The “Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey” is one of the best books on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability that I’ve read in a long time. It is a story of personal, professional, and corporate transformation. It talks about the most effective ways of tackling global threats and challenges, but it is not prescriptive; it’s personal. It includes the insights of a Harvard Business Review article without the sterile academic perspective.
Bob Langert, who recently retired from leading McDonald’s CSR and sustainability efforts, was present at the birth of the CSR/sustainability movement. This book is his story. It is also the story of McDonald’s. And it is the story of all of the individuals, non-profits, and issues that influenced both Bob’s and “his company’s” CSR/sustainability journey. It details how CSR and sustainability transitioned from an unanticipated personal passion to a C-suite priority.
As Bob tells it, at the time of his first journey into the environmental field, “I was no environmentalist—not yet, anyway.” Instead, he was a rising star at a McDonald’s supplier that sold packaging to McDonald’s and his first environmental job was “to save the polystyrene clamshell.”
To anyone who remembers the late 1980s, the battle over how McDonald’s packaged its Big Mac was a watershed moment in the business and environmental communities. Environmental activists demonized the polystyrene container; McDonald’s reacted defensively; and the battle continued until McDonald’s formed a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund to jointly tackle the issue. It ultimately resulted in McDonald’s finding an alternative, more “environmentally preferable” way to protect its signature sandwich.
That initial sequence of events set the course for the rest of Bob’s professional career. How it affected him and how it affected McDonald’s form the basis for “The Battle to Do Good.”
Throughout the years the follow, Bob and McDonald’s tackled a host of issues: animal welfare, obesity, protecting the rainforest, worker rights, shareholder proposals and disingenuous non-profit groups who sometimes acted as if they are more interested in raising their own profile than in addressing the issues for which they advocate.
Each chapter in the book addresses one or more of these “battles,” but with each chapter you get a deeper understanding of how Bob’s perspective continued to grow. You also get peeks into how others within McDonald’s also gained deeper insights into important global issues and into McDonald’s role in tackling them.
A few quick examples:
• Engagements with non-profit organizations (NGOs) described in the book transition from a “war with activists” to opportunities to partner. They eventually evolve into a deeper understanding of how large companies can successfully determine when to engage with NGOs, which ones to engage with, and which issues, while important, cannot be effectively addressed by the company.
• Bob’s sincere efforts to understand “the other side” and learning to put his “mind, soul, and heart into the shoes of the social/environmental activist” to identify common goals. This transformation emerges in stories of trips to the rainforest with Green Peace, tours of slaughter houses with animal activists, and to picking tomatoes in the fields with migrant workers. These experiences clearly affect Bob’s perspective and they improve the questions he can ask inside McDonald’s about the company’s role in addressing specific issues. It is the foundation of his recipe for CSR and sustainability success: “Visit. See. Listen. Learn. And do it together.”
• There are also stories about McDonald’s tackling complex issues that others in the industry avoided and getting “punished for trying to do something good.” These events led to improved ways of selecting and setting CSR and sustainability goals and to better ways of communicating the goals and progress towards implementing them.
Bob also shares some of the battles within McDonald’s. Change is not easy inside of any large organization and the CSR and sustainability issues Bob grew passionate about are particularly challenging for any large company to address.
The “Battle to do Good” covers the challenges of dealing with “reactive management” and with the “stone cold silence” that greeted McDonald’s when they asked suppliers to make specific changes to the ways that the suppliers do business.
Bob does not pull punches. He talks about the challenges, including how some executives who were internal company allies on some issues were less supportive on other related issues when they directly affected their part of the business. He candidly admits, “The lines of authority and decision-making within McDonald’s are confusing…getting decisions made was the most frustrating part of my job.”
In one section of the book, he writes with both exasperation and reluctant understanding about how it took 10-years working with McDonald’s suppliers to get tomato pickers, who are not paid directly by McDonald’s, an extra penny per pound for tomatoes that they pick.
There are also plenty of important victories such as when McDonald’s agreed to switch fish suppliers to protect an endangered fishery. “When I heard this,” Bob wrote, “I was so proud of our company…McDonald’s took a stand and chose purpose over profit.”
It’s these moments – the combination of personal, professional, and corporate successes – that make “The Battle to Do Good” a must read for any executive, for any MBA student, and for every CSR and sustainability advocate that works inside or outside of the big companies pushing them to do better.
This work is not easy. It’s not quick. And it needs to be.
Bob’s experiences, his story-telling gift, and his insights can make it just a bit easier and quicker.
- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited; 1 edition (19 January 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1787568164
- ISBN-13: 978-1787568167
- Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.3 x 23.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 558 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 65,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)