Fast food and Friends of the Earth aren’t exactly known for going hand-in-hand, right? But one Swedish place has set out to crush that stereotype. Scandinavians as a whole are very serious about preserving ecological balance for future generations, and the Swedish restaurant chain Max Burgers has taken that idea and run with it: they’ve actually managed to create a fast-food menu that’s not only climate-neutral, it will even have a positive effect on carbon dioxide in the air. Max Burgers operates a total of 150 locations throughout Scandinavia, Poland and Egypt, so CEO Richard Bergfors and his team are making a pretty sizable contribution in that regard. “If we want to meet the goal of keeping global warming under two degrees, climate neutrality isn’t enough,” Richard Bergfors, the 43-year-old son of company founder and working chairman Curt Bergfors, stated when the climate positive menu was launched in June 2018. “We know we’re part of the problem. In the future, we want to be part of the solution, too.”
Bergfors, who runs the business together with his brother Christoffer, hopes that their “climate-positive” food will help undo any environmental damage the chain may have caused in previous years. But how? Max Burgers is planting a large number of trees, enough to eliminate more CO2 than the company produces. Since 2008 the number is now 2 million trees. The Swedish company has come up with a multi-pronged approach to turning back the tide on carbon dioxide. They started by assessing the status quo. “We calculated all of the emissions our products were creating. Including customers and staff traveling to and from our restaurants, the carbon footprint for bringing ingredients in from suppliers, and the trash each customer generates. Now we’re doing enough reforestation to cover 110% of that amount of carbon dioxide,” Richard Bergfors says with a hint of pride. “In other words, we’re exceeding ISO 14021, the only independent standard for climate neutrality.”
But that’s just the beginning, he says. “We realized that there’s one thing that could help us improve our overall impact on the environment more than anything: making our green burgers taste as good as the traditional beef variety.” The company has been serving “Green-Family” burgers for more than three years; they’re available in vegan and lacto-ovo versions. And they’re hugely successful. Jonas Mårtensson, Head Chef at Max, is enthusiastic about the response they’ve gotten: “Our sales in that area have increased by 1000 percent over the past three years.” As a result, Max Burgers was able to reduce its climate impact per dollar earned by 20 percent between 2015-2018. They still think there’s room for improvement, though. By 2022, their goal is for half of their sales to come from non-beef products, which would equate to reducing their CO2 emissions by 30 percent within just seven years.
“We’re hoping to inspire other companies to shift towards climate positivity as well,” CEO Bergfors says. “We’re convinced that customers prefer to purchase sustainable products and services.” To this end, Max Burgers and Mevo, a carpool company from New Zealand, which also is climate positive, have also started another project, a web platform called clipop.org – short for Climate Positive Planet. The goal is to create a network of like-minded entrepreneurs. So far, they’ve connected with three more Swedish companies, GodEl, Brid Content and The Department Festival. In December another three more companies will become climate positive and join CLIPOP.
This interest in green living isn’t exactly new for Max Burgers, by the way. The burger chain, which has a work force of around 5500, has been working on environmental causes since Greta Thunberg was still in diapers. Curt Bergfors, company founder and father to Richard and Christoffer, is working as a chairman and is the head owner of the company, And he’s a family guy. “We think in generations, and we want to create the best possible world for our children’s children.” The company began planting trees in Africa back in 2008. So far, they’re up to 2 million and counting. Not bad, eh? That same year – they also began using only wind energy, and started publicizing the carbon footprints for each dish, i.e. climate labelling the entire menu.
As the oldest fast food chain in Sweden and the largest in Europe, Max is in a special position to act as a role model for other businesses, and its declared intentions of operating more responsibly can be interpreted as a clear message to the competition. What message, exactly? “It’s never too late to change.”