Are McDonald’s and Starbucks Really Going Green? - The Public Goods Blog Are McDonald’s and Starbucks Really Going Green? - The Public Goods Blog

Are McDonald’s and Starbucks Really Going Green?

Going green is no doubt good for business, and studies show that the majority of consumers would rather purchase from a company that exhibits environmental responsibility and ethics.

mcdonalds fries, starbucks coffee cup

As consumers become more aware of the way their consumption impacts the environment, they have begun to vote with their dollars, supporting brands that focus on sustainability. Globally, 84% of consumers say they seek out responsible products whenever possible. According to the same study, 57% would even purchase a product of lesser quality if it was more environmentally responsible.

Meanwhile there is a rise in local and federal governments enacting legislation or bans that support environmental sustainability and focus on the reduction of single-use plastics.

In response to this trend, the public relations teams for some big brands, namely McDonald’s and Starbucks, have been working overtime to change their images into one that is eco-friendly, and to demonstrate efforts in working toward sustainability. As consumers familiar with these household names, we know they have been hugely detrimental to the environment.

So we ask, “Can we trust them? Are these truly good-faith efforts, or are these campaigns a façade that is focused on the bottom line?”

Which green is more important to them — the one found in nature or the color of their money?

Which green is more important to them — the one found in nature or the color of their money?

McDonald’s recently opened a new 19,000-square-foot restaurant in Chicago that is virtually unrecognizable as the red and yellow burger joint that is so popular. This restaurant has 27-foot windows and more than 70 trees, and it uses half the energy of a usual McDonalds. At this location they also provide table service and have kiosks for ordering.

They also have their eye on the prize of earning platinum level in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] ratings for the Chicago restaurant. This well-meaning though flawed rating system would allow them to tout their eco-friendliness.

McDonald’s is also planning to open two “green concept stores” in Canada with fully recyclable cold drink cups, a new wood fiber cup lid, wooden coffee stirrers, paper straws and a “How 2 Recycle” label on every Happy meal. These restaurant plans follow a June 11 pledge by Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to eliminate single-use plastic food containers and utensils in Canada by 2021.

By 2025, McDonald’s claims to plan to use renewable, recyclable or certified sustainable materials in all of its packaging. The corporation has also promised to put recycling bins in restaurants to make recycling easy for consumers.

Starbucks has teamed up with McDonald’s to create a recyclable, compostable to-go cup as a part of Starbucks’ NextGenCupChallenge. Together, these two companies distribute 4% of the world’s 600 billion cups annually.

Starbucks has already designed a new lid to eliminate its use of plastic straws by 2020, when they will stop using plastic straws in its 28,000 stores worldwide. Starbucks alone is responsible for 1 billion straws a year. Compostable paper straws will be used for Frappuccinos, but more drinks will have the new highly-touted recyclable lid that features a raised lip.

While the plastic and paper cups (and straws) at both McDonald’s and Starbucks are technically already recyclable, the truth is that they seldom are recycled. This new lid will only use 9% less plastic than the current lid and straw.

It likely won’t be recycled either because it is made from polypropylene, commonly known as plastic No. 5. Because many recyclers consider it too costly to be profitable, only 5.1% of plastic No. 5 was recycled in the U.S. in 2015.

It is more expensive to recycle No.5 than it is to create new No. 5, so companies choose to buy new. If Starbucks and McDonald’s truly want to make a difference in the use of plastics, they will purchase recycled plastic when plastic is needed.

It may be too late for getting No. 5 recycled, though. Because of the cost, some cities and towns have stopped recycling No. 5 altogether. Recently China stopped processing most U.S. plastic waste, including No. 5.

When Big Brands announce that they are “going green,” it doesn’t hurt to keep a wary eye on them. Any step they make toward sustainability is helpful for the environment, even if they aren’t entirely doing it for the right reasons.

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