Deep greens may not know whether to laugh or cry at recent news from AP that McDonald’s in the U.S. is about to join its European branch in sporting a Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel that all the fish it sells come from sustainable sources. People who think capitalism destroys the environment, as a bug or as a feature, especially like to hate McDonald’s because it’s so big, efficient, allegedly vulgar and undeniably popular. But this view of corporate behaviour is entirely mistaken.
Businessmen and women may be no better than the rest of us, though also no worse if it comes to that. But it doesn’t really matter, for as Adam Smith rightly noted almost 250 years ago
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
In the case of McDonald’s, and any number of other businesses, they are absolutely dependent upon the approval of their customers for their prosperity and, indeed, their continued survival. Making sure the food tastes good, arrives hot (or cold depending) and is affordable obviously plays a major role. But so does satisfying people’s other desires including, these days, their passionate commitment to protecting the environment.
McDonald’s quite literally cannot afford to sell unsustainable fish. And if what you care about is the environment, that’s a good thing.