I had just finished teaching a graduate PM course segment about the PMO, and it features a somewhat recent article from PM Network magazine which featured McDonald’s Digital Acceleration project as a Project Of The Year Finalist. In fact, you can read about this project here. It’s a good example about controlling scope creep in a project. This post is also about McDonald's, but it’s about controlling plastic creep.
As luck (or karma) would have it, on my way home from the University that night, a news story came up describing how McDonald’s was removing plastic toys from its decades-old Happy Meals.
That news story from NPR (The US’ National Public Radio) is available here.
If you are not familiar with the Happy Meal, they’ve been around since 1979 and have been served to over 1 billion customers. That’s a lot of Happy! See a commercial for the Happy Meal here:
So yes - it's a lot of Happy. But it’s also a lot of plastic. Of course, the plastic toys are a small part of the plastic waste in the world, or even a small part of the plastic used by McDonald’s. In fact, McDonalds has previously taken steps to remove the plastics in its cutlery, but this seemingly small step of removing the plastic toy in the Happy Meal, according to the company’s press release, is equivalent to 650,000 people stopping the use of any plastic every year.
The switchover to sustainable materials is clearly a project unto itself. You can read about this in a company-provided video in which a young “Happy Meal Superfan” interviews Jenny McCollogh, the Chief Sustainability Officer of McDonalds.
Like any organization, it rolls out its projects using a pilot. Indeed, McDonald’s has piloted plastic-less Happy Meals in France, as you can read about here.
I like to provide both sides of a project-based news story, so here is some alternate views of what McDonald’s is up to. In this article from Eater, a food and lifestyle platform, they acknowledge the positive move to reduce plastic that this project introduces, but also points out that it was slow in coming and that there is much more work to do. From their excellent article,
Across the UK’s coastline, new research suggests McDonald’s is one of just 12 companies responsible for two-thirds of plastic pollution. The company has taken some positive steps other than swapping out Happy Meal toys: McDonald’s pledged in 2018 that by 2025 all of its packaging materials will be recycled or otherwise sustainable. And while the company has committed itself to greatly reducing its carbon emissions by 2030, there are serious questions as to how the company will do so, while, in some instances, sourcing from companies that don’t report their greenhouse gas emissions and haven’t set public goals of reducing their negative impact on the planet.
Also, importantly, the Eater article talks about project stakeholders. What’s the rationale for launching this project? Is it to save money? Is it to make money? Is it to improve reputation? Is it to be a better corporate citizen? The answer is… all of the above. However, for that to happen, people who are concerned about the environment need to be ‘noisy’ stakeholders.
As always, the onus is on consumers to express dissatisfaction with companies that underpay workers, destroy the planet, and otherwise act badly until they have no choice but to respond. Whether the company’s reasons for inching toward a more sustainable model are altruistic or not, increased demand is forcing McDonald’s to do so, one cardboard puzzle piece at a time.
In the meantime, consider your role as a happy (or not-so-happy) and noisy stakeholder!