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So this is what it has come to? The great hopes for true sustainability, for improving environmental and social conditions -- dashed to pieces! Nothing left but GreenBizSpeak?

Has the human potential for creative genius become so small, so constrained by greed and fear that we laud those who pollute a little less, who destroy a little less habitat, who make lives a little less miserable? Failure is success? Destruction is restoration? Suicide is sustainability? Death is life?

Check's sister site,, for their list of known gross polluters and irresponsible corporations who, says, "align environmental responsibility with business success, as judged by independent agencies and organizations." -- independent of what? Their senses, their ethics, their minds -- History? -- Mike Meuser, Santa Cruz

Greenbiz puts McDonalds on steering committee: Hawken resigns

<-- Return To GREENWASH

See Also:
N30: Skeleton Woman in Seattle - Paul's Seattle diary.
Corporate Futures: A discussion with David Korten and Paul Hawken.
McDonald's and Corporate Social Responsibility?
Issues that McDonald's Did Not Deal with in the Report on Corporate Social Responsibility.

Source: Common Dreams

Published on Monday, May 19, 2003 by
McDonald's a "Green Business"? I Resign
by Paul Hawken

Corina Beczner
Senior Project Manager
Green Business Network

Dear Corina,

Please let me take this moment to reflect on what a Green Business is and then submit my request to be taken off the Steering Committee.

Increasingly, corporations such as McDonald's have tried to direct the concept of a green business to recycled tray liners, reduced waste stream, and other molecular flows. Those are important issues and require our attention and diligence. But doing so does not make a business green. Green refers to the environment, to ecology. It is about the awareness that we are part of a complex living system, not simply trying to be part of a short term fix. Integral to that system are human beings-their lives, their bodies, their wages, and how they are treated and respected.

To have a company such as McDonald's on the Steering Committee is an insult to the idea of being "green." McDonald's spends $2 billion a year creating trillions of advertising impressions in order to get children hooked on fatty, sugary, unhealthy food. Even our own government (NIH) announced last year that the alarming doubling in childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the past decade was attributable to junk food. It used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes because it was caused by one's lifestyle, but thanks to our food companies, it is now a children's disease. (I urge all of you and Bob Langert to spend a day with a child with diabetes and give them their shots.) We can welcome any supply chain improvements McDonald's engenders, without anointing them with a green label. Their strategy is to get involved with green NGOs and receive their blessing precisely because they do not want their business model changed or challenged. Please refer to the URL's below for more information on their absurd and damaging corporate practices with respect to our children and the American food system in general.

Now that the idea of sustainability in business is gaining traction, it is important that its meaning not get lost in the glossy trappings of corporate speak.

McDonald's has not demonstrated the kind of understanding or leadership that would qualify it as part of a green business network if that term is to have any meaning at all. Even last year, in an article dripping with disdain, the Wall Street Journal revealed how McDonald's was giving away dolls in order to entice nine and ten year old girls into a life of fast food. McDonald's concern was that girls tend to shy away from fatty foods at puberty. This happened even though they have worked for over ten years with Environmental Defense to improve their "performance." In other words, the concept of the environment at McDonald's is ghettoized. It does not touch or affect corporate avarice. Nor does it include our daughter's stomachs and well-being.

Because of the widespread national concern about childhood obesity, many companies, especially McDonald's came under fire from parents, nutritionists, activists, and scientists. In July 29th, 2002, public relations giant Golin/Harris announced a "Global Obesity Task Force." Sounds good. But its purpose wasn't to combat childhood obesity. It was created to protect the brands, business and reputations of junk food companies. To quote the press release: "The increase in childhood obesity has special interest and government groups seeking to hold someone responsible. And corporate America is the likely target. Golin/Harris International has created its Global Obesity Task Force with proprietary tools to help companies under fire in the obesity debate... When managed appropriately, companies can withstand issues without public confidence and brand trust eroding."One of the founding members and sponsors was McDonald's. So much for corporate social responsibility. Enough said.


