WeWork bans meat: $20bn startup will no longer reimburse non-vegetarian meals

  1. Francois Badenhorst

    Francois Badenhorst Business Editor, UKBF & AWEB Staff Member

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    Meat is off the menu for the employees of one of the world’s hottest startups. WeWork, the shared office space provider valued at $20bn, has told its 6,000 staff it will not pay expenses for meals containing meat.

    The policy was announced in an internal memo written by Miguel McKelvey, WeWork’s billionaire co-founder. “We have made a commitment to be a meat-free organization,” McKelvey wrote. “Moving forward, we will not serve or pay for meat at WeWork events and want to clarify that this includes poultry and pork, as well as red meat.”

    McKelvey cited new research from the journal Science that "avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact". He added that the policy will “save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023”.

    A WeWork spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the new policy will remove red meat, poultry and pork from the expenses policy. The company was, however, “not prohibiting WeWork staff or members from bringing in meat-based meals they’ve paid for themselves”.

    Members can also still host their own events at WeWork locations and serve meat they’ve paid for themselves. And fish is still covered by WeWork’s T&E policy.

    WeWork’s new policy has inspired some criticism already. Slate referred to the policy as “tyrannical” and “draconian”, pointing out that WeWork's 10 million square feet of office space was far more problematic than the food its employees ate.

    The UK’s largest union also told the BBC that workers shouldn’t be punished for their dietary choices. "Employees should be encouraged to make healthy choices. They should not be left out of pocket if they choose to eat meat."

    For Jonny Vowles, CEO of automated expenses tool Expend, the move also raises questions around the practical application of the policy.

    “While potentially a divisive policy change, WeWork’s heart is in the right place. However, this may be overshadowed by how to police the regulation with over 6,000 employees worldwide. No one is going to manually check every food receipt to ensure it is meat free and not all receipts will be as obvious as stating 'steak and chips,'" said Vowles.

    According to Vowles, a new breed of expense tools will help finance and HR teams apply the policy more rigorously and allow businesses to itemise details of employees’ expenditure, quickly and efficiently.

    "In WeWork’s case, the finance and HR teams can then perform spot checks that food claims appear to be meat-free if they so wish," continued Vowles. "The ability to log expenses with the required level of detail at the point of purchase will be more likely to drive employee compliance with this expenses policy, helping it to serve a long-lasting purpose, beyond simply grabbing news headlines.”

    Is this a real effort to help the environment, or just an exercise in brand building? And would you consider implementing this kind of policy in your own workplace?

  2. Julia Sta Romana

    Julia Sta Romana UKBF Contributor Free Member

    91 30
    I think there are other ways for WeWork to protect the environment other than imposing their own values. There's more than one way to be an green company. Why focus on what your employees eat?

    Could it be this is just a way for WeWork to spin a cost-cutting measure? Meat is more expensive compared to produce. Maybe they just want to save money without making it look like they're cutting back on employee benefits.
    Posted: Jul 20, 2018 By: Julia Sta Romana Member since: Apr 18, 2017
    Kat Haylock and Noah like this.
  3. Noah

    Noah UKBF Ace Free Member

    1,199 298
    Anybody else think this has overtones of an orchestrated marketing stunt?

    Taking it at face value, this does smack more of showboating than sincere concern for the environment. One possibility strikes me - that this may lead to a less manageable workforce for them; they are likely to attract a disproportionate number of employees who are by definition activist and passionate, which is not a great recipe for the smooth running of a workplace.

    DoubtlessFrench butchers are watching this sort of development carefully.
    Posted: Jul 20, 2018 By: Noah Member since: Sep 1, 2009
    Louis.E and Bob Morgan like this.
  4. Kat Haylock

    Kat Haylock Community Editor Administrator

    453 225
    I thought exactly the same, especially since I don't think any effort has been made to save energy at their offices... meat seems like a strange (and suitably controversial) place to start.

    As for your point about activism, this article from Bloomberg is an interesting read about modern day brand building from companies:

    "Instead of trying to be blandly inoffensive, workplaces embody the cultural values of their tribe. That’s why we see Google employees refusing to work on Defense Department projects or companies boycotting the National Rifle Association."
    Posted: Jul 20, 2018 By: Kat Haylock Member since: Jul 11, 2016
  5. Clodbuster

    Clodbuster UKBF Enthusiast Full Member

    691 106
    Their way to kill off all domestic animals.
    Posted: Jul 20, 2018 By: Clodbuster Member since: Apr 24, 2008
    Pembroke99 likes this.
  6. UKcentric

    UKcentric UKBF Regular Free Member

    172 25
    Well, animal-based foods including meat and dairy are pound for pound way more expensive to produce in terms of environmental damage and water usage over plants.

    Sounds obvious but worth remembering that the amount of land required to grow the animal feed for such products is far greater than if we used the land to grow plant-based foods to eat directly.

    We're already using 1.7 times the planet's available resources (WWF).

    It wasn't very long ago that meat was an occasional treat for the average person, not the everyday dietary component it is today.
    Posted: Jul 20, 2018 By: UKcentric Member since: Jun 7, 2011
    Victoria W and El Bulli like this.
  7. Mr D

    Mr D UKBF Legend Free Member

    15,598 1,719
    Are there going to be less sheep, cows, pigs etc bred because a company doesn't pay expenses for meat in meals?
    Can't see that happening.

    Still if market for meat reduces over time then in theory some of the breeders will move on to other animals or sell off their land for housing / industrial buildings.

    1.7 times the planets resources being used? OK how many billion should we reduce the population by? Or how much do we need to increase resources by?
    Posted: Jul 21, 2018 By: Mr D Member since: Feb 12, 2017
  8. Noah

    Noah UKBF Ace Free Member

    1,199 298
    Thanks for this perfect example of a false dichotomy.
    Posted: Jul 21, 2018 By: Noah Member since: Sep 1, 2009
  9. TODonnell

    TODonnell UKBF Ace Full Member

    1,406 213
    This is virtue-signalling. It also tells you something about the management of this company; that this is the sort of thing they've got time to work on, that they want to police their staff's gastronomic habits and that they have time to engage in political activity outside their business' remit.

    If I were a shareholder, I would enter a question-mark beside their name in my spreadsheet.
    Posted: Jul 24, 2018 By: TODonnell Member since: Sep 23, 2011
    Pembroke99 likes this.
  10. Mark T Jones

    Mark T Jones UKBF Big Shot Full Member

    3,266 951
    Pure PR, or a great way to aleniate 70%. Of your client base

    As an aside, we used to work with a major US organisation who had a strict rule of no more than 1/2 a bottle of wine per person on client entertainment. They were impressively resourceful at turning a p!ss up into a receipt for an extravagant meal.
    Posted: Jul 25, 2018 By: Mark T Jones Member since: Nov 4, 2015
  11. Victoria W

    Victoria W UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    8 0
    What is your suggestion then for reducing a company's carbon footprint, when the dairy and meat industries are the number one cause of global warming? And when you read on, there is the case of how many billion animals are sent to slaughter each year. Famers will not have to sell their land for building on, they will be growing more crops and more diverse crops. This is moving into the future and changing times are difficult,
    Posted: Jul 27, 2018 By: Victoria W Member since: Jul 22, 2018
  12. Victoria W

    Victoria W UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    8 0
    I am hoping this will be the first of many companies to do this, and to offer viable alternatives. People find change difficult, but if you can say here is a product that has similar nutritional value,no cruelty but tastes and looks virtually identical why would you not do it?
    Posted: Jul 27, 2018 By: Victoria W Member since: Jul 22, 2018