20 years ago McDonald’s Corp. and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) created a partnership unique for a corporation and an environmental organization at the time. As Gwen Ruta, Vice President of EDF’s Corporate Partnerships Program explained in a recent Huffington Post article, “The alliance was very risky. Both sides stood to lose big if results failed to materialize. It was a bold step in an era where businesses and environmentalists were more apt to meet in a courtroom than in a corporate boardroom.”
A joint task force was established, comprised of an EDF scientist, economist, chemical engineer and McDonald’s managerial team to review McDonald’s operations. EDF decided to take no money from McDonald’s in order to be able to examine their business practices objectively and make the data open to the public. They came up with a Waste Reduction Action Plan which in the coming decade would result in McDonald’s having recycled one million tons of corrugated boxes, reduced packaging by 300 million pounds, and decreased waste from restaurants by 30 percent.
One major outcome most are familiar with was the phase-out of McDonald’s polystyrene styrofoam clamshells that used to encase all hamburgers. As McDonald’s held the title as the largest consumer of styrofoam in 1990, this decision had a significant impact — a 70-90 percent reduction in packaging waste as the switch was made over to paper-based wrapping. These goals were met without McDonald’s taking on any extra costs, proving to the corporate world that doing right by the environment didn’t have to come with huge financial losses.
In an EDF press statement, McDonald’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Bob Langert, commented “We are celebrating two decades of sustainable progress with EDF. We believe this positive relationship created not only an environmental benefit, but a model for us on how we’ve addressed substantive issues with NGOs going forward. We’re proud of all of the significant results achieved and business benefits attained over the years.” This collaboration became the poster child for creative alliances where businesses and environmental organizations work closely together to solve pressing ecological problems.
McDonald’s has continued to produce partnerships with other environmental heavyweights such as Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund to address sustainability within the company. Meanwhile, EDF remains dedicated to using market-based incentives in order to drive environmental innovation by working closely with businesses to green their operations and supply chains. Learn more by reading McDonald’s Global Best of Green 2010 and EDF’s Corporate Partnerships Program.
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