McDonald’s announced Thursday that 84% of its McCafe coffee in U.S. restaurants is sustainably sourced—a figure that’s on track with the chain’s goal of serving 100% sustainably sourced coffee worldwide by 2020. To drive home the message, McDonald’s replicated a South American coffee farm inside a dome on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, inviting consumers in for a complimentary McCafe coffee and a chance to experience sustainable coffee growing.
Walking through the dome under the coffee trees, the crowd learned about the effects of climate change, water usage and deforestation on the coffee crop, and how McDonald’s is partnering with the Rainforest Alliance, Conservation International and other organizations to train farmers and promote good agricultural practices.
1. Working with farmers at the source
Townsend Bailey, McDonald’s director of U.S. supply chain sustainability, explained the company’s McCafe Sustainability Improvement Platform (SIP), launched in 2016 in conjunction with McDonald’s coffee roasters. SIP invests in the coffee growers and their communities, engaging with about 6,000 farmers on the ground. A key element is training, said Bailey, covering areas such as planting density, climate-smart agriculture and waste water treatment. In 2014, a fungus called coffee leaf rust destroyed many crops and trees, and efforts are now being made to plant the right coffee varietals for specific growing areas as a preventative measure. The farmers are also being educated on how to use their land to support their families throughout the year, said Bailey.
2. Water conservation is key
The Rainforest Alliance works on water conservation in coffee growing areas, training the farmers to use less water by planting denser crops. Farmers can earn Rainforest Alliance certification by implementing water conservation and other sustainable practices, said Miguel Zamora of the Rainforest Alliance. Once certified, they can receive a monetary incentive that can go back to the community.
3. The coffee farmer community
In Colombia, coffee roasters S&D Coffee and Farmer Bros. are working with McDonald’s and its partners to assist groups of coffee farmers in improving their crops and communities. Incentives from sustainability initiatives are poured back into training, fertilizer, waste water treatment facilities and the building of wet mills to aid in harvesting the coffee.
4. The climate change challenge
Coffee crops are especially vulnerable to rising temperatures. A study by the Fair Trade Organization revealed that climate change has the potential to cut the world’s coffee-growing area in half by 2050. Research and training has encouraged the planting of coffee varietals that are more adaptable to hotter temperatures.