Mike Tuffrey, Co-founder of Corporate Citizenship, reviews a personal account of the inner workings of corporate sustainability at one of the world’s most recognisable brands.
A “sustainability page-turner” is not a description one often finds associated with books in the usually heavy-going world of corporate responsibility. In the case of The Battle to do Good: inside McDonald’s sustainability journey, just published in hardback by Emerald Publishing, the marketing claim rings true.
Bob Langert, the book’s author, takes us on his 25 year journey from being given a “temporary environmental assignment” in the late 1980s to overcome opposition to the polystyrene clamshell, then littering America’s streets, to his retirement in 2015 as McDonald’s first ever vice president for sustainability. Along the route we learn about chicken welfare standards, the infamous McLibel trial, Amazonian deforestation, childhood obesity, workers’ rights, much more on packaging, and many other topics too.
This journey started in denial, morphed into reactive harm-reduction on individual issues, then grew into a formal corporate strategy first agreed in 2010, and ended with a five year plan, the 2020 Sustainability Framework, with pillars around sourcing, planet, food, people and community. That’s a journey many large companies have travelled in parallel, although few so much in the public spotlight and with so many individual customers intimately involved – 3.8 million every day served in the UK alone.
Latest research shows companies are still falling short on the SDGs, while investors move to close the funding gap. That means 2019 is the year to ratchet up the corporate act.
As the year draws to a close, the clock is still ticking loudly towards the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – described as the closest thing the world has to a ‘strategy’. Following on from the UN Millennium Development Goals, they were ratified by 193 countries in September 2015 and have 17 goals, with 169 specific targets, covering every aspect of life on planet earth, together providing an ambitious agenda for a better world, all to be achieved by 2030.
I’ve been critical of the approach so far adopted by too many companies towards them. See ‘Let’s stop playing SDG bingo’ where I argued that simply mapping existing activity against the 17 goals to show a contribution is little more than ticking off each in turn and calling out ‘full house’. Companies should move on from this ‘pick-and-mix’ approach and show how the business is changing as a result of addressing the Goals, either in response to market trends and public policy stimulus or so as to increase the intended sustainability impact.
That said, I’m now seeing a slow up-tick in the number of companies who are going further and taking their SDG mapping back into the business with a change agenda. My test is whether they are re-engineering their own product or service portfolio to achieve greater impact or engaging with their partners across their value chain to do the same.
Progress by companies is proving patchy towards achieving the Global Goals. In a recent webinar, I discussed the need for them to embrace the logic of the business case and stop their pick-and-mix approach.
The clock is ticking towards 2030 – the deadline for achieving all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, unanimously adopted by world leaders exactly three years ago at a historic UN summit in New York. That may feel a long way off, but at time of writing it’s only 146 months away.
This summer’s UN progress report showed just how far there still is to go. To pick only one, the first on poverty, one in ten of our fellow citizens lives on less than $1.90 a day – the official poverty line – even if that has fallen dramatically from one in four at the start of the millennium.
Over 100 governments have now produced voluntary national reviews to report on progress at country level. However some are so late in preparing theirs – step forward the United Kingdom – that the voluntary sector has taken the initiative to produce its own stock-take: see UKSSD’s Measuring Up report issued in July.
My colleagues and I at Corporate Citizenship have been tracking what companies are Continue reading
As the year 2017 draws to a close, I’ll hazard a prediction about a rising trend for 2018 – a backlash by consumers about how companies use their data.
As I write, here in London the shops are full. Households are preparing for the Christmas season, when Christians astutely adopt the pagan winter solstice festival to mark new beginnings and everyone settles in against the cold for an excess of consumption.
If the advertisements are to be believed, high on Santa’s list of presents this year will be smart speakers – with Amazon Echo battling it out with Google Home, since Apple has announced that its HomePod will not be shipped until early 2018. New on the scene is the Echo Dot, small enough to slip into anyone’s Christmas stocking.
If you’ve not yet joined the fun (and I’m firmly resisting so far) these devices harness voice controlled AI assistants – Amazon Alexa joining iPhone’s Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now out in the cloud – to give you a hands-free way to play music, control your ‘smart home’ devices, tell you the weather forecast, and much more.