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McDonald’s is very green — and now hiring

In 1963, my hometown got a McDonald’s franchise. You could get a hamburger, fries and a coke for 45 cents. I now have friendly relationships with hundreds of people who staff the local drive-through windows. I wait for the disembodied voice coming through the speaker box asking, “Do you want fries with that?” Why do they even ask?

I spent some time over the past two days with Jan Fields. She eats McDonald’s food every day of her life. She is a trim woman in training to run her first marathon this year. She started out as a French fry cook at a McDonald’s in Dayton, Ohio, a few decades ago, and she still smiles and says, “Welcome to McDonald’s. Would you like fries with that?”

Ms. Fields has been working at McDonald’s for a long time. It took a couple of decades, but she graduated from the cooking crew to become the president of McDonald’s USA. She says, “I walked into a McDonald’s on my way to a job interview. I saw a sign that said ‘Flexible Hours.’ I had a child, my husband was in the Air Force and if I worked the night shift I wouldn’t have to hire a baby-sitter.” The manager hired her on the spot and Ms. Fields decided to blow off the other job interview.

Jan Fields
Jan Fields

From that beginning, she was elevated to a managing position at the restaurant. It would take some time and a variety of corporate vice presidential positions before being named the chief operating officer. Now she is the president of the largest restaurant business in the world, and insiders say she is on the short list to eventually become the CEO of McDonald’s.

She is proud of what the world has disparaged as a “McJob.” I asked her whether she knows whether McJobs have turned into better things within the company. She said: “I know the exact number. We have 26 hundred franchisees in the United States and 50 percent of the owner-operators started out just like I did.”

‘Super Size Me’
McDonald’s has seen more than 30 straight quarters of growth, but Fields has had to put up with the likes of Morgan Spurlock’s movie “Super Size Me,” in which he tried to eat three meals a day at McDonald’s every day for a month. It didn’t go well for him. It seemed lost on most people who loved the movie that you would have to have a screw loose to try such a thing with any food.

Jan Fields is conscious of good nutrition. She likes the chicken and salads at her McDonald’s, and the 60-calorie yogurt parfait. My wife is fond of the Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad. Myself, it’s the double-quarter pounder with cheese.

Remember the McLean sandwich? In southern California, McDonald’s featured a veggie burger. They were both failures. But as customers became more conscious of nutrition, McDonald’s began offering more in that vein. Fields is particularly proud of the oatmeal McDonald’s is now offering for breakfast. She thinks more people than ever will be eating healthier because her restaurants are giving customers wider nutritional choices.

But Jan Fields is doing a lot more than providing nutritional labels on her products. She has helped turn McDonald’s into one of the shining stars among corporate citizens concerned with the environment. This year, McDonald’s franchises around the country will be “re-imagined,” to use her phrase. Not only will they get a new look, but she says they will “take advantage of the latest eco-friendly components and energy saving technologies. We will be,” she says, “greener than ever.”

It might come as a surprise that McDonald’s was very green to start with. In fact, McDonald’s has advanced recycling policies. Eighty-one percent of its packaging is renewable materials, and 31 percent of it is from recycled fiber. McDonald’s has some interesting partners. Take its alliance with Greenpeace. It has joined a moratorium on the clearing of the rainforest to grow soya. Soya is a feed. One of the biggest producers of soya is Minnesota-based Cargill. Rather than object, Cargill has joined the moratorium, too.

McDonald’s worked with the World Wildlife Fund to develop the first assessment of sustainable land management and forest policy. McDonald’s partners with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and has installed LED lighting in 30 restaurants to reduce energy consumption by 44 percent. Conservation International and McDonald’s have joined forces to develop a sustainable fisheries program, and the company works with the Environmental Defense Fund to reduce, recycle and reuse materials generated by its restaurants, suppliers and distributors.

The last part of that arrangement may be the most important. McDonald’s is so large, like Wal-Mart, it can require companies throughout its supply chain to comply with McDonald’s green philosophy. Suppliers have done that and have found that not only do they get to claim credit for being good stewards of the earth, but are saving a lot of money that fattens their profit margins.

