Thursday, December 20, 2007

McDonald's sees restaurants as green laboratories

From low-flow water faucets to converting French fry oil to fuel, McDonald's Corp (MCD.N: Quote, Profile, Research) is testing ways to reduce the impact its 31,000-plus restaurants have on the world's resources.

The hamburger chain, whose iconic brand and presence in 118 countries has made it the target of anti-globalization activists, is using its scale and broad franchise ownership to address the issue. It is trying out a slew of individualized environmental initiatives, said Bob Langert, vice president of corporate social responsibility, in an interview, adding that it did not make sense to force one solution onto its entire system.

"In Japan, which is very land constrained, it's about waste. In Australia, the big issue is water," Langert said. "There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to environmental initiatives."

In the last 20 years, McDonald's has made a variety of environmentally driven changes that are, for the most part, invisible to customers. They included reducing the amount and type of packaging it was using, moving a third of its fish purchases to more sustainable sources and implementing a program to buy goods made from recycled materials.

Langert became involved with the company's environmental initiatives after working on its 1988 move to eliminate containers made with chlorofluorocarbons, which were found to contribute to ozone depletion.

"We've eliminated the low-hanging fruit and medium-hanging fruit through the last 20 years," Langert said, but added that the pace of environmental change at McDonald's is picking up.

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