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Responsible Fast Food?

McDonald’s today releases its second “corporate responsibility report” (the first appeared in 2002–and I guarantee you that nearly every word written about it will wryly point out the hypocrisy of such an effort from a company that sells double-cheeseburgers and supersized fries.

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Yes, granted, Ronald McDonald is no Mother Theresa, and Mickey-D’s is no one’s idea of an ideal social citizen. But then, how many companies really are? It’s not like we’re all out there selling products and services that can better mankind.

So the question is, if you’re going to sell people artery-hardening fast food that’s high in sodium, calories, and saturated fat–and heck, someone’s going to–what’s the most responsible way to do so? If you think about it that way, McDonald’s actually comes off looking pretty good.

A few examples from the report: Since 1993, McDonald’s has tracked waste in detailed studies of a few individual restaurants. It’s hard to universalize from these few, but it looks like the pounds of waste per thousand dollars of sales has dropped from about 110 to 70 in the course of a decade. In 2003, the company introduced new carryout bags that required bleaching and had less post-consumer recycled materials than their predecessor–but it offset the impact by increasing recycled content in napkins and using lighter-weight paperboard for fry cartons.

McDonald’s Japan has reduced CO2 emissions by an average of 14.6% since 1990. In 2003, the first hydrofluorocarbon-free McDonald’s opened in Vejle, Denmark. McDonald’s Australia reduced electricity consumption by 1.5% from 2002 to 2003. As of this year, all batteries in Happy Meal toys contain no mercury.

You get the idea. McDonald’s sells crappy food that I don’t particularly want my children to eat–but it’s clearly thinking about its impact in some creative, surprising ways. Can your company say as much?

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