Meatless Monday—and Every Day—at the Office

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about efforts to cultivate algae as a food source. Proponents of algae-based nutrition point out that 70% of the world’s freshwater use goes into raising crops and livestock. We’ve also touched on the issue here, comparing how much water various types of food—especially meats—take to produce. A pound of chicken, for example, requires 518 gallons of water and a pound of beef 1,847 gallons, versus 299 gallons for a pound of rice and just 34 gallons per pound of potatoes.

Many people, for environmental, health, or ethical reasons, choose not to eat meat.  But what if someone else made that choice for you? This CNN article reports on a company, WeWork, that has just banned meat in the workplace. That means meat won’t be served at company-sponsored events, and employees submitting expense reports won’t be reimbursed for meals that include red meat, poultry, or pork.

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The company, which has about 6,000 employees and operates in 25 different countries, provides office space; its tagline is “We create environments that increase productivity, innovation, and collaboration.”

A WeWork cofounder said in a memo to employees that the company can save “an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds (201.9 million kg) of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.” At an upcoming three-day offsite meeting, he estimates, the new policy will save more than 10,000 animals.

The CNN article compares WeWork’s decision to steps other companies have taken to be more environmentally sustainable, such as Starbucks recently announcing a ban on plastic straws in all its stores (a move that affects customers more than employees). It’s conceivable that other companies will follow suit in some fashion.

Employees’ actions often reflect a company’s mission or goals, either because we gravitate toward workplaces that reflect our own outlooks or because our jobs make us aware of a situation. Here at Forester Media, for example, many of us, even those not directly involved with the editorial content of Stormwater magazine, are very much aware of the implications of our actions as they relate to water quality. We all know, for instance, that it would reflect very badly on us personally as well as on the company if one of us should be caught pouring used motor oil into the storm drain, say. Several years ago a co-worker announced he’d given up his long-standing practice of washing his car in his driveway and letting the soapy water run into the storm drain; he’d had no idea, before working here, that it posed any sort of problem. (I should add, though, that this isn’t an official company policy, and management has no plans to make it official as far as I know.)

What do you think of company rules like WeWork’s meat ban? Is it an unwarranted imposition of the company leaders’ values on employees, or a reasonable setting of company policy? Does it matter how closely the particular rule somehow reflects the company’s business or mission? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. SW_bug_web

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  1. Thank you for covering. I was pleased when I first saw the WeWork story earlier this week and would love to work for a company that takes environmental sustainability this seriously.

  2. “Proponents of algae-based nutrition point out that 70% of the world’s freshwater use goes into raising crops and livestock”.
    Looks like those proponents got no clue on the dire consequences to the ecosystem if they can have it their way and no crops are grown on the face of the earth at all.

  3. I very much applaud WeWork for this decision! There are many reasons not to consume animals, and it is refreshing to see a company support behaviors that are obviously good for people and the environment. Our nonprofit environmental organization has had a similar policy for many years…It would be hypocritical for us to promote behaviors that are counter to our goals and mission. What people do in their own homes (and restaurants) is, of course, their decision…But, hopefully, the good examples set by companies such as WeWork will have a positive influence.

    1. Your presupposition has no conclusive substantiation. “Obviously good for people and the environment”, is an ignorant and biased assertion that lacks any conclusive data. To claim anything different is simply biased. Issues like these have no simple answer that can be neatly concluded categorically. The world is complex with billions of interdependencies and consequences to actions.

      To force free persons into ideological conformity at work, on a legally mandated lunch break, is not only borderline illegal, but ethically corrupt. This has the trappings of a totalitarian regime. Whats next?

  4. ” Is it an unwarranted imposition of the company leaders’ values on employees?”
    That answer is a no brainer, yes it is. I practice vegetarianism for religious beliefs and even I think this policy is a form of extremism.
    This kind of idealism will not serve any real benefit to the intended goal but will not alienate groups and create borders amongst them who would otherwise support environmental causes.

  5. This article was informative. I just got done listening to an Iowa Public Radio presentation on the Mississippi River dead zone. And one of the points they made is that is Iowa produced more meat and less corn and soy beans, the cover crops could be used to feed the hogs and cattle and thus offset some of the farmer’s expense in planting cover crops.

    Every issue has its pros and cons I suppose. As for me, I would never give up my angus burger of my Chicago style hot dog. If nothing else, they keep food on the plates of the farmers that raise beef.

    Thank you for such thought provoking articles.

  6. If we save 10,000 animals from slaughter, they will continue to drink water and have CO2 emissions for many years instead of the 2 years or less to take them to slaughter weight, leading to a great over population of the animals. What do you suggest we do with the animals that are not being eaten because it is banned, but there needs to be population control. Let it rot?

