At my company, a team lunch involves veggie burgers, coconut curry with tofu, and flavorful vegan falafel. When new employees on-board, we host our welcome lunches at plant-based taquerias and delis. At our off-site gatherings, you might spot employees socializing alongside our pet dogs, cats, or our office chicken, Chickpea.
When establishing my company in 2018, I made the vegan lifestyle a part of our company culture. Being vegan is not a prerequisite for employment, but any meal purchased by or expensed under our brand name must be entirely plant-based. Although not all companies have such strict dietary preferences, we are not alone in our decision to go vegan. There’s a growing presence of vegan workplace initiatives happening across the spectrum of Fortune 500 companies, and what was once seen as a fringe lifestyle is becoming increasingly mainstream.
According to Google Trends, curiosity about vegan topics has doubled over the past decade as more people are choosing to limit their consumption of animal products. This growing interest in plant-based diets is particularly relevant now, as more than half of infectious diseases come from animals, and the coronavirus pandemic has been directly linked to the conditions of animals in wet markets.
While motivations for adopting a vegan diet can range from animal rights, to health and wellness, to concerns about climate change, the reason my company went vegan is rather straightforward: I wanted to do it, so we did. For other business leaders who want to adopt environmentally-friendly policies into their workplaces, pursuing company-wide commitments doesn’t have to be complicated. Also, it has rewards and ripple effects that extend outward far beyond your office walls.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
Personal Convictions Matter
When I was 12-years old, I witnessed the horrible conditions of animals in slaughterhouses in India. At that young age, I made the commitment to stop eating meat. Later in my twenties, I met my current partner, who was involved in animal rights and activism. From her I learned more about the harm that factory farming has not only on animals, but on rural communities, people of color, and the global climate we all share.
Viewing the documentary, “Dominion,” (narrated by Joaquin Phoenix), solidified my commitment to forgo animal products entirely. And when the time came to build a business, abandoning that conviction under my brand’s name felt impossible. If I was going to create a company, I wanted kindness toward animals and the environment to be equally a part of our workplace practice as it was a part of my daily life.
Too often, entrepreneurs abandon their personal convictions under the banner of their brand name. But the brands we build are not only reflections of our innovations and expertise, but of the values that we hold and the future we want to build. I’m proud to know that my company has never spent a dollar of our budget contributing to the system that harms animals, increases carbon emissions, and risks the public health of peoples and communities across the globe.
Company Culture Benefits
My brand’s commitment to plant-based consumption has nothing to do with wanting to change my employees’ eating habits. Many of my employees are still meat eaters, and they are free to consume meat and dairy at company functions, but on their own dime. Our vegan policy has always been explicitly communicated, and for the most part welcomed.
Because when it comes to a meaty lunch or a free one, most choose the latter. Many of my employees have enjoyed exploring vegan dining options. Others have expressed their enthusiasm in practicing more healthy eating habits at work.
For those meat-lovers who have had a harder time mustering up enthusiasm when the delivery guy drops off meatless sandwiches, they always show respect for the company policy. Even if their personal convictions about animal rights are not equal to mine, they are glad to be a part of a mission-driven organization.
Revenue is abstract, but impact is real. Organizations with commitments to causes beyond profit and growth have stronger retention and motivation among employees. It’s also easier to recruit talent, because people care about what impact their company is having in the world. Our clients have also responded positively to our commitments because they want to work with good people who demonstrate strong ethics. In turn, we have been able to attract the right kinds of customers who have ethical standards as high as our own.
More companies are learning that having a social-conscience is not only good-hearted, it’s good business. An individual who forgoes animal products plays a small part in helping the environment, but a company with hundreds of employees who transitions their employee dining room to a plant-based kitchen can make a much larger dent. There are many resources available for companies to learn how to incorporate vegan initiatives affordably, and it’s time for more to start doing so on both large and small scales.
“Genius is in the idea. Impact, however, comes from action.” – Simon Sinek
The Brands We Build Have a Global Impact
As the company’s founder, my vegan policy was my way of acknowledging that in our globalized world, the brands we build become society’s biggest consumers. Corporations and businesses utilize resources and contribute to global problems at a far greater scale than individual employees ever could. Right now, a third of all carbon emissions come from just 20 companies. The majority of the plastics polluting our oceans are labeled with beloved American brand names.
The emergence of zoonotic diseases is also increasing, and with coronavirus, we have now seen in our lifetime the power of a deadly disease outbreak to impact every part of our global economy. Until we make drastic changes in our food consumption–on both personal and professional levels–it is only a matter of time before another pandemic arrives.
Although I don’t expect my industry peers to adopt my company’s vegan policies overnight, I do challenge them to consider the potential environmental impact that even the smallest change to workplace policy and practice can have. Many businesses currently show generosity and kindness in response to crises like recessions, pandemics, or natural disasters, but what’s more important is how we operate our companies in the time of normalcy, long before these crises arrive.
With the economy reopening and our offices returning to full operation, business leaders and entrepreneurs have an opportunity to rethink our priorities and make more daring commitments. We can build businesses that change the world, as long as we make the simple choice to do it.
Why not start the discussion at your workplace over a vegan lunch?
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