associated with their improvement are expected to rise. That’s why it matters to us that we have a clear strategy to manage our impact on water and play our part in protecting the availability and quality of this vital resource.

On this page:

Our approach | Our actions

Our approach

Because water is so essential to our entire business, we’re developing a holistic strategy around both the conservation of clean water and its efficient and safe use. To do this, we partnered with experts like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Resources Institute to identify the risks and create a stewardship approach that will drive actions and improvements across our entire value chain.  

McDonald’s has also been working on this strategy in partnership with Franchisees and suppliers. In order to inform our strategy, we conducted a water risk analysis in 2016 to better understand the exposure of restaurants and suppliers to water risk.  McDonald’s has also signaled the importance of water to our suppliers by including it in our Global Sustainable Sourcing Guide. We regularly update this guidance as we establish new targets and assess emerging risks across the supply chain.

Water is also inherently tied to McDonald’s climate strategy. Through actions we take to meet our targets across our supply chain and in company and franchised restaurants, McDonald’s seeks to reduce the water footprint of our supply chain, especially related to agriculture and row crops.

Our work on water supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, specifically:

As well as these, we’ve mapped our Scale for Good initiatives to all 17 goals.

Our actions

Tapping into water savings in the U.S.

To gather data around four key areas of water management – irrigation, public and staff amenities, cleaning and beverage services – we conducted water surveys in McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S in 2018. The findings have helped us and our Franchisees to identify and prioritize water savings and improvement opportunities, and the results have been shared across other restaurants, especially in areas of water stress.

Our U.S. restaurant construction and remodel standards now include low-flow urinals and high-efficiency faucets that use less water. We also encourage the use of native and/or drought-tolerant landscaping, along with storm water management through the use of rain gardens, permeable pavement and rainwater collection and reuse.

No more water down the drain in Switzerland

In Switzerland, we’ve installed Urimat dry urinals in all restaurants. With a special siphon and large-scale float, this system neutralizes odors and helps to save significant amounts of water. In fact, every year McDonald’s saves around 45 million liters of water from this program – that’s the same as 10% of our total freshwater requirement and means savings in water bills too.

Taking the stress out of water stress in Australia

Water scarcity is a real concern in Australia. This means water conservation is an important issue for McDonald’s Australia restaurants. We’ve taken a number of initiatives to reduce water use, such as using rainwater harvesting for irrigation and landscaping. Also, water-efficient fixtures – such as our spray rinse gun – have flows set at optimal levels and trigger mechanisms to reduce water use further. Education is also important. Restaurant managers and crew members all receive training on water use, detailed landscaping guidelines are provided, and external rainwater storage tanks now carry information to guide the public on the importance of water reuse and our commitment to protecting water.

Bringing dead ocean zones to life

We’ve joined the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, a group of large companies and NGOs working together to tackle water challenges like the Gulf hypoxia dead zone, an area of low to no oxygen that can no longer support fish or other marine life. It’s also looking at the factors contributing to climate change by working with growers. The targets for the group are aligned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Hypoxia Task Force.

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Farmer harvesting crops
Outdoor sign