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Jen Boynton headshot

Hamburgers Go Climate Positive

By Jen Boynton

“Houston, we have a climate problem,” Kaj Török explained when he took the stage at Sustainable Brands this week. He was talking about the urgent need to reduce emissions in order to offset the worst impacts of climate change. Beef consumption is sadly a big part of that problem. The David Suzuki Foundation states:

"Livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land use, occupies 30 per cent of the planet’s land surface and is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Growing animals for food is also inefficient. It takes about five to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Each of those takes energy and water to produce, process, and transport."

The American hamburger, a classic comfort food, is slowly killing us environmentally. But Max Burgers has figured out a simple, elegant way to offset the climate impact of each burger. And this methodology is replicable for any product in any industry and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. The straightforward methodology is this: conduct a comprehensive carbon impact assessment, reduce what you can and purchase carbon offsets to account for 110% of the rest.


Deep green sustainability enthusiasts might quibble with this formula: indeed, offsets aren't as good as not emitting in the first place, and quality of the offsets matters. But this system is simple and straightforward and flexible enough for any product in any industry.

Török issued a challenge to the 1500 attendees at Sustainable Brands: replicate the model with other products, and share them with the larger sustainability community by tagging them at clipop.org, a currently very small registry of climate positive products. Max Burgers is available at approximately 100 outlets in Sweden, Poland, Norway, Denmark, and Egypt.

The team at Max Burgers has quite a comprehensive approach to product stewardship and environmental impact, with the carbon positive program at the very end of a long line of adjustments:

  • The chain is the only Swedish national burger chain that uses Swedish meat. It costs about 30 percent more than EU meat, but has 25 percent less embedded carbon than EU meat, due to Swedish grazing practices. This decision results in a modest increase in the cost of the burger -- 6 percent over the competition, but increased demand from the LOHAS market (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) made up the difference.

Max Burger also offers a variety of tasty burger options that use chicken, fish, and plant-based protein to make it easy for customers to eat less meat overall.

Török tells me that these changes have "attracted new clients and turned some meat lovers into green burger lovers." Max Burgers' transformation has mirrored a sea change seen qcross the company. In the last year,  Swedes have reduced red meat consumption by 2 percent, Max customers have reduced red meat consumption 13 percent.

As usual Americans will be playing catch up to our Nordic compatriots when it comes to sustainability -- and catch up we must.


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Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton