The businesses that are – and are not – leading on climate change

When President Trump announced his plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2017, businesses spoke out en masse in opposition to this plan – conveying that long-term, global competitiveness demands climate action. Soon after, the We Are Still In Coalition was born to showcase widespread commitment to the Paris Accord.

This week, as the Trump administration cedes global leadership on climate by formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, We Are Still In membership now stands at more than 2,200 businesses and investors – including big names like Walmart, Hewlett Packard, Dropbox, and Apple.

Continued commitment to the Paris Accord is critical – but it’s also only one part of what is needed to fill the climate leadership void, build the clean energy economy, and remain “in.”

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2020 commodity sourcing goals? These tools can help with supply chain traceability

Amidst rising deforestation rates, many companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from key commodity supply chains. As of June 2018, 473 companies globally committed to curbing deforestation in supply chains linked to palm oil, soy, timber and pulp, and cattle.

Many of these companies have set 2020 goals, and are doubling down efforts to meet these goals as the deadline fast approaches. Companies now find themselves in a position in which they know where they want to go, but do not always know how to get there.

Identifying deforestation risks in supply chains by using monitoring and traceability tools is one key step to achieving corporate goals related to fighting deforestation. Being able to monitor full supply chains, from the production of raw materials to retail or consumption, will enable companies to locate and address deforestation risks. Read more

Scaling for good: can McDonald’s raise the bar for sustainable food?

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting ambitious, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the 10th in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Let’s turn back the clock to 1990. It was a milestone year for McDonald’s, as the company opened its first restaurants in Moscow, mainland China and Chile. It was also when the largest restaurant company in the world joined forces with Environmental Defense Fund to launch a groundbreaking partnership that would find ways to reduce McDonald’s solid waste. The results? $6 million in savings, more than 300 million pounds of packaging eliminated, and 1 million tons of corrugated boxes recycled.

2018 is shaping up to be a big year for McDonald’s too, with a packaging waste goal set in January and an announcement to reduce emissions across its supply chain in March. Led by Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s has raised the corporate leadership bar with these ambitious sustainability targets. But now, the difficult and complex work of meeting these goals begins.

I caught up with Francesca ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit this week to ask her about what the roadmap to meeting these goals looks like, and how they’ll collaborate with their suppliers and the industry to prioritize action on the areas where McDonald’s has the biggest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including responsible beef production

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

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I’m lovin’ it: McDonald’s exemplifies a sustainability leader

McDonald’s – the world’s largest restaurant company – recently announced new climate goals,  which were quickly followed by many comments like this one, from Axios:

“These are concrete targets, but they’re not as of yet backed up with specific plans of how to get there.”

Axios is right. These are concrete targets (and they’ve been approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative).  Here are the details: by 2030, McDonald’s is pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their restaurants and offices by 36 percent, and reduce their emissions intensity (per metric ton of food and packaging) across their supply chain by 31 percent. The company estimates these reductions will prevent 150 million metric tons of C02 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere. That’s huge – it’s the equivalent of removing 32 million cars from the road for one year.

But I want to challenge Axios in saying that the company has “no specific plans” to get there.

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Environmental innovation will transform business as usual

As the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections that could harm human health for decades, it’s increasingly up to businesses to lead the way, charting the course to a future that includes both a thriving economy and a thriving planet.

Leading the way requires first setting ambitious, public targets like the over 340 companies taking science-based climate action and 90 that have approved science-based targets; collaborating with partners across the value chain for maximum scale and impact – Walmart’s Project Gigaton, a collaborative effort to reduce 1 billion tons for emissions, is a powerful example; and, supporting smart climate and energy policy

BSR’s new sustainability framework closely echoes these leadership approaches and recommends that companies create resilient business strategies that align with sustainability goals. GreenBiz’s 2018 State of Green Business report further supports these and other requirements for sustainability leadership, adding that businesses need to improve reporting on climate risk, impact, and progress towards goals. The We Mean Business coalition adds further calls to action for companies: join the low carbon technology partnerships initiative, grow the market for sustainable fuels and electric vehicles, and take proactive steps to end deforestation by 2020.

Yet currently missing from all of this corporate sustainability leadership guidance is a call for companies to accelerate environmental innovation and deployment of next generation technology – sensors, AI, data analytics and visualization, and digital collaboration – to solve our most pressing environmental challenges.

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EDF Climate Corps Fellows Finding Gold in the Value Chain

Energy efficiency is a goldmine, but not everyone has the time or resources to dig. That’s why for the past seven years, over three hundred organizations have turned to EDF Climate Corps for hands-on help to cut costs and carbon pollution through better energy management. And every year, the program delivers results: this year’s class of fellows found $130 million in potential energy savings across 102 organizations.

But this year we also saw something new. In addition to mining efficiencies in companies’ internal operations, the fellows were sent farther afield – to suppliers’ factories, distribution systems and franchisee networks. What they discovered demonstrated that there is plenty of gold to be found across entire value chains, if companies take the time to mine it.

Here are three places where EDF Climate Corps fellows struck gold: Read more

Reading Between the Lines: Developing Employee Engagement Initiatives

By: Pia Kristiansen is a 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at McDonald’s and an MBA Candidate at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Earlier this summer, I shared my initial thoughts on working through the complexities of designing and implementing an employee engagement strategy during my EDF Climate Corps fellowship at McDonald’s Corporation. Anyone interested in the topic of employee engagement, specifically around sustainability initiatives like energy efficiency, is probably familiar with the plethora of resources listing five or ten “top” attributes of a successful program.

