This burger chain is climate positive

Sweden’s MAX Burgers is not just about serving the world’s tastiest burgers – it wants to do good in society and make the planet a little better, too. 

As folks say in the Canadian north, these folks walk their talk.Their menu is ‘climate positive’ and a percentage of their profits go towards supporting health, education and sustainable agriculture in the ‘developing’ world. It bankrolls the world’s biggest environmental prize, the Food Planet Prize.

When the late Curt Bergfors created the foundation that’s named after him in 2019, he said the ways we produce, distribute and consume food must be radically and urgently reformed if future generations — and the planet itself — are to survive and thrive.

So he set out to transform the global food system, through research grants, awards, information, and creating a ten-year professorship in sustainable food systems at Stockholm University.

“We coined the term Food Planet to illustrate the interplay between the global food system and the Earth system spheres: the geosphere (land), the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (all living things, including us humans),’ the foundation explains.

“At the core of the issue is a paradox: the global food system is exhausting the planet’s resources it depends on. Impoverished soils, plundered oceans, biodiversity loss, and global warming are some of the consequences of this overexploitation. Which inevitably leads to lower yields. But with a rapidly growing global population, it continues to squeeze as much productivity out of nature as possible.”

“Can the Food Planet cope? Only if we reshape our food system – from production to consumption – within the limits of our planet.”

It’s not a recent conversion. He’s been thinking about the environment since he started the first burger restaurant in Lappland in 1968. He began recycling corrugated cardboard in 1969. In 2008, MAX Burgers became climate neutral and began climate labeling their menu, and began to get its energy from wind. Since 2016, it has offered plant-based options. It  has been ‘climate positive’ since 2018.

“If we want to meet the goal of keeping global warming under two degrees, climate neutrality isn’t enough,” Richard Bergfors said 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.”

It now employs 7,500 people in 186 restaurants, mostly in Sweden although there also are some in Norway, Denmark and Poland and even Egypt. The company calculated all of its emissions, “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 they’re doing enough reforestation to cover 110% of that amount of carbon dioxide.

Since 2006, it has been contributing 7-10% of its annual net profit for poverty reduction in ‘developing’ countries, including a childrens’ village in Senegal since 2009, a medical clinic in Haiti since 2002, and sustainable agriculture in Burkina Faso since 2019. In 2009, Rättvis Fördelning – The Fair Distribution Foundation – was founded to manage the work.

In December 2019, the foundation received the Global Climate Action Award from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2020, five change-making initiatives shared four US 1$ million prizes. For 2021 and onwards, the Curt Bergfors Foundation doubled the award to US $2 million.

The 2022 prizes went to Nigeria’s ColdHubs, which has built 72 solar-powered cold rooms – 54 self-operated in outdoor markets of Nigeria – and is gearing up to soon enter Benin, Rwanda, and Kenya, and to the Global Mangrove Alliance, which  brings together more than 30 member organizations around the world not only to fight the loss of mangroves and protect the livelihoods of their guardians. Each won $2 million.

The 2023 Food Planet Prize – chosen from more than 1,000 nominations – went to the Agrobiodiversity Index, which wants to quantify and measure the sustainability of the food system and translate this into a quantitative index for farmers, businesses, and policy. “For the Agrobiodiversity Index, winning the Food Planet Prize 2023 means that we can take our work to the next level. Change is a process, and this will allow us to catalyze the process into policies and practices,” said Sarah Jones, co-lead of the initiative. 

Home of the climate-positive burger. Ktchn Rebel, Jan. 2020

Food Planet Prize website.

Images: The cover image shows the green burgers of Max; the centre image shows the Agrobiodiversity Index team, 2023 winners; and the bottom image is from Cold Hubs, one of the 2022 winners. All images from the Food Planet Prize website.