Case Study: Max Hamburgers

The challenge

In 2007, Pär Larshans, then Director of Human Resources at Max Hamburger Restaurants, was asked to investigate what other fast food chains were doing about climate change. He discovered that there wasn’t much to discover and Max saw an opportunity to break ahead of the pack. Fast food chains across the board have received bad press for unhealthy food, poor working conditions and expansion models that run local alternatives out of business. On top of that, the meat industry is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gasses worldwide, responsible for approximately 18 % of global greenhouse gas emissions… and Max’s core business is hamburgers.

The result

Max dematerialized their operation across the board. They have incorporated sustainability lessons into their leadership training program for restaurant managers and cashiers. They have put a lot of emphasis on social sustainability and have been hiring people, whom have had difficulties entering the labor market. It has resulted in an increased employee retention and pride in work. They have de-carbonized and carbon labeled their menus, giving the customer information and a choice to consume in a more environmental friendly manner. They have increased their profits with 500 % since the year 2003, and their customer loyalty with 27 % between 2007 and 2009. Max has earned national and international media attention for their sustainability work.


Max became the first restaurant chain in the world to…

… analyse the food’s climate impact from farmer-to guest


… label menus so that guests can choose climate smart meals

… voluntarily offset carbon throughout their supply chain from famer-to guest with reforestation projects in Africa. Max supports offsetting projects that strengthen local agro-forestry, entrepreneurship and ecosystem services.

The Natural Step

Max’s bold leap forward as a sustainability champion was achieved with coaching from The Natural Step (TNS). TNS was happy to take on the challenge of shifting a hamburger chain toward sustainability. The first question TNS asked Max to consider was: “Is a sustainable hamburger chain possible?” Instead of using a crystal ball, Max used The Natural Step Framework to answer this question by imagining what a sustainable Max could look like and crafting a strategy to move towards that future vision.

“Our sustainability related activities have turned out to be one of our most profitable initiatives ever. actually, to our surprise, they’ve turned out to be more profitable than opening up new restaurants.”

Richard Bergfors

Owner and president, Max Hamburgers

“The Natural Step has helped us take strategic steps toward sustainability; build confidence, competence and commitment in our top managers; and communicate sustainability in a creative, clear and credible way. We realize that TNS’ systematic and holistic way of thinking is very similar to our FIRO inspired leadership program, they both start from the same position – it’s all about basic human needs!”

Pär Larshans

Director of Sustainability, Max Hamburgers

“It has been a fantastic privilege to work with a company that is so willing and able to do something unique and important. Our role at TNS has been to help Max to analyze, plan and prioritize so that their initiatives are strategic and demonstrate action towards sustainability. We have watched with astonishment how Max has delivered fast, smart and concrete results. We are thrilled to work with partners like these – humanity desperately needs this kind of action-oriented champions for sustainability.”

Kaj Török

Advisor , The Natural Step

  • Restaurants powered by wind energy 100% 100%
  • Fish produced by well managed eco-systems (MSC) 100% 100%
  • Used fry oil converted into biodiesel 100% 100%
  • Increased customer loyalty 27% 27%
  • Relative increase in sales of low carbon products 15% 15%

Shaping the Future

Now that Max has advanced to be an industry leader in sustainable fast food, expectations have also grown. They will soon open new low-carbon restaurants and add more climate-smart menu alternatives. Max aspires to inspire climate action amongst their guests while serving the juiciest, tastiest, low-impact meat possible.