CR Leaders Corner: Bob Langert

An Interview with Bob Langert, VP, Sustainability, McDonald’s Corporation
Jan 13, 2012 10:55 AM ET

CR Leaders Corner: Bob Langert

Bob Langert joined McDonald’s in 1983, beginning his career as a logistics specialist before moving into corporate responsibility.  What began 23 years ago as a short term assignment on a project team tasked with removing CFLs (chlorofluorocarbons) from the company’s packaging gradually expanded into his current role as head of McDonald’s entire global CR effort.  Along the way Bob has worked with Greenpeace, WWF, the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, and legendary animal rights activist, Dr. Temple Grandin.  

1. AccountAbility: From the vantage of corporate responsibility and sustainability, how has the job changed since you started?

Bob Langert: In the beginning, CSR was much more focused on our company values, our heritage of doing the right thing. In the last few years we’ve broadened our thinking to embrace the idea that sustainability is very important for the growth of our business. This evolution is not only the right thing to do, but necessary for our company to be successful in the future.

The CR leader’s job today is part orchestra conductor, part translator. A conductor in the sense that a company, like an orchestra, has many talented individuals. My job is to empower and educate and bring that talent to the forefront, so that everyone understands what sustainability means, and what it means in their own business. Sometimes people are working on sustainability, and they don’t even know it, because they’re not looking through that particular lens in their work.    

The translator part relates to our role in bringing the outside world in and exposing those inside the company to the outside world.  We need to translate societal issues to the business context. And vice-versa, we need to work with our business leaders so that they see societal issues as a business opportunity. In my experience that needs a lot of translation.

2. AA: Describe McDonald’s CR journey. Where have you come from? Where are you headed?

BL: If I had to put it into a headline, I’d say we’re migrating from corporate social responsibility to sustainability. We’re moving away from CSR terminology as something that’s too narrowly perceived both within McDonald’s and externally as dealing with social issues and philanthropy.

The future is sustainability defined as the core of what we do. It is about our core business and how we intersect with society.  It’s the idea of creating shared value. Sustainability isn’t just about doing the right thing.  It’s also about doing something that’s going to benefit our company. There’s no need to be bashful about creating value because that’s what’s going to make our work sustainable and bring value to society at the same time.

3. AA: What does sustainability mean to the average McDonald’s employee?

BL: If you were to ask people at the front counter “What does sustainability mean to you?” you would get a different answer all around the world, or puzzled looks. That’s not surprising though because I go to sustainability conferences where I hear sustainability experts define sustainability and I hear 100 different definitions.

However, if you were to ask “What does being socially responsible mean?, then the answer you’d likely hear would be that it’s about a company dedicated to doing the right thing.

That’s a good thing because sustainability begins and ends with values, and having our people live those values every day, put them into practice, and make decisions based on them. If we do that, we’re going to be the most sustainable company in our sector.

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