These resources provided a great starting point for me but did not necessarily define the path I needed to convert my ideas into actions and establish those attributes during my fellowship. That said, it is worth sharing the lessons learned from this experience and its unique challenges, so here are my take-aways:

Pia Kristiansen

  • Get to Know (and never stop looking for) Your Advocates: McDonald’s has a reputation for being a corporation that values personal relationships. Successfully engaging the crew members at the heart of McDonald’s business – its restaurants – requires buy-in across the system. I quickly found that fostering relationships with a wide spectrum of stakeholders was the best way to get data, solicit feedback, and pave the way for successful deployment. By looking beyond “corporate walls” and interviewing people in the field, I found incredible resources – people with, hands-on experience in innovative training and development programs and people with candor and a willingness to test my ideas. 

Takeaway: Pitch your ideas, collaborate on other projects, and take the time to get to know all of the stakeholders – valuable insight can be found in less obvious places.

  • Embrace the Culture:McDonald’s serves 64 million customers every day around the world and is so influential that The Economist light-heartedly publishes the “Big Mac” global currency index. However, despite its tremendous influence and brand power over the outside world, McDonald’s Corp. has a compelling company culture and value system. In building the framework for collateral on energy efficiency, I relied on my in-store experience and field feedback to construct a message that would resonate with the McDonald’s restaurant culture. My conversations with Green Team members, Restaurant Design, Corporate Social Responsibility, Operations and Energy teams gave me a clear understanding of the value system in which strategic decisions are made.

Takeaway: Solicit a variety of perspectives to gain a real understanding of the company. Frame your goals to focus on developing tools and resources that innovate and strengthen the culture and value system, rather than change it. Remember that these are the foundation for your engagement program.

  • Look Beyond Automation: Automation is often viewed as the “obvious answer” in energy efficiency, yet the importance of human participation cannot be overstated. Nearly every software program, piece of equipment or new technology for energy efficiency can be optimized by human behavior. Communication and education will likely be the tools you come to rely on. Lucky for me, McDonald’s had already devoted tremendous resources to automation, but it took dozens of meetings and the solicitation of mentorship to truly understand how I could best leverage these resources.

Takeaway: Make it a priority to become an expert on the infrastructure, policies, processes, and offerings already available. This knowledge will shed significant light on the feasibility and potential of your employee engagement initiatives.

With these lessons, I was able to deliver the concept design and proposal for an educational video on energy efficiency for distribution to approximately 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s restaurants as well as a summary of strategic recommendations that are being integrated into McDonald’s worldwide energy management program.

None of this would have been possible without significant time spent building a business case that reflects my understanding of the various audiences I was seeking to engage. While many of my Climate Corps counterparts faced technical equipment and finance challenges this summer, I found myself fielding more theoretical process-oriented questions. I had to clearly articulate why engaging employees helps to reduce energy use and how I planned on doing so successfully within a large and complex system.

All of this leads to a final piece of advice: Get comfortable building a dynamic business case. Employee engagement requires relationship building and strategic intuition that goes beyond a reliance on quantitative data.

This entry is cross-posted on In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog.

Building on the Heritage of Partnership: I’m lovin’ it

By Koji Kitazume, 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at McDonald’s Corporation, Joint degree MBA/MEM candidate at The Fuqua School of Business and Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Member of Net Impact

On average, it serves 60 million customers a day through more than 32 thousand restaurants in nearly 120 countries around the world – that’s McDonald’s, where I worked as an EDF Climate Corps fellow this summer. I helped the worldwide energy team with its energy efficiency efforts in restaurant buildings and kitchen equipment. The most thrilling part of the job? Realizing the scale of the potential impact such an organization could make and being involved in that process.

Equally as exciting was my role as a part of a long-standing partnership at the intersection of business and the environment. McDonald’s collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund goes back to 1990, when the two first joined forces to explore whether the company could benefit the environment without affecting the bottom line. A major outcome of this initial partnership was the replacement of polystyrene foam sandwich packaging with paper-based wrapping, which reduced packaging volume, landfill space, energy usage, pollutant releases and all the associated costs.

Another rippling outcome of the partnership was the improvement in energy efficiency. By 2000, a decade after the parties examined various opportunities for reducing environmental impact in ways that made business sense, McDonald’s cut more than 510 million kilowatt-hours of electricity usage and 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions through installing energy-efficient lighting in its restaurants. And the ripple continues to prevail – Today, new McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. are equipped with energy-efficient features such as LED signage, high-efficiency HVAC systems and low-proximity kitchen equipment exhaust hoods, to name a few.

As excited as I was about working with McDonald’s this summer, given all that’s been done over the last 20 years I had to ask myself, “What’s left there for me to do?”

In my first weeks, I learned about trends over the recent years that have made energy management even more challenging. For example, many of McDonald’s restaurants now operate for longer hours; McDonald’s has been putting more kitchen equipment into its restaurants to support menu expansion; and energy has been deregulated in many markets. While McDonald’s continues to drive energy efficiency in spite of these trends, prioritizing efforts and tracking results continue to pose additional challenges.

So my role this summer was to help McDonald’s address these challenges with an outside-in perspective. As part of this project, I worked with the McDonald’s worldwide energy director to develop a tool that quantifies financial and environmental impact of the company’s energy efficiency efforts and investments for prioritization. I was stunned when I first tried analyzing a sample set of data and found that I couldn’t open the file with Excel due to the massive volume – there’s a lot of square footage, revenue, guest counts, utility rates, climate zones, emission factors and other variables to deal with.

I’m proud to report that by the end of my summer fellowship, I was able to use the very tool I had developed to calculate that the company could cut approximately 2,993,000 kWh of electricity usage and avoid 1,799 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually if it were to install occupancy sensors for lighting control in non-dining and non-kitchen areas in 775 company-owned restaurants in the U.S.

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