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McDonald’s bolsters eco credentials with recycled biodiesel

McDonald’s bolsters “green” credentials with recycled biodiesel oil

McDonald’s bolsters green credentials with recycled biodiesel
July 9, 2007

McDonald’s Corp. (Public, NYSE:MCD), the fast-food chain, has bolstered its “green” credentials by announcing that its UK distribution fleet will be powered by biodiesel made of recycled cooking oil from its restaurants. While the move is expected to save only around 1,675 tons of carbon annually, environmentalists say it sets an important precedent for the parent company and the fast-food industry as a whole.

Joel Makower, a sustainable business consultant who is executive editor of, says the announcement is a “welcome surprise.” In 2006 Makower produced a 4-minute “documentary from the future” on climate change — Climate: A Crisis Averted — which envisioned McFuels, a biofuels company, being launched by McDonald’s in 2012.

“This comes as a welcome surprise.” he told “McDonald’s seems to have realized that there is business value, not to mention reputational capital, to be found from turning its dirty waste stream into climate-saving clean products.”

“I hope this isn’t a mere symbolic gesture, but the beginning of an industry trend.”

“The direct carbon reduction of this move will be negligible, as McDonald’s UK has over 1200 locations. But, the ripple effect could be huge: this is a company well-positioned to show other businesses that converting wastes into feedstock for a usable product is smart for the planet, and for the bottom line,” added Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, Senior Editor at Green Options and publisher of sustainablog.

McDonald’s said the shift would begin with converting 20 of its 155-vehicle British fleet to a mixture of used cooking oil (85 percent) and pure rapeseed or canola oil (15 percent). The cooking oil will be collected from about 900 of McDonald’s 1,200 restaurants in Britain.

McDonald’s latest announcement is one of several recent green initiatives. In January the company partnered with the Rainforest Alliance, a U.S.-based environmental group, to sell sustainably grown coffee in its UK stores. With McDonald’s restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland selling 143,000 cups of coffee, cappuccino and latte every day, the move is a significant boost to the eco-friendly coffee market. McDonald’s fish — 110 million pounds per year — is also sustainable. Like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s sources its seafood to producers that meet standards for sustainability set out by the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council.

The fast-food giant was also quick to respond to accusations from Greenpeace that it was using animal feed derived from soybeans grown in the Amazon rainforest. After looking into the matter, the restaurant pressured the biggest soy traders in Brazil into establishing an unprecedented two-year moratorium on the purchase of any soy from newly deforested areas in the Amazon. Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bungee, and other agricultural-products brokers are now working with environmental groups to develop a certification system for grain produced in the region.

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Can cattle ranchers and soy farmers save the Amazon?
Cain Carter, a Texas rancher who moved to the heart of the Amazon 11 years ago and founded what is perhaps the most innovative organization working in the Amazon, Alianca da Terra, believes the only way to save the Amazon is through the market. Carter says that by giving producers incentives to reduce their impact on the forest, the market can succeed where conservation efforts have failed. What is most remarkable about Alianca’s system is that it has the potential to be applied to any commodity anywhere in the world. That means palm oil in Borneo could be certified just as easily as sugar cane in Brazil or sheep in New Zealand. By addressing the supply chain, tracing agricultural products back to the specific fields where they were produced, the system offers perhaps the best market-based solution to combating deforestation. Combining these approaches with large-scale land conservation and scientific research offers what may be the best hope for saving the Amazon.

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