Tackling climate change as a part of every day business

Max Burgers believes that even fast food can help tackle climate change, and the efforts of Sweden’s favourite burger restaurant chain have seen it achieve Climate Positive status

Max Burgers – Sweden’s favourite burger restaurant chain and one whose passion for its food is matched by its care about the environment – is a company that is all about driving change. One of the first businesses of its kind to establish itself in Sweden, in 1968, it has not been afraid to take a leading role in delivering change within its industry, becoming the world’s first restaurant chain to climate-label its menu in 2008, and commit to capture all emissions to 100 per cent “from farmer’s land to the guest’s hand”.

FoodChain has been fortunate enough to document the company’s activities on several occasions previously, and catching up with Chief Reputation and Chief Sustainability Officer Kaj Török in November 2019, it is heartening to hear of the fruitful year that Max Burgers has enjoyed. “The past 12 months have been a great time for the company,” he enthuses. “We are well on track for an increase in annual turnover of around 15 per cent, as well as double digit profitability, and to date we have opened 15 new restaurants in 2019, with these located in not only Sweden, but also Norway, Denmark, Poland and Egypt.”

In the meantime, Max Burgers has continued to launch new products and menu items on a regular basis, with perhaps the most notable addition being its Delifresh Plant Beef burger, which it unveiled in May 2019. Made from plant-based protein and developed under the leadership of head chef Jonas Mårtensson, it has been specifically created to entice meat lovers into trying a vegetarian alternative. The Delifresh Plant Beef burger joins a growing list of vegetarian or vegan menu items – including an industry-first vegan friendly shake – as the company strives towards its goal of ensuring that by 2022, 50 per cent of all meals sold are comprised of something other than red meat.

“The launch of our plant-based burger compliments our already successful line of lacto-free, vegetarian and plant based vegan burgers, of which sales have increased from two per cent of our total sales in 2015, to 22 per cent today, marking a 1100 per cent increase in less than four years,” Kaj highlights. “During that time, we also ran a campaign – dubbed Rethink Burgers – whereby we spoke to some of the other burger restaurant chains in Sweden to promote the success that we have had with ‘green burgers’, and share some of our recipes so as to encourage others to embrace change. I am pleased to say that, in the time since, we have seen McDonald’s launch its first ever McVegan Burger and Burger King begin selling halloumi burgers in Sweden.”

Important initiatives
Today the company proudly proclaims that the entire menu is climate positive, so choosing a Max burger actually helps to tackle climate issues. One of the biggest reasons why it can do so with confidence is that, in 2018, it achieved ‘Climate Positive status’. “Climate Positive means we reduce emissions in the value chain in line with the global 1.5 degree target and at the same time we remove more climate gases than the value chain emits,” Kaj explains.

“For our burgers to be climate positive, we take action in three areas,” Kaj continues. “The first is that we measure 100 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in our calculations – from the farmer’s land to our guests’ hand – and much more to cover our entire value chain. The second step is to reduce our own emissions, and we have spent years implementing hundreds of measures to achieve this, and we continue to add new approaches and solutions all of the time. The final step requires us to capture at least 110 per cent of all emissions – and we do so through the wide-scale planting of trees to absorb and store carbon dioxide. The trees are also set to alleviate local poverty, erosion and drought.”

Max Burgers’ efforts to become a Climate Positive business follow in the footsteps of it signing up to ‘The Cool Food Pledge’, an international platform that helps signatories track the climate impact of the food they serve. Said signatories each pledge to commit to a collective target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food they provide by 25 per cent by 2030 relative to 2015. “For Max Burgers, our own internal goal is to reduce our emissions by 30 per cent by 2022, so signing up to The Cool Food Pledge is really a no-brainer from our point of view,” Kaj adds. “We believe it to be a really important initiative, and I think there will be a lot of positive, useful knowledge shared as a result of it in the coming months and years.”

Empowering customers
The positive actions of Max Burgers were again brought to the fore in September 2019, when the company was announced as being one of the winners of the United Nation’s ‘Global Climate Action Award’ and the only European company to be listed in the ‘Climate Neutral Now’ category. All winning companies will be featured on several occasions during the second week of the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain, in December 2019.

“This year, we had over 670 incredible applications for the UN Global Climate Action Award,” says Niclas Svenningsen, Manager of the UN Climate Change Global Climate Action Programme. “It is our pleasure to award Max Burgers. Its world first ‘climate positive’ menu serves as a beacon, guiding us towards a more sustainable future for all. By empowering customers to better understand the climate impact of their food, Max Burgers is leading the way when it comes to measuring, reducing and offsetting its carbon footprint, providing a shining example of a highly replicable climate solution.”

Going forward, Kaj expects Max Burgers to be fully involved in working towards creating a Climate Positive global standard, one that not only other 45restaurants will follow, but companies from all industry sectors. Meanwhile, the business itself is set to continue to go from strength-to-strength, with growth of 15-to-20 per cent anticipated for 2020. As Kaj himself puts with a smile, this is not bad going for what was small burger chain founded above the Polar Circle just over 50 years ago!