4 Lessons in sustainability communications from Pär Larshans, Chief Sustainability Officer at Max Burgers.

It’s not often that a burger chain gets accolades for its sustainability work, from people and organisations as illustrious as the EU, the UNHCR, Bill Clinton or the Harvard Business Review.
Max Burgers, a 1968-founded, family-owned Swedish company, falls into that category.

The company is most respected for its innovative approach to recruitment, offering employment opportunities to people with disabilities, and advocating this cause on numerous international platforms. Its approach to environmental sustainability has also been praised, and the HBR dubbed it as the Swedish Burger Chain who says "Minimize Me".

We asked Pär Larshans, Chief Sustainability Officer at Max, to outline the key sustainability communications lessons that he has learnt along the way. 

Aside of his work at Max, Pär also gives lectures on behalf of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Swedish Institute. In this capacity, he works with leaders from China, Russia and many other countries on sustainable leadership in both business and society.

Link sustainability to your brand – create a trust insurance

Our sustainability efforts are related to both brand and business. We know that we can increase ROI by motivating climate-aware customers to choose Max over competitors.  Ultimately, we want our customers to choose our restaurants because they love our hamburgers, not just because we are sustainable. However, a strong sustainability track record can ensure hey feel good about their purchase too.

Sustainability also works as a safety net. All companies make mistakes. But when we make them we still have our good work out there to fall back on. Instead of waiting for a crisis, we are aiming to build our reputation from the inside-out. 

Let your reputation for sustainability grow from the inside out

We decided at Max at an early stage that money should not be spent on ads in TV, radio or other commercial media, to promote our sustainability strategy. We do not believe in big advertising: we want messages to be whispered to people through word- of-mouth communications. Specifically we have focused on communicating internally to our employees and letting the external stakeholders learn about our efforts from our employees.

In our restaurants, it is essential that our employees are on board with our sustainability story. 

Let results speak for themselves

When communicating about sustainability, regardless of audience, we leverage the power of storytelling, by letting results speak for themselves. For example, when I met with politicians in Brussels 2007 to discuss our disability employment strategy, I came with a disabled employee, Lars Anderson. The Brussels-based politicians were interested to hear our story directly from Lars and how he gained self-esteem from getting a job. Let your greatest examples as a company speak for themselves.

Demonstrate leadership: act before everyone else does

Everyone will need to do this. You can choose to do it now, cleverly, or you can wait. Companies will need to build values from the inside and attempt to address society’s problems. At Max, we are actually surprised that more companies are not involved in creating shared value. 
There is a first-mover advantage here, those who do not change will be tomorrow’s losers and it will cost them  to catch up.

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