Looking for new workers
Ms. Fields told me about another green project that will happen in the next week. This green project is the color of money. Say what you will about McJobs, McDonald’s franchises in the United States will hire, next week, 50,000 new employees. According to research conducted by an economist at California State University, the brand new McDonald’s employees will get paid a total of $5.4 million a day, more than $500 million a year. Those employees, Ms. Fields adds, will be eligible to earn up to 50 credit hours for college through the American Council on Education.

Jan Fields has a lot on her plate, even for McDonald’s. She knows she can’t satisfy every critic, but she seems to care about her franchisees, her employees and the earth. She says of her initiatives: “It is the right thing to do. This is about being more trustworthy on the global stage.”

If that is what McDonald’s is serving these days, then, yes, I’ll have fries with that.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Addy Free on 04/12/2011 - 11:18 am.

    Not exactly on topic: They can start their greening by putting bike parking in at their mid-town location at University and Snelling. I go there maybe four times a year and have to lock my bike to a stop sign of all things.

  2. Submitted by Noel Martinson on 04/12/2011 - 12:30 pm.

    Wow $500,000,000 for 50,000 new jobs is ummm,
    $10,000 per year. Guess I’ll need two McJobs to stay out of poverty. Want any healthcare with that?

    I generally find Mr. Shelby’s articles inspiring and insightful. I hope this is just a rare exception to that. This sounded to me too much like corporate shilling.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/12/2011 - 12:39 pm.

    …The global restaurant chain said it plans to hire as many as 50,000 new U.S. employees — ranging from restaurant crew to managers — on April 19. The move would increase the hamburger company’s U.S. workforce by 7.7 percent to 700,000, but such hiring is typical in the lead up to the busy summer months.

    “Our total hires are similar to past years, but the goal of hiring 50,000 people in one day across the U.S. is unique,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Ashlee Yingling told Reuters…


    So, in other words, the one-day hiring of 50,000 is a publicity stunt which does not represent a real pick-up in hiring or change in hires from previous years.

    I would add that there are additional facets to McDonalds health and environmental policies than what was presented above.

    News and columns in MinnPost should be different than regurgitation of PR spin.

    For all of my PR information needs, I go to

  4. Submitted by Ryan Coleman on 04/12/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    Addy, I think that is VERY on topic.

    My personal preference for greener is this: take a tax write-off (or simply sell) your used cooking oil to the bio-diesel drivers of the area. Instead of paying someone to clean it up for you write off the amount you would have spent and give away the used oil so that people with modified tanks can use it more.

  5. Submitted by Don Shelby on 04/12/2011 - 03:00 pm.

    For you and others, I might have included in the article that 2/3rds of the restaurants in the US and 80% of those overseas recycle the oil for biofuels and other aftermarket products.

  6. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/13/2011 - 06:32 pm.

    In most urban areas used cooking oil is considered a “hazardous waste” that needs
    to be handles by a licensed hazardous waste
    disposer who keeps “cradle to grave” records.

    Used cooking oil isn’t isn’t particularly “hazardous” but you don’t want it disposed
    of in the sewers. (oil and water don’t mix
    and in sewers it tends to clog pipes and make
    water treatment difficult.

    Every “ma and pa” restaurant in urban areas needs to get a hazard waste generation permit
    and prove disposal if they have a fry cooker.

    The local “ma and pa” restaurant could not give you oil cooking oil for your biofuel diesel even if they wanted to. Those stories of the person running their diesel car on “free” used cooking oil are usually in a small town or rural area where they don’t hazardous waste generation licences.

    The term “hazardous waste” is something of a misnomer because something like used cooking oil and used motor oil can have a substantial market value, especially when oil prices are high. This is reflected in the cost of “removal” by a licensed company. Basically it costs a lot more to get used oil legally removed when crude oil is ten dollars a barrel than when it is $100 a barrel.

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