You probably haven’t previously heard anything about a California company called We Work. Based in San Francisco, the firm develops and leases shared offices for smaller firms needing a work space option other than renting their own building.
Like a lot of start-ups, WeWork likely considers itself a forward-thinking, progressive organization, as demonstrated in its policies and work rules.
However, last week a company executive announced that, in the name of sustainability, the firm will no longer serve any meat at company events. That includes red meat and poultry, by the way.
In an email to employees, Miguel McKelvey, co-founder and chief creative officer, informed the staff that WeWork will no longer serve pork, poultry or red meat at any corporate events, and employees won’t be allowed to expense any meals that include meat.
However, fish will stay on the menu, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
McKelvey positioned the move as a way to consume less water and generate less CO2, as well as “saving the lives of animals,” noting that employees are still “welcome to bring whatever food they want to work.”
Which kind of undercuts any supposed urgency about saving the planet by never again eating meat.
Most of the media coverage of the move was laudatory to the point of sounding like what journalists call a “puff piece,” a virtual advertorial, disguised as news, about how great some organization is.
For example, the LA Times treated the announcement like it was a big breakthrough, headlining its story, “WeWork takes the green workplace to a new level with ‘meat-free’ edict.”
After mentioning the (completely mythical) “paperless office” and the use of recycling bins as other milestones in corporate sustainability (as if!), The Times continued its hosanna to WeWork, writing that the company is trying “a new tactic in the push toward corporate sustainability” with its commitment to becoming a meat-free organization.
The article noted that many companies are increasingly seeking to demonstrate their environmental chops to attract Millennials, who (allegedly) place a priority on eco-friendly firms. Interestingly — or disturbingly, if you prefer — these policies tend to place the onus on employee behavior, as the article noted, including such tactics as tracking employees’ printing habits or tying financial incentives to use of public transit.
In all such scenarios, companies are attempting to modify employee behavior by imposing restrictions, and a no meat policy leads the list of such “proactive” initiatives.
Let’s unpack this development, shall we?
A Problematic Policy
First of all, how would the company enforce its no-more-meat policy for expense-account meals? Most restaurants don’t provide an itemized list of everything that was ordered off the menu.
In fact, according to The Times, company officials would not comment about how they might distinguish between a meat and a vegetarian entrée on a restaurant receipt. Undoubtedly, some employees are going to order a steak dinner, or perhaps a trendy tapas choice that contains meat, and then submit the receipt anyway.
Which could lead to uncomfortable scenarios. Do WeWork employees who aren’t dedicated veggies have to lie about their meal choices? Or do they need to become “mandatory vegetarians” who can only eat “approved” vegetarian dishes?
Isn’t it possible that WeWork would eventually make answering the question, “Are you a vegetarian?” a condition of employment?
Such a hiring policy would run smack into fair labor laws and anti-discrimination liability. What’s the difference between demanding to know someone’s dietary philosophy and asking them what religion they practice? The latter would be clearly unlawful; the former, it seems to me, falls into the area of labor laws.
Worse, WeWork decided to allow fish on employees’ mealtime menus. How is that considered more sustainable than beef, pork of chicken?
Has Chief Creative Officer McKelvey bothered to research how utterly depleted the world’s fisheries have become? Or the fact that a significant percentage of the seafood and shellfish consumed in North America are produced in the so-called “factory fish farms” that activists decry with the same disdain they heap on cattle ranchers and hog producers?
Eating fish will not solve the looming global food security threat, nor will it make any company on Earth more sustainable, nor will it suddenly turn otherwise (allegedly) unhealthy meat-eaters into lean, mean pescatarian superstars.
And aside from the publicity company executives are gaining for their ill-advised policy, switching to processed veggie dishes at company events is not going make Earth the clean, green paradise they imagine it will.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.