A couple of weeks ago the Swedish burger chain MAX Burgers announced that all its burgers are now climate positive. From June 14, 2018, any meal eaten at any one of its 130 restaurants across Europe and the Middle East will result in the removal of carbon dioxide from the air, reversing the negative impacts of climate change.
“The reasoning behind the launch of climate-positive burgers is simple: climate change on our planet is out of control, and we need to stabilize it,” explained the company’s CEO Richard Bergfors. “To meet the two-degree climate goal set out in the Paris Agreement, the world needs to work harder at cutting emissions and start the work of clearing greenhouse gases that have already been emitted into the atmosphere. Just going carbon-neutral is not enough anymore. We know that we are part of the problem and together with our guests, we can now be part of the solution.”
Like Fast Food, Fast Tourism is part of the problem too. Our industry is growing in size at anything from 4-7% a year (and greater still in some regions). Aviation worldwide is also growing at 4% or more a year. All this growth demands an ever increasing use of resources of one kind or another, be they energy, water, land and biodiversity, or locals’ apartments, streets, beaches and oh-so-instagrammable little town squares.
This is also why it is a mistake to frame overtourism as the biggest problem facing our industry. It is not the problem – it is an acute symptom of a much deeper, much more chronic condition. Overtourism is rather the inevitable visible manifestation of decades of pursuing this resource-hungry growth model for our development.
The reason it is getting all the column inches and street protests is because it is so tangible a manifestation. It is much easier to see what a medieval square overcrowded with tourists looks like, than it is to see what an atmosphere overcrowded with an excess of carbon dioxide molecules does. But, in the end they are both symptoms of pursuing the same approach to developing our industry.
Therefore, if we sincerely want to make like Max Burger and be part of the solution, whether it is to climate change, overtourism or many other related issues, then our approach needs to be the same too. In other words, we need to stop tinkering round the edges and look at the design of the product itself.
What Max Burgers have realised, is that whether you are flipping burgers or filling hotels, business as usual isn’t going to work. As Paul Hawken explains in Drawdown, his brilliant 2016 book on why and how the world should work to reverse climate change: “Addressing, slowing, or arresting emissions is necessary, but insufficient. If you are travelling down the wrong road, you are still on the wrong road if you slow down. The only goal that makes sense for humanity is to reverse global warming, and if parents, scientists, young people, leaders, and we citizens do not name the goal, there is little chance that it will be achieved.”
This is what Max Burgers are doing with their climate positive burgers, and their three step approach to doing so has many lessons for our industry. First, they are fully measuring their product emissions, which means including all emissions from the farmer’s land to the guest’s hand, including guests’ and employees’ travel to and from their restaurants, and handling of waste generated from each meal. Note – they include their guests’ travel in the measurement of their own emissions. Other than Soneva and Better Places, I don’t know of any tourism businesses that do that. Yet once we start properly costing and paying for the climate impacts of our transport emissions, we’ll go a long way towards reducing the human crowds of overtourism.
Second, having measured and named the goal, Max are working to achieve it through reducing their emissions and adding new approaches to continue making reductions in their process and products. Since 2008, the company has only used electricity from wind power plants in Sweden. And in 2016, they quintupled their range of Green Family burgers, a collection of vegan and Lacto-ovo vegetarian burgers with a much smaller carbon footprint than a beef burger. Sales of these Green-Family meals have increased by 900% over the last two years, causing MAX’s total climate impact to be reduced by 13 % per earned dollar over the same period.
Thirdly, they are capturing the equivalent of at least 110 % of their remaining emissions by planting trees, thus exceeding the requirements for the world’s only independent standard for carbon neutrality – ISO 14021. Because, as Jonathan Porritt, former head of Friends of the Earth and Chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, says: “When you’ve done everything you can to reduce your own carbon footprint through changing your lifestyle and being super efficient at home, work and play, what are you going to do about the rest? Ignore it – or deal with it by finding the best possible offset product on the market?
Max’s approach is one version of what the emerging Climate Positive movement looks like. In New Zealand, Climate Positive carshare company Mevo charges its fleet of hybrid electric cars on New Zealand’s 80% renewable grid, and offsets anything else its fleet emits by 120%. Last year Interface launched Proof Positive, a carpet product whose manufacturing process resulted in carbon being captured from the atmosphere, also reversing emissions. Meanwhile IKEA has announced that, having committed to running its entire business off renewables by 2020, by 2030 it will be both Climate Positive and regenerative in terms of materials – in essence restoring more of the natural world than it uses for its own raw materials.
As Ikea’s case shows, we need also to remember that being climate positive is only part of the solution. We need to be waste positive, water positive, biodiversity positive, food positive and people positive too. We need to measure all of our impacts, take account of all of them, and then frame our development so that we are working towards having a positive impact in all of them too. Otherwise, we are still travelling down the wrong road.
One day a major tourism company will rise to the challenge and announce, not that it is banning straws or riding on elephants, but committing to become “Restorative and Regenerative by design”. I just hope we don’t have to wait too long.