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Beyond the green wash: How restaurant chains can actually tackle their climate pollution

When McDonald’s opened its first net-zero restaurant in the UK last month, the backlash was swift. Although some measures to enhance site sustainability – fleece insulation, on-site wind turbines and solar panels, and a biodiversity garden maintained by rainwater collected from the parking lot – environmental advocates bad cry, argues that the chain has failed to address the overwhelming environmental impact of its business model.

Jim Walsh, senior energy policy analyst at the nonprofit Food and Water Watch, told Grist.

This is not a problem unique to Golden Arches. According to Walsh and others, McDonald’s is one of a growing number of fast-food chains that have pushed for “nonsense” climate solutions while resisting deeper change. For example, Burger King’s reduced methane burger was criticized as “Advertisement tricks“when it’s rolled out again in 2020, because it’s based on unresolvable science and doesn’t address the broader issues associated with industrial beef production. And more recently, Greenpeace Lamb Taco Bell for”green wash“After announcing in April that they would be switching to recyclable sauce packets. According to a statement from John Hocevar, director of ocean campaigns for Greenpeace USA, the announcement is”a distraction from Taco Bell’s broader single-use plastic problem. “

So what can restaurant chains do to meaningfully reduce their climate and environmental footprints?

If the primary goal is to mitigate climate change, the obvious first step is to focus on food, since that’s where the majority of restaurant emissions are generated. For McDonald’s, about 80% of climate pollution originates in supply chains, especially the procurement of carbon-intensive animal products such as beef and milk. According to Simon Fischweicher, head of corporations and supply chain for CDP, a nonprofit that helps companies tally and publish their greenhouse gas emissions, that number is even higher for with the food and beverage industry. Operational emissions – the greenhouse gases emitted directly by restaurants, such as through their use of gas to heat buildings – tend to be negligible by comparison.

“While it is important to consider and focus on and reduce the impact on operations… supply chain management is the most important thing,” he told Grist. of switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and compostable containers – or even using solar rooftop panels – could shrink as a result of changes to the type of food. products that restaurants buy.

Meat is an area of ​​particular concern, as livestock farming is responsible for more than half of emissions from global food production. “Not changing their menu makes everything else like changing clothes at the window,” said Jennifer Molidor, a senior food campaigner at the Center for Biodiversity. According to her, fast food chains like McDonald’s – where more than a third of Americans eat daily before the COVID-19 pandemic – allowing overconsumption of animal products, both directly, by including them in their menus, and indirectly, by encouraging a culture of meat consumption at home and in other chain. Molidor urges restaurants to choose richer meats on their menus, replacing options like beef burgers with plant-based alternatives like lentil patties and black bean wraps.

Indeed, the shift to plant-based proteins like beans and legumes could have a huge impact on restaurant emissions and broader US climate goals. For example, one hundred grams of protein from legumes such as lentils, produces only one sixty greenhouse gas emissions associated with 100 grams of beef protein. According to a Research released last year by University of Michigan and Tulane University researchers, replacing just half of the animal foods in Americans’ diets with plant-based alternatives would get the United States 24% ahead of the curve. way to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some chains have already taken steps in this direction – like Burger King, which added veggie burger on its menu in 2002 and now offers an impossible Whopper. But so far, Panera is the only national chain to announce plans to expand plant-based options to cover half of its menu.

However, emissions are only one factor to consider when it comes to promoting the sustainability of restaurants. According to Sarah Reinhardt, senior analyst for food systems and health at the Union of Concerned Scientists, focusing solely on greenhouse gas emissions is too narrow; Restaurants should also address their contribution to environmental evils such as air and water pollution, as well as social injustice. “You can make your use of energy more sustainable in some ways, but that doesn’t cancel out other harms on the social or environmental front,” she said.

Meat is again implicated in these environmental damage – especially when it comes from factory farms, where concentrated fecal waste can emit harmful compounds into the air and dance heavy metals into the water supply. However, industrial crop production can also be harmful to the environment, as freely applied fertilizers often escape into waterways, triggering algal blooms that kill native species and can contaminate drinking water. Walsh, an energy policy analyst for Food and Water Watch, specifically emphasized the need for restaurants to support the transition from monoculture – the practice of growing a single crop on large areas of land. to maximize profits – because it deplete soil nutrients, hasty deforestationand make the ecosystem less vulnerable to threats like disease and drought.

To move towards true sustainability, McDonald’s and other restaurant chains should publicly commit to supporting the growth of regional food systems, where practices such as grafting – where additional crops are grown on small plots to promote soil health and support biodiversity – more feasible. Besides gradually changing the ingredients of their menus for sustainably sourced foods, this may involve lobbying for legislation to promote the decline of public agriculture. Karma. Senator Cory Booker proposes Farm System Reform Actcould be useful, for example, as it would suspend new large factory farms, phase out existing ones by 2040, and make it easier for smallholders to compete in national markets.

Reinhardt added that restaurant chains should also support legislation to promote equity in the food industry, such as a livable minimum wage that applies to everyone from restaurant employees to farm workers. Even though some salary increase have won the COVID-19 pandemic, food chain workers have historically been paid some lowest average hourly wage of any industry in the United States, even though they frequently face life-threatening working conditions – including exposure to coronavirus – and maybe denied workers compensation. For a restaurant as large as McDonald’s to assert sustainability while relying on these “exploitative” labor practices, Reinhardt said, it would be unnecessary. (McDonald’s did not respond to Grist’s request for comment.)

Addressing all of these components of the food system is a huge undertaking and there is no single path towards greater equity and sustainability for restaurant chains. One thing environmental advocates tend to agree on, however, is the inability of restaurants to voluntarily make the ambitious changes that are urgently needed. Reinhardt calls for intervention from the federal government – ​​perhaps the Department of Agriculture mandating restaurants to adhere to sustainable supply chain processes, or nutritional standards that care about sustainability. The Department of Health and Human Services has developed a framework of Sustainability standards for food procurement and waste segregation; Although the standards are voluntary and currently only apply to federal establishments, Reinhardt says they can serve as a blueprint for regulations across the food industry.

Meanwhile, Molidor says chains like McDonald’s should use their vast social and economic capital to move US food culture towards a more sustainable model – not through plastic insulation. Fleece and interior design made from recycled polystyrene cups, which by normalizing low-carbon meals.

“They have the opportunity to change our consumer culture in a positive way for everyone,” said Molidor, noting that fast-food companies have driven a massive shift in consumer behavior. used by aggressively marketing burgers and throwaway packaging. “They’ve done it before and they can do it again.”

https://www.salon.com/2022/01/06/beyond-greenwashing-how-chain-restaurants-could-actually-address-their-climate-pollution_partner/ Beyond the green wash: How restaurant chains can actually tackle their climate pollution

Caroline Bleakley

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