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McDonald’s Honored With Licensing Sustainability Award

McDonald’s Restaurants received a standing ovation Thursday as the company was named winner of the Licensing Sustainability Award.

The award was unveiled at the SPLiCE New Year Solutions conference in Los Angeles. The award itself is granted four times a year as a joint project by the Society of Product Licensors Committed to Excellence, which represents the world’s largest licensors, and The Licensing Letter. It was also unveiled just one day after the UN announced the signing of a global treaty on removing plastics from the global waste stream.

McDonald’s won the award for new sustainability programs that have removed billions of pieces of plastic from the waste stream, and is also massively reducing the company’s carbon footprint.

While the judge’s panel considered several other programs, SPLiCE CEO Kimberly Kociencki and panel judge said the sheer impact of McDonald’s sustainability program tipped the scales.

“SPLiCE is an organization founded on the principles of compliance with best practices, and there are no practices more important to our future than working to protect and improve our environment,” Kociencki explained. “Sustainability is a core value of our organization and its membership, so we felt it was important to honor McDonald’s as a company that has gone above and beyond to preserve our planet.”

In particular, The Licensing Letter’s Editor in Chief Gary Symons, who sits on the judge’s panel, noted the company’s major changes to its Happy Meal program and its packaging solutions. Among other things, McDonald’s has replaced most plastic toys with paper toys or games, or in other cases, with sustainable and biodegradable plastics made with plant-based materials like corn. The program was implemented in 2019 and by late 2021 McDonald’s had already

“Most people don’t realize that McDonald’s distributes more toys than any other company in the world,” Symons pointed out. “Every year, more than a billion toys are given to patrons who buy the company’s popular Happy Meals for kids. What McDonalds has done has removed more pieces of plastic from the global waste stream than any other toy producer or distributor. That alone is a major accomplishment.”

The Happy Meal program was implemented first in the UK and Ireland. McDonald’s Chief Marketing Officer for the UK and Ireland, Gareth Helm, said McDonald’s wanted to become an example of positive change for other companies and for individuals, rather than being seen as contributing to waste.

“We want to use our reach and influence to bring customers with us on the journey towards more sustainable living,” Helm said. “Most importantly, we’re committed to listening to our customers and working with our suppliers to ensure we are taking every possible opportunity to provide quality food sourced, made, packaged and enjoyed responsibly.”

McDonald’s has also taken several other steps to improve its environmental sustainability. The company is eliminating packaging waste through new designs and reusable packaging, adopting 100% renewable and/or recycled materials, scaling up recycling, and helping its customers recycle. Since the program was established in 2019, McDonald’s has already reduced its use of non-renewable, non-recycled plastics by 30%. The company intends to reduce plastic waste by 90% by 2025.

“The reason this is so important, is that restaurant takeout items have in the past formed a major part of global ocean pollution,” explained Kociencki. “When you look at what is floating in our oceans, the most common items include plastic bags, bottles, food containers and cutlery, and wrappers. These are all things that McDonald’s has committed to reducing or eliminating from the waste stream.”

The company is tackling the issue of global warming in an equally aggressive manner, taking a number of steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 150 million tonnes by 2030, equivalent to taking 32 million cars off the road.

One example of its policies is a program to adopt sustainable and regenerative farming practices. As of now, suppliers in 10 out of McDonald’s top 10 beef sourcing countries now source beef solely from companies meeting the requirements of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GSRB). Cattle used for beef are raised in ways that greatly reduce GHG emissions.

“This is another area where restaurant chains like McDonald’s can have a massive and positive impact on the world,” said Symons. “Our research shows that agriculture is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on Earth, comprising 24% of all emissions, second only to energy generation. But when a giant like McDonald’s insists on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts ripple throughout the supply chain, forcing changes that improve farming sustainability in general.

“This is another major reason we on the judge’s panel felt McDonald’s could have a large and enduring impact on the critical issue of global warming.”

The Licensing Sustainability Award is awarded on a quarterly basis. Any companies interested in submitting a proposal for the LSA can contact Gary Symons by email: