How a clamshell launched McDonald’s purpose journey

Navigating a global brand’s transformation with Bob Langert

The Golden Arches are iconic. Beloved. And challenged. Over the past 30 years, McDonald’s has addressed significant global social issues in the course of business. Each misstep and success helped guide the organization in transforming its approach to corporate responsibility and sustainability.

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McDonald’s serves 70 million people every day, worldwide. As one of the world’s most visible brands, McDonald’s has both an obligation and opportunity to create meaningful connections with those 70 million people and their local and global communities. Today, the company has a focused purpose to use its “scale for good.”

Getting there wasn’t easy.

Bob Langert, former VP of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at McDonald’s, gave Purpose 360 a candid look into the company’s journey from reactive to proactive. It started in the 1980s, when the company was attacked for its use of CFCs in polystyrene clamshell packaging. Langert was tasked with addressing the challenge. Since then, he has helped the company navigate issues ranging from animal welfare and landfill waste to obesity and nutrition. Highlights from the episode include:

  • Considering every touchpoint with society. In transforming the relationship between the business and society, McDonald’s considered macro and micro issues, from nutrition and animal welfare to the environment and the economy. That holistic view helped McDonald’s drive industry-wide change in practices like the treatment of animals.
  • Treat purpose like a mindset, not an endpoint. For Langert, purpose has always been a journey – and one without an endpoint. When integrated within the business – from values to operations – purpose becomes a mindset that guides decision making at all levels of the organization.
  • Partner with your challengers. Greenpeace in particular challenged McDonald’s for its supply chain practices in the Amazon. Rather than shrug off criticism, McDonald’s acknowledged its poor practices and asked Greenpeace for counsel. It took a similar approach to partnerships with organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund. Langert urges purpose leaders to look to partners for expertise and accountability.
  • Support internal ethics. Through years of turbulence, Langert attested to the company’s internal ethics. Stakeholders from the C-suite down to franchise owners wanted McDonald’s to “do the right thing.” And that made difficult decisions easier to navigate, from publicly addressing negative actions to transforming its approach to animal welfare.

This episode is just a taste of Langert’s story. Take a look into McDonald’s evolution in Langert’s new book, The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey. Find it here.

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