When Big Business Is Good For the Environment | 2nd Green Revolution

When Big Business Is Good For the Environment

McDonald’s get trashed – and sometimes quite rightly – for its policies towards the environment, workers, and animals as it serves up billions of hamburgers across the world.

Recent news, however, shows the company also acknowledges it can make improvements and will listen to voices both inside and outside the company. This time it is not Styrofoam packaging that is getting phased out but tiny gestation crates for the female pigs (sows) in its supply chain. By May, McDonald’s is requiring “that its suppliers of pork provide plans for phasing out gestation crates. Once those plans are delivered … McDonald’s will create a timetable to end the use of gestation crates in its supply chain,” according to the NY Times. Currently, 90 percent of the pregnant sows in the United States are in gestation stalls. Gestation cages are typically about 2 feet by 7 feet, too small for a full-sized sow to turn around.

So aside from being a more decent way to treat animals, why is this a big deal? Well, because it is McDonald’s and a move like this has huge and immediate impact on suppliers. The NY Times puts it this way, 

“in the world of big-time meat supply, there are two kinds of producers: those who sell to McDonald’s and those wish they could. When, in 1999, McDonald’s requested that its suppliers give caged hens 72 square inches of space instead of 48 (72 is still smaller than a piece of 8×10 paper), not a single factory-farmed hen in the country was being raised with 72 inches of space. Yet the entire supply chain was converted in just 18 months, and 72 square inches is now effectively the industry standard. McDonald’s is among the most important food companies in the world, and one could argue that it and Walmart are the true pace-setters: what they do, others will do. When McDonald’s bans gestation crates, gestation crates will go bye-bye. If McDonald’s were to have a hit with a spot-on non-meat offering, you’d see something similar, lickety-split, at Burger King.

This can be said for all kinds of sustainable practices. When the big players make these kinds of moves, the impact is huge. Think about Walmart and its efforts to reduce packaging, reduce electricity use, and increase power generation from renewable sources. These moves are meant to save money, of course, but if doing so spurs big business to become more economically sustainable and environmentally friendly, so much the better. Consumers are often the key variable in this equation as their collective ability to vote with their wallets has a lot of power.
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