McDonald’s Director Of Sustainability Ian Olson On Waste Being An Opportunity

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in 2012?

“To quote Ken Dunn , who is actively involved in the Chicago City Farm project, ‘waste is just a misplaced resource.’ If we think of waste as a resource we can unlock options that would not be available if we just focus on diversion from landfill. Right now you hear a lot of emphasis on ‘zero waste,’ which implies that we’re preoccupied with the idea of doing ‘less bad.’ I think we need to reframe the approach around doing ‘more good’–creating and realizing the value of waste as a resource for other applications.”

How do you think you’ll apply it in the year ahead?

“One of our restaurants provides the feedstock for Ken to produce compost and support urban farms. He says his biggest constraint is the availability of good, clean organic matter so he can expand his farms in Chicago. In my short time with McDonald’s I’ve learned many of the reasons this can be so complicated. For starters, consumers are in the early stages of learning how to sort organic waste, and infrastructure is only starting to pop up to support organic waste separation. To really make an impact we will need to form new and unique collaborations with others (competitors, haulers, processors, local governments, etc.) to consolidate and aggregate our waste, as well as develop technologies to transform this material into other materials like compost or even energy. This change in approach has seemingly endless possibilities to realize the ‘more good’ that can come from collaborative efforts.”

More Lessons for 2013 from some of today’s most innovative business thought leaders here.CS