McDonald’s New Localwashing Campaign

McDonald’s launched a new campaign recently, joining large brands like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble in the battle against actual local enterprises over the locavore market. New billboards in Seattle proclaim that fries served in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood are made from spuds grown in Richland, a farming region about 200 miles from Seattle. But the fine print tells the real story: “Participation and duration may vary.”

mcdonalds going greenMcDonald’s has long claimed to be good corporate citizens dedicated to healthy and sustainable products. They’ve greened a few locations to LEED standards, demonstrated the freshness of their salads with billboards that actually grow lettuce, and even rebranded in Europe with a green logo.

The new campaign uses the provenance of potatoes to promote McDonald’s as a local choice (though they never actually use the word local). Companies like Walmart, Hellmann’s, and HSBC have also engaged in localwashing campaigns over the past few years. But consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to greenwashing and related trends. It seems doubtful that McDonald’s new billboards will fool Seattle’s savvy citizens!

Shivani is Principal at Friday Consulting, where she works with food and technology startups on strategy, finance, and business planning. She is also a founding consultant at AchieveMission. Shivani holds a BA from Stanford University, and an MBA from Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on twitter @shivaniganguly.

7 responses

  1. My question is, so if the potatoes are grown in Richland, how far away are they shipped to be processed and frozen before they are shipped back to Seattle?

  2. One of the first steps to losing weight and getting healthy is to cut french fries, actually cut fast food. I found it an easy first step a few years ago. Does McDonald's think that someone eating fast food regularly is concerned about locally grown?

    As everyone says, sustainability is a journey. I find that part of the journey is applying sustainability in my own family's life, which I think is true for many others on this collective journey. Sure I buy a lot less, I drive a lot less, I recycle a lot more, I use green cleaning products, I've reduced my energy use, etc., but I have changed what and how I eat. Sustainability took on an additional meaning for us which was become healthier people through better diet and exercise. We eat lower on the food chain and exercise daily. One of the easy things was to cut all fast food (exception:19 year old son not there yet) for three reasons
    -Reduce fuel use and CO2 emissions to get to and from fast food
    -Reduce fat intake from eating fast food (healthy options, not as tasty as we can do at home)
    -Eliminate fuel use and CO2 from waiting online and idling to get fast food
    It would be wonderful to have a calculation of how much fuel the US would save and the amount of CO2 eliminated, if we closed all drive-throughs (not to mention the increase in health of just getting out of the car). I know closing all drive-throughs is a pipe dream, but seems like such an easy, visible way to have a huge sustainability impact, communicate culture change, way of life change, and engage everyone. Anyone know if a calculation has been done of the impact of closing all drive-throughs?

    This ad will die of its own weight (no pun intended). Their marketeers didn't understand their market on this one. For the most part, people buying McDonald's have not been bitten by the sustainability bug. Silver lining? The ad might trigger a few folks to look on the Internet for what is the deal with locally grown?!

    Question for other sustainability experts. Been researching locally grown (and buy fresh and locally grown whenever I can, including growing a little in my backyard) to assess and counter claims that locally grown is significantly less efficient and results in more CO2 emissions. Can anyone refer me to any studies?

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