Mcd Edf Abridged 08 Essay

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McDonald's and the Environmental Defense Fund: a case study of a green alliance

Sharon Livesey

Originally published in…The Journal of Business Communication • January 1999
In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, which had convened to address the global ecological crisis, produced Our Common Future (the Brundtland Report). This watershed event established the conceptual underpinnings for environmental politics and debate in the 1990s by reframing the problem of the natural environment as one of sustainable development. In the wake of this reframing, a new practice in environmental management emerged - that of green alliances or partnerships between business and ecology groups (Westley &
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While eco-alliances have been discussed in the environmental management and green marketing literature, they have not been so far studied as business communication.
This paper presents a case study of the rhetorical aspects of an early green partnership, the 1990-1991 precedent-setting alliance between McDonald's Corporation, the leading quick-service restaurant chain, and EDF, a United States-based mainstream environmental organization. McDonald's and EDF formed a joint task force that publicly released a six-month study of McDonald's entire range of packaging and materials management practices. The partnership is most widely known, however, for the fact that three months into the study, at the last minute, and under pressure from EDF, McDonald's abandoned the polystyrene boxes (called clamshells) it had traditionally used to package Big Macs and other sandwiches. This dramatic event tended to overshadow other - arguably more important, and certainly less controversial - work, including a 42-step action plan to lessen the environmental impacts of McDonald's business. My study seeks to recontextualize the packaging decision, considering it within the broader dynamics of the partnership and within the context of McDonald's prior corporate environmental advocacy.

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