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A Family Business Take on CSR and Sustainability

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By Michael McLaughlin (MBA’15)

Although Chick-fil-A is best known for the chicken it serves across the United States, it is their coffee program that is shaking things up around the company. The Executive Vice President of Operations and McDonough School of Business graduate, Timothy Tassopoulos, has been with the company for 37 years and has seen it grow from 70 stores to 1800 today. He is involved in much of Chick-fil-A’s corporate social responsibility work and he recently commented on a current project to revamp their coffee bean sourcing.

“We were looking for a partner focused on sustainability and we found a company that works with farmers in Costa Rica and Guatemala. By working with farmers directly, our partner cuts out the coffee traders and increases the take-home pay of the coffee growers.” Tassopoulos explained that on a recent trip to Central America, he visited the coffee farmers in their homes and was convinced the company was making the right decision. “Chick-fil-A won’t pay any less for its coffee, but the farmers will earn more per pound. It’s absolutely a better way for the company to spend its money.”

Before now, Chick-fil-A primarily sourced its inputs domestically. “Chick-Fil-A is a family business and a community-based business,” Tassopoulos explained. “Providing economic opportunities for entrepreneurs in our communities is our version of CSR. We look to our customers to tell us what matters to them and then we act on it.”

Customer feedback also led the company recently to commit to serving antibiotic-free chicken in all of their restaurants within five years. According to Tassopolous, chicken processors were initially reluctant to make this change. “We assured them they would have a market for their supply and now they are making the investments necessary to make it happen,” he said. This will represent a serious transition for the processors as Chick-fil-A serves the most chicken in the U.S.

Other company-wide sustainability efforts include plans to have Styrofoam cup recycling available at 80% of stores within the year, and retrofitting lighting systems in their stores nationwide which will reduces operating costs while also improving sustainability.

“Ultimately, we try to meet the needs of Chick-fil-A’s customers by being a steward of the franchisees, their employees, and the environment. As a company, we practice very intentional growth, not growth at all costs,” Tossopolous said.