Chick-fil-A's Eco Contribution

Chick-fil-A is America’s favorite fast-food chain.

In the United States, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A is the most popular fast-food establishment. As the apex predator for the third consecutive year, Chick-fil-A rose to the top of the food chain by delivering quality service, good sandwiches, and living their Judeo-Christian values.

Whether some may disagree with the values they preach or are just upset that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, Chick-fil-A has a rapport for garnering national attention to promote target messages that relate to their core principles. This led Waverly — an enthusiast for all things Chick-fil-A —to speculate more about another more subdued message.

“Is Chick-fil-A suggesting that eating chicken, as opposed to cows, is better for the environment?” —Waverly

Not only does the iconic Chick-fil-A mascot (read: cow) suggest that consumers “Eat more chikin”, but there is a lesser well-known environmental truth attached to those words. In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences answered this particular question by stating “beef” was worse than “chicken” when considering the carbon emissions of greenhouse gases for the environment.

Further, the study focused on the environmental impact of chickens and cows on land, air, and sea. Specifically, the survey focused on greenhouse conditions — the same conditions oft-cited when discussing our planet — and the nitrogen burdens required in the United States. The study concluded that beef is 10x more damaging to the environment than any other types of meat, including chicken. However, the verdict is more difficult to uniformly apply since the mitigating factors are harder to calculate. Especially, when considering the agricultural industries carrying capacity to switch from beef to chicken or vice versa.

In addition to former Truett Cathy’s claims that he applied God’s principals to Chick-fil-A operations, Chick-fil-A still is working on improving their current environmental standards to diminish its environmental impact. So what’s the issue?

Questionable Chicken Ethics and Dicey Involvements with Factory Farmed Chickens Plague Chick-fil-A

In 2014, Chick-fil-A announced they would no longer use chickens that were raised with antibiotics. Their ambitious plan had a five year time frame. Historically, to place this plan into perspective, the firm created an annual 282 million sandwiches — equating to 141 million birds — in 2010. So the 2014 transition, truly, is a paradigm shift.

When considering the role of factory farming, however, these birds are kept in poor conditions even if antibiotic use was excluded. Dirty, cramped, and with little space are commonplace for these birds. As many of our readers may know, antibiotics are added to livestock to simultaneously prevent disease and increase growth. In the National Public Radio’s most recent broadcast, “Finite”, their was discussion that this practice of liberally injecting antibiotics into livestock is detrimental to bio-security for humans as pathogens become more resistant with each use. Lastly, in 2016, they announced their mission to source 100% of cage-free eggs in the next 10 years — another ambitious plan we will be sure to verify in 2026.

So How Successful Was Chick-fil-A?

After the five year mark for Chick-fil-A’s “No Antibiotics Ever” commitment, the firm proudly reported that upwards of 80% of their chicken supply is raised without antibiotics. A remarkable step in the right direction. By December of this year, Chick-fil-A will attempt to convert that figure to 100%.

While Truett Cathy has made bold claims in the past, maybe his words were not too far fetched? The firm has made changes to become more environmentally sustainable while still maintaining its ability to compete and succeed with near-peer competitors. When considering all the factors, it is impressive. After all, Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain reliant on chicken.

Mor Than Chikin’

Chick-fil-A has a few other goals on the topic of environmental sustainability. Specifically, they primarily focus on the four areas listed below.

  1. Sustainable new restaurant development

  2. Reducing energy and water consumption in existing restaurants

  3. Sustainable supply chain

  4. Cup recycling

Right now, the firm is working towards the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) gold standard. This is an internationally recognized green building certification system and, notably, gold is the highest attainable certification. Presumably, the gold standard indicates that a building is actively consuming a fourth less energy and generates 34% less of greenhouse gas emissions than previously.

For Chick-fil-A, they are planning to launch their firm’s first test kitchen in Fort Worth, Texas! For other existing restaurants, the goal is to reduce energy usage and water consumption by reinstalling more efficient utilities — including lighting, refrigeration, and water faucet restrictors. Further, when considering the supply chain, the firm is working with suppliers to establish more green-friendly changes. Lastly, Chick-fil-A claims that its use of foam cups are recyclable, whereas some plastics are not. While one maybe the lesser of two evils, neither can be wholly acknowledged as “great”. Notably, foam has many documented challenges with recycling.

Chick-fil-A is not a perfect model for environmental sustainability. However, the changes that it and other fast food chains or companies are committing to making (and actually following through) are and will make a significant substantial impact. Kudos to the firm for working towards a better future.

Soy Crops and Subsidies

Soy is a core crop in our modern world.

Globally, soy is heavily subsidized by the government and consumed in vast amounts. When consumed in moderation, soy has a two-fold effect. It helps to spare animal lives and it also offers potential health benefits. (McCue & Shetty, 2004). In particular, vegans are huge fans because no animals are harmed or killed in the process of soy production. However, underlying these surface advantages, soy-lovers must face the hard truth of its severe environmental impact.

Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

Soy is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. (Brown et al., 2005). The high demand for soy has led to an uptick in production. In other words, this drastic increase in consumer demand for soy is at the cost of the Amazon. Sadly, the Amazon is undergoing massive deforestation — at an astonishingly high rate — to make more land available for soy. Additionally, soy production has a negative impact on the biodiversity of the rainforest. (Fearnside, 2001).

Unfortunately for the Amazon, deforestation and depletion are embedded into its rich history. Interestingly, deforestation rates resulting from soy production are similar to deforestation rates resulting from cattle farming. One of the reasons for this is that soy is used to feed “pork, poultry, and dairy cows,” and is also used in the production of bio-diesel and vegetable oil. This finding is alarming for those who consider themselves plant-based foodies and, especially, if those plant-based foodies are seeking to make significant environmental change.

Adding onto the list of negatives, indigenous people are being displaced as a consequence of the Amazonian deforestation. Again, the consumer demand for the soy crop is in such a high demand, therefore, this causes deforestation to occur at a, simultaneously, high rate. To emphasize, this again leads to indigenous people being kicked off their lands at a high rate.

While it is intuitive that the food we buy (read: agricultural industries we support) have environmental implications, we do not often realize the humane implications as a result of our purchases — they are, truly, nothing short of eye-opening.

Plant-Based Diets?

When people choose to transition to a more plant-based diet, it is common for them to purchase meat alternatives to facilitate the diet change. Luckily, there are a large number of companies that produce meat alternatives to support vegans, vegetarians, or the occasional Meatless Monday practitioner. However, we must be wary of these alternatives as many of them are made with soy. One of the many reasons that people may choose to change their diet may be to reduce their impact on the environment. However, if individuals with this goal are doing so by consuming meat alternatives laden with environmentally-taxing soy protein, they are not achieving their goal!

As mentioned in an earlier post, eliminating animal products from our diets is a huge step towards sustainability. But, we must also be wary of the amount of soy that we use as replacements for the animal products that previously existed in our diets. So, instead of going to the store and purchasing the latest meat or cheese substitute--which is most likely made with soy--consider buying some sort of non-soy legume such as black beans, lentils, or chickpeas which will still provide protein without sacrificing the health of our planet.

Non-Digital Sources:

  1. Brown, J.C., Koeppe, M., Coles, B., Price, K.P. (2005). Soybean Production and Conversion of Tropical Forest in the Brazilian Amazon: The Case of Vilhena, Rondônia. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment. 34 (6).

  2. Fearnside, P. (2001). Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil. Environmental Conservation,28 (1), 23-38.

  3. McCue, P., Shetty, K. (2004) Health Benefits of Soy Isoflavonoids and Strategies for Enhancement: A Review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 44:5, 361-367