Where’s the (Sustainable) Beef? McDonald’s Faces a Material Issue Head On

With many companies beginning to tackle GRI G4 reporting, we could easily call 2014 “The Year of Materiality." And there is no better example than McDonald's, who is creating buzz with its recent announcement to purchase “verified" and “sustainable" beef by 2016, with a long-term goal to source 100 percent sustainable beef at an unspecified point in the future.

McDonald's certainly isn't shying away from tackling a core sustainability issue for the brand, considering beef-based products result in $1 billion in annual sales and account for nearly 30 percent of the company's total carbon footprint. To put that impact in perspective, carbon emissions from operations of McDonald's 34,500 restaurants worldwide are around that same amount. While it comes as no surprise that McDonald's would target beef sustainability as a material issue, it is interesting that the company made the announcement before it had even defined what sustainable beef actually is.

While McDonald's has been addressing public concerns about beef sourcing since the late 1980's, the industry as a whole has yet to define “sustainable beef." Rather than wait on the sidelines to react, McDonald's took the lead and engaged other partners, creating the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. The result is McDonald's bold and proactive approach, making the largest public commitment to beef sourcing and accelerating change within the industry.  

Each company's approach to identifying its material issue(s) will vary depending on its particular industry and where the company is in its sustainability/CSR evolution. J.C. Gonzalez-Mendez, senior vice president of global CSR, sustainability and philanthropy at McDonald's said, “We picked beef not because it's easy, but because it's important to our consumers, because it's important to our stakeholders." Targeting your material issues is all part of the sustainability journey and it may make you ask yourself some tough questions. McDonald's is taking a risk to make this major announcement before having all the answers; some will criticize this, while others will applaud them, but either way it is a step toward transparency and meeting stakeholder expectations.

While at one time it was enough for a company to simply publish a CSR report, the landscape has become increasingly complex. The launch of G4 coupled with growing consumer activism has put pressure on companies to identify, define and report on core issues that they avoided in the past. To respond to the changing reporting landscape, Cone recently launched a new service offering, Materiality360(SM), a one-stop solution for companies looking to identify and analyze their top material issues. To learn more about Materiality360(SM), please click here.

-Camille Szramiak, Account Executive, Sustainable Business Practices


Back to Insights