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Will Coggin: Corporate food police an unappetizing idea

August 5, 2018 GMT

Once confined to the domain of self-righteous Twitter users, virtue signaling has gone corporate. International real-estate giant WeWork has issued an edict proclaiming the company will no longer reimburse its 6,000 employees for meals containing meat. In addition, meat is officially off the menu at all future WeWork corporate events.

What’s WeWork’s beef with meat? According to its billionaire CEO’s memo announcing the policy, “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact.”

The claim is dubious. According to the EPA’s data, animal agriculture only accounts for 4 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s humor this newfound corporate philosophy of policing what employees eat in the name of saving the environment. What else could corporate nannies do?


Along with banning meat from the cafeteria, they can ban plastic straws, as Starbucks has just done. Never mind that Starbucks is replacing straws with lids that use more plastic, or that straws account for 0.2 percent of all plastic waste in the ocean, or that the vast majority of plastic waste in the Pacific comes from Asian countries. This is about corporate execs signaling how socially responsible they are.

And if that requires employees to use sippy cups, so be it.

Moving on from the lunchroom, transportation accounts for vastly more greenhouse gas emissions- 27percent - than the food we eat.

Using WeWork’s logic, corporate bosses could stop reimbursing employees for using taxis and Ubers on business trips. Employees can take public transportation to their important client dinners. Similarly, companies can dis-incentivize workers from driving to work. Who doesn’t like a good bike ride in July or January?

In fact, why shouldn’t corporate execs stop reimbursing employees for flights altogether? Let’s get serious about teleconferencing. (They’ll exempt their private jets, of course.) Yes, flying is convenient, and face-to-face meetings are often important but we’re talking about saving the Earth, here.

An even bigger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation is energy, which accounts for 31 percent of emissions. There’s lots of room here for corporate busybodies to tell employees what to do.

For starters, employees can work with the lights dimmed. Second, the A/C and heating can be drastically reduced. And on business trips, why stay in hotels when one can sleep in a company-issued hemp tent?


Of course, greenhouse gas emissions are just one environmental issue. Corporations could take a stand on water usage, too. Employee showers at the company gym will be limited to 2 minutes. And, of course, there’s the issue of water use in the bathroom. The new, eco-friendly corporate policy will be “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” Nothing will welcome visitors to your office like the uric smell of doing good for the environment.

To see just how frivolous policies such as policing employee’s meals are, consider this: WeWork manages 10 million square feet of shared office space across the globe, which has a far larger environmental impact than a juicy steak dinner. If WeWork was truly serious about environmental impact, it would close its doors.

The world’s richest 10 percent produce half of all carbon emissions; while his employees can’t charge BLTs to the office, the billionaire co-founder of WeWork is building a multi-million dollar house on a mountain in Utah.

Company policies need to be grounded in reality, or they run the risk of imploding. There are obviously sane policies that companies can adopt to improve efficiencies (often while saving costs) that are not intrusive or Big Brother-ish. But just as companies are constantly pestered with asinine shareholder resolutions from environmental and animal-rights activists, so too can corporate social responsibility departments go too far.

Not long ago, politicians such as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to legislate what size of soda people were allowed to buy and rightfully faced ridicule.

Companies that think they can micromanage their employees with feel-good policies will only wind up with egg on their face.

Will Coggin is research director at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that describes itself as protecting consumer choice.