Corporate responsibility could mean meat-free Mondays to Fridays

Does your boss tell you what to have for your lunch? 

How would you feel if they agreed to pay for your afternoon meal - but only on condition that it didn’t contain meat or animal products? Employees at a property development firm in Manchester have been told just that. 

These changes are a development of the company’s wider sustainability policies, which aim to reduce its carbon footprint

Igloo Regeneration, which claims to be the ‘leading responsible real estate business,’ reimburses staff for the cost of their lunch as part of its company expenses policy. But last year, it updated the policy to state that reimbursement would only be given for vegetarian meals. This condition also extends to business lunches and workshop catering. 

The change has been introduced partly in order to reduce the company’s environmental impact.

Development surveyor Kate Marfleet, head of Igloo’s values team, was behind the change, which was put to the vote before being introduced. Kate, who admits she does occasionally eat meat, told the BBC, "We had some justifications as to why it was a good idea, mostly environmental. There were some reservations from staff, but most of those were based on them being unsure of the environmental impact.”

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Igloo Regeneration will only cover the cost of an employees vegetarian meals

Keen to point out that this is not a nanny state exercise, Kate explained that staff were obviously free to choose to eat meat if they wanted to, but it just wouldn’t be covered by the company. They decided against a vegan policy, deeming it too restrictive.

These changes are a development of the company’s wider sustainability policies, which aim to reduce its carbon footprint. For example, Igloo Regeneration try to encourage employees to use public transport by not providing company cars.

While this appears to be a first for a Manchester-based company, co-working space provider WeWork (based in the US, but with offices all over the world,) made similar changes almost two years ago. They provide solely meat-free dishes at company functions and only cover staff food expenses that don’t contain meat. WeWork’s co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the decision came from ‘an awareness and a mindfulness perspective’ with a view to encouraging its employees to think about the impact their lifestyle choices had on the environment.

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Green credentials

No doubt some will be blue in the face at the idea of being dictated to in this way. There has already been an online backlash in the form of negative reviews of the company on search engines. But there is always a line drawn between freedom of choice and freedom to cause harm and should responsibility land at corporate level? 

There are numerous laws in place that dictate how we should behave, and harsh sentences can be imposed for non-adherence. When should the environment be something to which it is illegal to cause harm? And how much responsibility should individual companies take for the environmental effects caused by its employees?

Environmental concerns are top of the list of priorities for many. The vast majority of climate scientists argue that the planet is warming because of human behaviour - with a significant number claiming that eating less meat or cutting it out altogether can have a huge environmental benefit. 

So is Igloo’s policy an important step forward given the planet’s melting ice caps? Is it a tyrannical step too far or should more companies bring in such policies to raise awareness of the urgency around climate change and to reduce their carbon footprint? 

Reducing your carbon footprint? Read: Clothes swaps to kilos - Manchester fashion events that are saving the world

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Read: Big Fix 2020 - Can you fix it? Yes, you can