Author Topic: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?  (Read 701 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Max is a Swedish fast food chain, competitor to McDonald's and Burger King, and like the American companies selling mostly hamburgers and fries.

And they claim that they are climate positive. Note, not climate neutral, but climate positive. What this means is that eating at their restaurants not only does not, on a net basis, contribute with greenhouse gases, but actually reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. From their website:

Quote
1. We measure 100% of our product emissions.
We include all greenhouse gas emissions in our calculations. In MAX’s case, this means measuring emissions from the farmers’ land to our guests’ hand. We include their travel to and from our restaurants as well as their waste and lots more.

2. We reduce our emissions.
Over the years, MAX has implemented hundreds of measures to reduce our emission of greenhouse gases. We add new approaches and solutions all the time, and will continue to do so in the future.

3. We capture at least 110% of emissions
We plant trees that absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. Not only do we carbon offset all the emissions from all our food, we go further to capture the carbon dioxide equivalent of another 10% of our emissions. This means we are helping reduce the overall levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

How can we be certain our burgers will be climate positive?
We follow the world’s only independent standard for carbon neutrality – ISO 14021. But instead of offsetting 100% of our emissions, as required by the standard, from 14th of June 2018 we offset 110% which make everything on our menu climate positive. EY have done an independent review to check that our methods for calculating the emissions follow the international Greenhouse Gas Protocol standard that ISO 14021 relies on. The offset is made by Plan-Vivo certified tree plantations in Africa.

Is this accurate and reliable, or is it not? My thought was that if it's this easy to fight climate change, why isn't the world doing more of it? But then again, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit the world could be doing to fight climate change that it is not doing, so that might not say much.

I like eating at Max, and I'd really like to think that I'm actually contributing to fighting climate change by eating there. But as we all know, we should be the most skeptical of claims we'd like to be true.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Online 2397

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It is as easy as growing trees, but it would take trillions of them if we're doing it by trees alone, and several decades to really kick in. Unless we grow several times more trees than that, and at that point we'll probably have to test out those sticking all the people in the world into a tiny country/state thought experiments.

I'd like to know how they ensure that the trees they plant will actually increase the total amount of trees in the world in the long term. If they didn't pay for them, would the trees not be grown? Will the trees survive, will the trees be replaced indefinitely into the future?
« Last Edit: January 27, 2019, 02:11:25 PM by 2397 »

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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It is as easy as growing trees, but it would take trillions of them if we're doing it by trees alone, and several decades to really kick in. Unless we grow several times more trees than that, and at that point we'll probably have to test out those sticking all the people in the world into a tiny country/state thought experiments.

To be fair, they are not saying that their planting of trees will solve global warming, only that it results in a net decrease of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, taking into account the greenhouse gases from their operations in preparing food and serving customers.

On the website in the OP they have a link to a pretty long analysis of their work to be climate positive. I'm not sure I'd qualified to evaluate and assess it.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

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So for them specifically, we could ask: Accounting for the lag time before a tree would fully capture all the carbon that they're budgeting for, and with their 110% rate; if their business remains open and operates at a consistent scale, how many years would it take before the trees that they've paid to plant have captured more than the total amount of carbon that their business has added by remaining open?

Ultimately they might pollute less than a competitor, but initially it seems like they're overstating what they're doing for the sake of PR.

Edit: There's a section called "Time horizons" in that pdf, but it has nothing to do with how long it takes for trees to grow. They're talking about how to estimate their emissions, and that they're paying to plant trees mainly in Uganda.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2019, 02:35:34 PM by 2397 »

Offline bachfiend

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When I fly, I pay the ‘carbon-offset’ voluntary surcharge despite having doubt whether the airline is actually spending the money effectively to cancel out my share of the plane’s CO2 emissions.

Currently my carbon offset are the 24 solar panels on my roof, and the total of 40 solar panels on the two rental properties I own.  My solar panels generate up to 40 kW.hr/day, and I suppose the two rental properties generate up to 70 kW.hr/day (and I use less than 3 kW.hr per day), so the reduction in CO2 emissions should cancel out those from my one long distance flight a year.
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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So for them specifically, we could ask: Accounting for the lag time before a tree would fully capture all the carbon that they're budgeting for, and with their 110% rate; if their business remains open and operates at a consistent scale, how many years would it take before the trees that they've paid to plant have captured more than the total amount of carbon that their business has added by remaining open?

I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.

Ultimately they might pollute less than a competitor, but initially it seems like they're overstating what they're doing for the sake of PR.

Seems likely. I guess at least it's not worse eating at their places than their competitors, from an environmental point of view.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Harry Black

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I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.



Why would you assume that?

Offline daniel1948

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My (uneducated) guess: They’re probably planting the trees they say they’re planting, but using creative math to claim that’s really removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as they’re producing. You’d probably have a much bigger effect on the carbon load of the atmosphere by going vegetarian than you have by eating at MAX. But if you’re going to eat fast-food hamburgers, maybe MAX is a better choice than McDonald’s. Especially if you like them.
Daniel
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Online 2397

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I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.

Right, but unless they started planting trees decades before they opened their business, the trees have to catch up to the pollution.

As an example, making up the numbers; assuming the trees they plant would take 50 years to reach their budgeted size, that they keep growing linearly until they're 70 years old, and then instantly combust.



Not sure I got that exactly right. But basically, after the lifespan of the trees, the carbon sequestration turns linear and it might never catch up. Once the trees start dying/releasing all their carbon, you have to also ensure that they're all replaced in addition to the new trees you're planting. In any case, it's a very long term project to actually achieve lower CO2 levels.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2019, 04:04:31 AM by 2397 »

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.



