Seeking advice on corporate social responsibility from a meat-centric global fast-food chain may seem a bit farfetched. Yet former McDonald’s executive Bob Langert believes that other companies can learn from his company’s journey toward adopting more sustainable business practices. He explains how late-night dinners with environmental activists, tours of slaughterhouses and boat rides down the Amazon enabled him to find common ground with his fiercest critics. Though his speech won’t convert cynics, his thesis on trying to find common ground with your worst critics holds universal appeal. 


When your firm gets a bad rap, consider teaming up with your harshest critics to find ways to improve.

In the late 1980s, Bob Langert, then a logistics manager at McDonald’s, was assigned to lead a waste reduction initiative at the fast-food chain. The promotion came as a surprise but resonated with Langert, who had come of age during the rebellious 1960s and 1970s. He welcomed the chance to do good.

Langert assumed his new position just as the concept of social corporate responsibility was gaining traction. McDonald’s had gained a bad reputation for its negative environmental impact. So Langert spearheaded a movement to work with McDonald’s harshest critics to figure out how the company could move forward. Before his first meeting with Richard Denison, the senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Langert had pictured a “tree-hugger,” and he fully expected Denison to think of him as a greedy capitalist. Langert had Denison and his team work for a day flipping burgers at a McDonald’s restaurant to learn...

About the Speaker

Bob Langert is a former vice president of sustainability at McDonald’s and the author of The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey

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