On Tuesday, McDonald’s announced that it would end deforestation throughout its entire supply chain, a move that will affect the company’s beef, poultry, palm oil, coffee, and packaging. The company will start taking steps to implement more sustainable practices immediately, with the goal of ending deforestation in its supply chain completely by 2030.
“I think its a really huge step,” Lael Goodman, analyst for the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress, “especially coming from a fast food giant.”
McDonald’s is the largest fast food company in the world, with more than 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries — a reach that gives the announcement global implications in an industry that has lagged behind other sectors of the food world in terms of deforestation commitments.
“Seeing this from the leader is signaling both to other fast food companies and other players working in this space that it is something that consumers are demanding,” Goodman said.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) began exerting pressure on McDonald’s last year with the release of a palm oil scorecard, which found that the fast food giant had “little commitment” to sourcing palm oil from sustainable sources. Along with other advocacy groups, like Forest Heroes, UCS launched campaigns on social media to demand McDonald’s begin sourcing its palm oil from places with no-deforestation commitments. Outside of the public eye, UCS also worked with McDonald’s to advise the company about deforestation policies.
“We have been sharing info with McDonald’s for more than a year to help them understand the risk,” Goodman said, noting that the company consulted with UCS before releasing their commitments yesterday.
The new zero-deforestation policy impacts 3,100 of McDonald’s direct suppliers, but also applies to a complex network of indirect suppliers; McDonald’s said that it would work with suppliers and expert advisers to ensure that the products are sourced in a sustainable fashion and will report progress “at least annually” in its sustainability report. As signatories of the United Nation’s New York Declaration on Forests, McDonald’s has committed to ending deforestation throughout its entire supply chain by no later than 2030. For priority products with a high connection to deforestation — beef, poultry, coffee, packaging, and palm oil — the company intends to end deforestation in the supply chain ahead of the 2030 limit.
In its eight-point commitment, McDonald’s promised to end deforestation of high carbon stock forests — forests that act as crucial carbon stores and also harbor high levels of biodiversity. Often, these forests are cleared to make way for plantations or open up land for grazing. McDonald’s also pledged to stop sourcing products from peatlands, which store large amounts of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere when the areas are developed.
A 2012 policy brief compiled by two scientific groups estimated that tropical deforestation — excluding emissions from peatland and soil degradation — releases 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, an amount that’s the same as the emissions of 572,958,758 passenger vehicles. Worldwide, agricultural development is the leading cause of deforestation, with developers clearing land to make room for pasture for cattle, palm oil plantations, or soy cropland (grown to feed livestock).
Within the past year, the palm oil industry has become increasingly interested in improving its sustainability, with global suppliers broadly committing to sourcing palm oil in a way that prevents deforestation. Currently, 96 percent of global palm oil production is protected by no-deforestation policies.
In late March, agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland committed to a no-deforestation policy for both palm and soy, making it the first company to extend no-deforestation commitments to cover soy production outside of the Brazilian Amazon, an area that is especially vulnerable to agricultural development. As of 2012, soy production had contributed to the clearing of some 80 million hectares of forests in the Amazon basin.
While Goodman praised McDonald’s announcement, she stressed that the company needs to release specific details about how it plans on achieving its goals, as well as consider moving its deforestation timeline up.
“We’re really hoping for a sooner timeline,” Goodman said. “Given the state of the industry, we know its possible to do it much sooner than that and we’re hoping that their deadline for at least palm oil will be sooner than that because forests are at risk now.”