New California Bill Requires Fast Food Chains to Disclose Carbon Footprint

Senator Scott Weiner, a Democrat of San Francisco, is proposing a new bill to be passed into California law that would require all corporations – with yearly gross revenue within the state exceeding $1bn – to announce their greenhouse gas emissions. Known as the Climate Corporation Accountability Act (SB 260), the bill, if passed by the State Senate, is fixed more toward major restaurant chains than local independent businesses, which will not be notably affected by the new legislation.


The intention of the bill is to keep customers informed of the environmental impacts brought on by fast food chains, allowing them to understand the damage caused by this industry under EP&L (environmental profit and loss) practice. Given the requirements of the bill, only corporations generating substantial revenue flow in California – to meet the minimum $1bn annual gross figure – will be required to disclose their carbon footprint.


Thus, it will be primarily fast food chains that are eligible, which must, according to details provided by the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), outline the details of their carbon footprint in such a way that it may be easily understood and accessed by a public readership.


Requirements of the Climate Corporation Accountability Act

If passed into law, Senator Weiner’s bill will require the businesses in question to publicly set emissions reduction targets that are scientifically grounded, with the ultimate end goal being to circumvent the risk of worldwide temperature spikes of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The science behind the bill ascertains that this temperature figure is the minimum required to prevent climate change of catastrophic proportions.


The intent of the legislation is said to be the holding to account of large corporations, which are deemed responsible for the majority of the planet’s rate of pollution. The stipulations that these corporations make their carbon footprint disclosures public and entirely science-based is to allow consumers unfiltered insight into just how much ecological and environmental damage they wreak while conducting their business affairs.


With around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production, the level of public awareness which may come as a result of this bill's passing offers significant potential for controlling one of the world’s most damaging industries. The revenue requirement of a billion-dollar minimum is a sensible one, given that companies earning in excess of that figure are the worst offenders when it comes to resource consumption.


A leading example of the correlation between high turnover and high levels of pollution is California-founded fast food chain McDonald’s. The company’s 2020 brand value was an estimated $129 bn, building from an approximate 2019 global revenue figure of $21.1 bn, the result of which being a radical rate of consumption in order to meet demand. The extensive line-up of products available in McDonald’s stores worldwide requires a reported 350,000 cows per year, which not only means vast amounts of forest clearance to rear these cows, but also a calamitous volume of methane gas.


Excreted by cattle as flatulence, methane gas is a major contributor to climate change and, as such, acts as a leading push factor behind the decision of many chain restaurants to offer more plant-based meats on their menus.


But the chain has, in recent years, begun to rectify their detrimental impact on climate change, even before Senator Weiner’s bill had been presented.


McDonald’s net zero energy restaurant

walt disney world orlando florida fireworks display in daytime

While an important step forward in curtailing the damage perpetrated by fast food chains, this new bill is not the only source of change within the industry. In Orlando, Florida, McDonald’s has recently opened a “net zero energy” store at the Walt Disney World theme park. The store’s primary purpose is to act as a data hub, with which the company can record its energy usage and emissions rate, in line with an overall company target of contracting 36% of its greenhouse emissions – compared to figures recorded in 2015 – by the end of this decade.


Heralded as the brand’s global flagship store upon opening last summer, with a “soft” launch restricting the site's operation on a drive-thru-only basis, the Orlando restaurant is designed to create all of its own power with renewable energy, as part of its continued investment into sustainable business practice. Recognized in a McDonald’s press release as a first-of-its-kind restaurant, the store will create enough on-site power to satisfy 100% of all energy requirements on a net annual basis.


Achieving this are the building’s window louvres which allow the escape of hot air, a roof decked with solar panels and angled to optimize maximum exposure to sunlight, and even plant-covered walls to absorb excess carbon dioxide.


Chipotle Mexican Grill Real FoodPrint app

Another large food chain to have adopted a more environmentally-conscious approach to emissions generated by food production is Chipotle Mexican Grill, in the form of their FoodPrint App. By accounting for the ingredients used in customers’ orders, the app summarizes the positive impact your purchase will have made in relation to specific variables such as the number of square feet of land usage being saved, the gallons of water being saved, and how many grams of carbon are not being pumped into the atmosphere.


The innovative app has been given added mainstream appeal thanks to some savvy endorsement on TikTok and YouTube. In the form of bite-sized videos, celebrity scientist and former children’s TV presenter Bill “the Science Guy” Nye promotes the service in just 15 seconds, explaining how it highlights the environmental impact of the brand’s sustainably-sourced products compared to those of other fast food chains.


With large multinational corporations beginning to recognize the impacts their products have on climate change, Senator Weiner’s new bill represents important change within California, the largest state economy in the country. With 2,000 online signatures needed by the CLCV, you can show your support by signing here and validate the reputation of California as one of the US’s most environmentally proactive states.

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