Why would you assume that?

Maybe I am reading it wrong, but from what I understand it is an ongoing project/effort on their part.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?
« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2019, 07:17:36 AM »
My (uneducated) guess: They’re probably planting the trees they say they’re planting, but using creative math to claim that’s really removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as they’re producing. You’d probably have a much bigger effect on the carbon load of the atmosphere by going vegetarian than you have by eating at MAX. But if you’re going to eat fast-food hamburgers, maybe MAX is a better choice than McDonald’s. Especially if you like them.

What if you eat their vegetarian and vegan options? :P ;)

I can see your point. I would consider myself a flexitarian. When I make my own food at home, it is always vegetarian. When I eat out, I'd say I pretty often choose the vegetarian options, but sometimes the meat options as well.

I'd assume that the trees are actually planted. From what I could find, from 2008 to 2016 they had planted about 1,4 million trees.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Harry Black

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Re: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?
« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2019, 09:23:21 AM »


I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.



Why would you assume that?

Maybe I am reading it wrong, but from what I understand it is an ongoing project/effort on their part.
I dont know if you are wrong or not, they seem to be trying at least.
I would just caution against believing their own promotional material about what exactly they are doing and then extrapolating that to assumptions about how they are doing it.
If they are doing what they claim in the way you alluded though, thats great.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?
« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2019, 09:46:16 AM »
My (uneducated) guess: They’re probably planting the trees they say they’re planting, but using creative math to claim that’s really removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as they’re producing. You’d probably have a much bigger effect on the carbon load of the atmosphere by going vegetarian than you have by eating at MAX. But if you’re going to eat fast-food hamburgers, maybe MAX is a better choice than McDonald’s. Especially if you like them.

What if you eat their vegetarian and vegan options? :P ;)

I can see your point. I would consider myself a flexitarian. When I make my own food at home, it is always vegetarian. When I eat out, I'd say I pretty often choose the vegetarian options, but sometimes the meat options as well.

I'd assume that the trees are actually planted. From what I could find, from 2008 to 2016 they had planted about 1,4 million trees.

I suppose I’m just showing my ignorance here, but before reading this post I had no idea that there was a fast-food chain that served vegan options.

Planting trees is a very good thing to do. But it does not counteract the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, if left in the ground, would remain there essentially forever. Trees, as 2397 points out, sequester carbon very slowly, and only for the life of the tree. After that, they release the carbon back into the atmosphere. Unless you somehow remove the tree from the biosphere after it stops growing and before it decays.

Where trees can be a small part of the solution is as biomass fuel where, if grown without carbon inputs other than the CO2 in the atmosphere, they are a carbon-neutral fuel. But the trees you plant today to sequester carbon, will release that carbon back into the air at the end of their lives. Unless you also stop burning fossil fuels you’ll never catch up. They are a stop-gap that won’t even begin to have an effect on total atmospheric carbon until it’s too late.

Another way to put it is that offsetting your carbon footprint by planting trees is moving carbon from extremely long-term storage deep underground to short-term storage in active biomass.
Daniel
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2019, 02:12:27 PM »


I would assume that they are planting new trees all the time to (over-)compensate for their ongoing business operations.



Why would you assume that?

Maybe I am reading it wrong, but from what I understand it is an ongoing project/effort on their part.
I dont know if you are wrong or not, they seem to be trying at least.
I would just caution against believing their own promotional material about what exactly they are doing and then extrapolating that to assumptions about how they are doing it.
If they are doing what they claim in the way you alluded though, thats great.

I presume that they are not fraudulent in their claim, but as you write, they are probably hyping its effects.

Still, better than nothing I suppose.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Fast food chain claims they help reduce greenhouse gases. Is this the case?
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2019, 02:13:24 PM »
My (uneducated) guess: They’re probably planting the trees they say they’re planting, but using creative math to claim that’s really removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as they’re producing. You’d probably have a much bigger effect on the carbon load of the atmosphere by going vegetarian than you have by eating at MAX. But if you’re going to eat fast-food hamburgers, maybe MAX is a better choice than McDonald’s. Especially if you like them.

What if you eat their vegetarian and vegan options? :P ;)

I can see your point. I would consider myself a flexitarian. When I make my own food at home, it is always vegetarian. When I eat out, I'd say I pretty often choose the vegetarian options, but sometimes the meat options as well.

I'd assume that the trees are actually planted. From what I could find, from 2008 to 2016 they had planted about 1,4 million trees.

I suppose I’m just showing my ignorance here, but before reading this post I had no idea that there was a fast-food chain that served vegan options.

Planting trees is a very good thing to do. But it does not counteract the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, if left in the ground, would remain there essentially forever. Trees, as 2397 points out, sequester carbon very slowly, and only for the life of the tree. After that, they release the carbon back into the atmosphere. Unless you somehow remove the tree from the biosphere after it stops growing and before it decays.

Where trees can be a small part of the solution is as biomass fuel where, if grown without carbon inputs other than the CO2 in the atmosphere, they are a carbon-neutral fuel. But the trees you plant today to sequester carbon, will release that carbon back into the air at the end of their lives. Unless you also stop burning fossil fuels you’ll never catch up. They are a stop-gap that won’t even begin to have an effect on total atmospheric carbon until it’s too late.

Another way to put it is that offsetting your carbon footprint by planting trees is moving carbon from extremely long-term storage deep underground to short-term storage in active biomass.

These are very good points, thank you. :)
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

 

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