Paul Hawken
Natural Capital Institute

McDonalds information:

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At 2:04 PM -0700 5/19/03,

Joel Makower
Founder and Executive Director of Green Business Network

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your letter. I'm well aware of the campaign you have been waging against McDonald's and appreciate your concerns.

The GBN Steering Committee includes companies from a variety of sectors. All support the work we are doing to bring information and resources to mainstream companies to help them align environmental responsibility with business success. We are grateful for their encouragement, guidance, and support in carrying out our mission. None of these companies is perfect, and neither we nor they make any representations about their being "green" companies as a result of their inclusion on our Steering Committee.

We understand that you feel differently and accept your resignation, with thanks from all of us for your early support of I hope we can work together again in the future.

Best regards,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

At 6:47 PM -0700 5/19/03,
Paul Hawken wrote:

Dear Joel

Thanks for your kind response. Believe me, I am not waging a campaign against McDonald's. People around the world are doing that quite successfully. What I am after is meaning. I am trying to understand and preserve the integrity of the terms sustainability, social responsibility, and green business which corporations like McDonald's are using with flair and abandon. My concern does not involve perfect. It involves intention. Can a company be green if its intention is to addict children to junk food? Will someone tell me how? Protestations from McDonald's aside, that is where their $2 billion in advertising goes. Your response pretty much sidesteps my concern. How can you "bring information resources to help align environmental responsibility with success" when the company in question is knowingly destroying two of the most important environments there are: our children and farmlands. What is success here by your definition? And what is the process? Who made the decision? Were any steering committee members consulted? Where is the transparency? Where are the standards? The NEETF board is virtually all white, all heads of corporations, corporate employees, heiresses or attorneys. Where are the union people, the farmers, the Hispanic-Americans, the First Peoples? Where for goodness sake is America? Not on the board. And it seems to me if we are going to address sustainability (which is what green business is supposed to be about) then America has to be in on the conversation. If McDonald's is on the Steering Committe, why not invite people who lost their job at McDonald's for trying to organize for health benefits?

Equally interesting to note is that McDonald's, which got tons of mileage in their work with Environmental Defense to move to recycled materials, is moving (with no fanfare) back to bleached white paper products. Apparently, with market losses and downturns in their core business, they have decided to "phase out" brown recycled bags, napkins, and reassert the brand image. McDonald's was recently offered a compostable plastic by DuPont. Allegedly, DuPont was turned down because McDonald's didn't want to invest in the infrastructure necessary to separate and recycle, and most interestingly, they were told that packaging waste was not a corporate priority anymore. So I ask again Joel, what is the criteria for being on the Steering Committee? Whatever saves money?

It seems we are entering an Orwellian period of "Green Business." Certainly, all agencies that support green practices should talk and dialogue with any and all who want to change. But that is a far cry from placing laggards on a Steering Committee. Allowing greenwashing of a junk food conglomerate by an NGO is what corporations need: Credibility. It presupposes that we can have a green world and not really change business models. This is what Robert Kennedy Jr. calls biostitution. And I agree. There needs to be a clear distinction about green standards, standard setting, and education. Everybody who wants it should be educated and offered educational resources for sustainability. But offering McDonald's a "steering" role is extraordinary. I am sorry to see GBN walk a path of environmentalism where social responsibility plays no role at all. It won't help our children, it won't help the environment, and it makes a mockery of the term green business.

All the best


Businessman, environmentalist, and author Paul Hawken has founded several companies and written several books, including the bestsellers Growing a Business and The Ecology of Commerce, as well as Seven Tomorrows and The Next Economy. Hawken also produced and hosted a 17-part PBS TV series, now shown in more than 115 countries, based on Growing a Business. He currently serves as chairman of The Natural Step, an educational foundation that assists world government and business leaders in achieving long-term competitive advantage through environmental sustainability. He co-authored Natural Capitalism: The Coming Efficiency Revolution (New York: Hyperion Press, 1998) with Amory and Hunter Lovins.

See Also:
N30: Skeleton Woman in Seattle - Paul's Seattle diary.
Corporate Futures: A discussion with David Korten and Paul Hawken.

<-- Return To GREENWASH

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