McDonald’s Sustainable Land Management Commitment: Are We Lovin’ It Yet?

By Peter W Nowack Tue, Mar 22, 2011

USA, March 22, 2011 (RISI) -"You deserve a break today." Well, if you happen to manage a certified pulp forest, you just caught one. Maybe.

Launched on March 9, 2011 to coincide with the release of its 2010 Sustainability Report, McDonald's Corporation's new Sustainable Land Management Commitment (SLMC) is a plan that will help the company ensure that all of the agricultural products it uses worldwide come from legal and sustainably managed land sources. The commitment's main emphasis is on the usual suspects within the food-supply chain - beef, poultry, coffee, and palm oil (our fishy friends are oddly absent from this policy, but, hey, this is a "sustainable land management" commitment). The SLMC also addresses McDonald's global sourcing of packaging, an area in which the focus is squarely on the origin of wood fiber.

FSC - best for meeting standards?

According to the McDonald's SLMC, the company will not knowingly purchase from suppliers that source from illegal or unacceptable sources, and it will give preference to wood fiber from sources that have obtained credible, third-party certification.

McDonald's cites Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as the program that, at present, provides the best assurance of meeting its standards. This should come as no shock to anyone, as the SLMC was developed by McDonald's in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the NGO that is is, arguably, the biggest global advocate for the FSC and its Principles & Criteria for Forest Stewardship.

But since it is unlikely that the fast-casual restaurant chain will find enough FSC fiber to meet its global packaging needs, McDonald's has adopted the broad definition of "credible third-party certification" that has become de rigueur among large corporations.

According to its website, McDonald's also recognizes, by name, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and Cerflor, the Brazilian national forest certification scheme. (The CSA, Cerflor and SFI programs all are endorsed by PEFC, so the listing rather duplicative.)

Conspicuous by its absence from this list is Lembaga Ekolabel Indonesia (LEI), the "Indonesian Eco-Label Institute," which is not, as yet, endorsed by PEFC, but which (in a very "strange bedfellows" arrangement) is about halfway through an 18-month engagement with FSC to explore of areas of compatibility and other possible collaboration, particularly in the area of community-based forestry.

Pulp manufacturers everywhere are likely to welcome McDonald's definition of "legal" wood fiber as coming from timber "harvested, transported, processed, bought and sold in compliance with national and sub-national laws." But it is McDonald's definition of "acceptable" categories of wood fiber that will have some pulp producers cheering and others shaking in their boots.

For McDonald's, acceptable fiber sources conform with international trade sanctions, do not contain species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and are not sourced from areas included in an official planning process for designation as "protected." So far, so good.

Woodpulp from new plantations could be a problem

But the fourth component of the "acceptable" definition (and, in actuality, the one listed first) could be a real stumbling block for pulp producers around the world, including those in the US.

McDonald's has whole-heartedly embraced the FSC's position (some would say an arbitrary position or, at best, an ideological one) that acceptable fiber is "not obtained from land that has been converted to plantation or other use after 1994." Whether or not that land is presently managed sustainably according to a credible, third-party program, and whether or not the present owner was the entity that converted the natural forest to plantation use, the wood fiber from that plantation is now unacceptable to McDonald's.

There is no place (well, perhaps other than in Indonesia) that this exclusion could resonate more loudly than in the US Mid-Atlantic region, where major pulp producers and packaging suppliers to the fast-casual food industry rely on fiber that is grown, at least in part, on third-party-certified plantations that have been converted - you guessed it - after 1994. The exclusion is a point not lost on Dogwood Alliance, the NGO that has been campaigning for the better part of a year against Yum! Brands' KFC and its packaging supplier, International Paper. Dogwood was quick to issue a press release praising McDonald's for its new policy and condemning KFC, operators of industrial pulp plantations in the US Mid-Atlantic and - perhaps just because they had the bully pulpit - SFI, the certification brand-of-choice for the US forest products industry.

Will McDonald's Sustainable Land Management Commitment be a game-changer for the pulp industry? That depends on how fast, how deeply, and how uniformly the mega-corporation implements its new tenets. Certainly it gives them a policy-based "ten-foot-pole" with which to distance themselves from "unacceptable" fiber sources that could tarnish the McDonald's brand. That is a move we can expect - other multi-nationals have done the same in recent months.

But Just how fast will McDonald's move to eliminate fiber originating from credible third-party SFI or PEFC-certified plantations converted after 1994? Which tenet of the acceptability definition is the trump card? It's hard to say. Perhaps the company will issue one of those "what we really said was" type of announcements designed to clear the air once and for all.

I hope so, because, without such a document, McDonald's Sustainable Land Management Commitment - at least the packaging component of it - seems internally contradictory and promises to be a real headache for well-meaning "good actor" suppliers who want to stay in the game of selling to Mickey D's.

SLMC. I'm just not lovin' it yet.



Referenced in error by McDonald's as "Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification"

Referenced in error by McDonald's as "CSA International," a product-testing and certification organization which, like CSA, is part of an entity called the "CSA Group."










Referenced in error by McDonald's as "International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species"


Nowack-Beer Consulting is a sustainability issues management and environmental marketing company with offices in New York and California. Comments made in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of RISI, Inc., its parent company or sponsors.

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