    1. One of many flaws with this whole notion. The article and ignorance of WeWork’s cofounder is astonishing. The analysis and resulting conclusions are embarrassing. The best and most productive food crops come from organic manure. If not for animals crop yields would plummet or billions of tons of commercial fertilizers would need to be used. How much water do you think that uses? How much air pollution created? Energy consumed? Last time I checked, biologically, humans are omnivores.

    2. It may seem that if WeWork’s move saves 10,000 animals that those animals will now need to be cared for over the years resulting in environmental damages. That isn’t how it works. Animals are artificially inseminated in order to create babies. The number of animals killed for food each year is 56 billion – yes BILLION with a B. If everyone were to stop consuming animal products this second, THEN we’d have a situation on our hands where we’d have to figure out the most humane way to handle billions of animals. As demand decreases, less insemination will take place resulting in fewer animals being born/killed. Humans are in control of how much insemination takes place and humans are switching to plant foods more and more. Companies are making note, for example, Tyson now produces a very popular burger made without animals called Beyond Meat. Give it a try – it’s available at a lot of restaurants and grocery stores these days! It’s exciting to see WeWork take a leadership role in this area.

      1. “That isn’t how it works. Animals are artificially inseminated in order to create babies. ” This statement is absolutely false! Per your statement, all animals used to produce meat are artificially inseminated. Yes, some are, turkeys for example, because they have difficulty breeding due to large breast size. As for cattle, sheep, pigs, and nearly all other meat producing animals, except for specific genetic development, they are nearly 90 percent naturally bred. Visit a farm or ranch before you presume to comment on how your food is produced!

  7. Typical rule by the uneducated. Water passes through animals and reenters the water cycle, so we are not losing the water as the WeWork implies. In fact that water is being converted to fertilizer for providing the nutrients to the organic foods they want to promote. Saving on the amount of foreign oil that has to be converted to fertilizer.

  8. It is a company’s right not to serve meat. It is probably illegal to tell employees what they can and cannot eat at lunch. Wework is obviously a very idealistic company, but they are also quite authoritarian in their implementation of those ideals. If ones ideals are sound, people will voluntarily follow. For me, I am eating a beef and cheese sandwich and you will have to talk to my lawyer to get me to stop

  9. Keep going on political activism and you’ll lose many readers – We subscribe to publications such as this to keep somewhat current on new industry techniques and practices, not to get yet another rant about what some very tiny group that get a 8 word headline think is this week earth-ending apocalyptic crisis….

  10. This is rank foolishness and an unwarranted imposition of the one person’s ideal’s on another. Some animals may be saved, others will simply be slaughtered and disposed of because their meat is not needed. That is purely wasteful.The impact on the environment will be negligible. At the same time, more land will have to be farmed, more fertilizer produced to pay for the food actually consumed. In a sense, their decision is doubling up on the damage.

  11. The accuracy of the data on gallons per pound is questionable at best. the amount of water required to raise a pound of beef would depend greatly on the production method, but most cattle are pasture raised and only feed lot fed for finishing. This would mean a steer that produces 1000 lbs usable meet would consume 1,847,000 gallons of water. Even if the water required to produce hay and grain is factored in that is hard to believe. I am not familiar with the amount of water required to grow rice, but corn takes 4000 gallons an acre per day. If the yield on an acre of corn per season is 1000 lbs per acre and the growing season is 3 months then it takes 360,000 gallons of water to produce 1000 lbs of corn or 360 gallons per lb. We grow corn in semi arid regions, but not rice so I cannot see rice using less water than corn. Falsifying data and statistics to support an idealized cause has become to common and too many people accept it as fact.

  12. Although it’s true that protein from animals is more water intensive than protein from plants, I don’t think that a company will promote conversion to vegetarian protein by banning meat at it’s sponsored events or by refusing to reimburse employees for meals that include meat. The latter may actually be illegal if they do reimburse for similar circumstance meals that are meatless. A “my way or the highway” attitude is counterproductive to advancing goals in all but a totalitarian society. If I were a vegetarian, I would prefer to break bread with a meat eater who respected my choice to be a vegetarian, than a vegetarian militant.

  13. Thanks for the article. So many benefits to not paying for animals to be killed for food. Look up undercover videos if you want to see how 99% of the animals are raised on factory farms and killed in slaughterhouses. People can eat all the animals they want after work hours. But, the company may benefit with employees increased health if they cut how some of the meat and dairy. Good move, WeWork!

    1. Again, an unfounded assumption that 99% of animal protein is produced in “factory” farms. I can only assume your research was conducted by watching a video of the worst cases found by an activist. Get out of the city and drive around the country. All those pastures with livestock peacefully grazing produce 99% of the animal protein you’re talking about. Not the 1% shown in whatever video you watched.

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