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[Commentary] Turning Big Business to Sustainability — Is It Possible?

May 5, 2015 Category: People

This article is part of our content partnership with Forsei Consulting.

I’ve always wondered why Earth Day gets only 24 hours of celebration. Shouldn’t we be saying thanks to this awesome home of ours every day?

Triple Pundit, news site focused corporate social responsibility, seems to feel the same. It chose to celebrate ‘Earth Month’ with Twitter Chats that asked the tough questions about sustainability in businesses across the globe.

Forsei Consulting sat in on April 28 to ask Yum! Brands, a fast food company that operates some huge franchises such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, how they can manage sustainable business practices on such a large scale.

“Sustainability experts” Roger McClendon, chief sustainability officer, and Laurie Schalow, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Yum! Brands, worked together to answer the question:

“With over 40,000 restaurants in over 120 countries, is it even possible to operate with the environment in mind?”

I think the answer is somewhere between yes and no.

No, something that enormous cannot have a tiny environmental and social impact. It just couldn’t happen. Between food transportation, meat production, thousands of low-level employees, and hundreds of other costs, there’s just no way to stay totally sustainable.

But maybe their bigness is what gives them the chance to make a big impact. Small steps taken on such a large scale can have a huge impact.

Here are some examples brought up in the Twitter chat: Yum! Brands is making green buildings, sustainable packaging, and recycling a priority. They are working to reduce energy use (and are at 97 percent of their 2015 goal), have diverted over 300MM pounds of greenhouse gases from landfills, trying to reduce water consumption in company owned restaurants by 10 percent, and have raised over $600 million dollars for hunger relief worldwide. Those are huge numbers, and, honestly, I’m impressed.



What does this all mean for Philly?

The food industry in Philadelphia is making huge strides to become more sustainable, local and accessible. In March, Forsei looked at Yards, a leader in the brewing industry that is 100 percent wind-powered.

Organizations like The Food Trust and Philabundance are making good, nutritious food readily available to the most vulnerable in our city. Food co-ops, CSAs, and farmer’s markets are revamping the way that Philadelphians see food and food access. On every corner there is a restaurant, deli, or coffee shop that values sustainability at its core- some Philly favorites are Pure Sweets, Mugshots Coffeehouse, Vedge, White Dog Cafe, and HipCityVeg (pro-tip: use the MilkCrate app to find the closest sustainable eateries in Philadelphia).

And here’s the thing- all of these changes add up, and they matter.


So here’s what I think about Yum! Brands. There is definitely still so much to do and so many changes to make if Yum! wants to reduce their impact. Some scary stats — energy use for food transportation in the agriculture industry went up 24 percent between 1992 and 2002 (Grist).The agriculture industry accounts for 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a huge chunk of this coming from the meat industry (Guardian). There are more and more workers rights violations as large, international corporations put pressure on workers to work longer hours for less pay and less benefits (NY Times).

And these are just a few examples.

But what I’m looking for is companies that are willing to change the terms of the game. While Yum! Brands and other international groups are facing serious and ingrained environmental and social issues, it is also true that they are leaders in their field in taking those steps to make the environment and social good a priority. What I hope to see is other international corporations follow suit.

Want to read more about the chat? Check out a summary here.

Image via Flickr User Joey Rozier

Sylvie Luzio is a Marketing/Communications intern at Forsei Consulting


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