I thought I’d do a bit of comparison on fuel efficiency between the UK and the US. Went to Heathrow in an 8-seater vehicle – it was on its way to collect a large group. But at 36mpg even that was less thirsty than the flashy black Lincoln that collected me from Chicago’s O’Hare airport – it did 21mpg. It struck me that taxi companies would quickly switch to more fuel efficient cars if their clients required it. But there’s a long way to go in America – on arrival I saw no less than 6 stretch limos through the aeroplane window before we had stopped moving.
Putting my watch back 6 hours meant I was in time for an evening reception hosted by McDonalds. I met a few of their key players, such as Bob Langert, who heads their CSR department. He looked much younger and fitter than I had imagined – the toned look was apparently as a result of being an enthusiastic tennis player (I didn’t ask him how many McDonalds meals he ate in a week!). I’ve discovered that Bob also has a blog. He gives an interesting perspective on the greening of corporate America.
The main McDonalds event was quite a glitzy affair. The audience sat at tables dotted around the room and the main presenter Frank Luntz, billed as the ‘hottest pollster’ in America, took an inclusive approach. He roved on and off the stage with his portable microphone asking the audience questions. One was about what we saw as the main priorities for men versus women. Apparently, alarm bells should start ringing if you’re a man whose wife puts money top of the list – it generally means she’s thinking about divorce!
We had a short briefing session and make up (even the men) in preparation for the cameras, before taking seats on stage. My fellow panellists were: Dr Miriam Nelson, a nutritionist from Tufts University; Glen Prickett from one of America’s leading NGOs – Conservation International; Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office; Ed Freeman from the University of Virginia and author of newly published book Managing for Stakeholders; and Karen van Bergen, Vice President of Corporate Relations at McDonalds Europe.
We had been told to be provocative and to give external opinions of McDonalds (apart from Karen!). I took them at their word and explained to the largely McDonalds audience that I didn’t share the sentiments of Frank Luntz, who had declared he was a big McDonalds fan. I explained, that I’d been sued by the company nearly 20 years ago (see blog posted on 5 April 2007 titled – A few hours in Naples) and haven’t been into one of their restaurants since – nor have I taken my children!
But I have to give credit to McDonalds for changing their game. Even before I had been engaged to talk to their European Management Team last month, I was impressed with how they had responded to Greenpeace’s campaign on rainforest destruction caused by soya used in chicken feed (see earlier blog) and by their commitment to more climate-change friendly coolants in refrigeration. Both these issues are covered in The New Green Consumer Guide. And the very fact that they invited me to be on a platform and encouraged a critique of the company, shows that they’ve moved on. Quite a few of the McDonalds people I spoke to said that the McLibel case had to be one of the biggest mistakes in their history.
Had some time off in the afternoon, so I went on a boat down the river and onto the lake. There was a commentator on board. So now I know that the Trump Tower is being built in Chicago, that the Wrigley family tried soap powder before discovering the potential in gum and that Sears went out of business when internet sales took over.
This excursion was followed by a seismic event. I was taken to supper at a super deluxe McDonalds restaurant down town by Brian Kramer, Senior Manager in CSR at McDonalds and Dr Sebastian Csaki, who works in their Government Relations office in Brussels (see photo). I’m afraid to admit that even my very charming hosts didn’t convert me to culinary delights of the restaurant – except the fries, which were delicious. Between us we had a selection of chicken dishes, iced coffee, apple and grape salad with a yoghurt dip and of course the aforementioned fries. There was little resemblance to the menu that I remember when it was simply a choice between a Big Mac, a cheeseburger and a regular hamburger, with an assortment of shakes and fizzy drinks. But there was still mountains of packaging.
Another thing that’s changed is the regional differences in McDonalds across the world. Apparently they sell porridge in the UK, shrimp in Thailand and other exotic dishes depending on the location. And if you’re concerned about the nutritional content of your food there’s lots of information about that on pack. I discovered that the extra large fries contained 47% of my recommended daily fat intake – even that didn’t put me off. But, as I found out in the morning session, McDonalds takes the obesity issue very seriously. I’m hoping that climate change and the environment is recognised to be at least as important – at the moment I think those in the organisation who believe this are a relatively rare breed!
It was an interesting experience – I’m looking forward to seeing where the company is heading……
May 2, 2007 McDonalds Head of CSR blogged his version of my visit……..
A Visit to McDonald’s
Last week, Julia Hailes, a co-founder of SustainAbility, joined us in Chicago at our Corporate Relations Conference.
Julia participated in a panel discussion that explored our CSR past, present and future. We encouraged her to be provocative because we want to be challenged to create game changing social and environmental policies and programs. And she sure delivered. She has strong opinions about McDonald’s, and she’s not afraid to vocalize them.
I think you would find her recap of her “McDonald’s Experience” quite interesting. You can read about it on one of her latest blog entries.
Take a look and let me know what you think.
-Bob Langert –