Global warming is changing the climate and causing extremes - such as flooding, drought, and fires - which are damaging to both people and economies. It’s increasingly recognised that the western diet is a significant contributor to climate change, as the production of beef, pork, lamb and chicken, as well as dairy, has a high carbon (and water) footprint.
Meanwhile, people in the UK are not eating the recommended seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day, which is a contributing factor to poor health, and a rising epidemic of obesity and illness associated with high sugar, low fibre diets, such as diabetes. Indeed, estimates from the Food Foundation suggest that the typical grocery basket only includes one third of the spend on vegetables that it should do. Public Health England reports that £6bn per year is spent on NHS support for people with obesity-related diseases.
That’s why the Food Foundation, Worldwide Wildlife Fund, Nourish Scotland and Food Cardiff collaborated to launch an initiative to get Britain eating more vegetables on 24 October 2017. Called 'Peas Please', this campaign engaged businesses from the retail, hospitality and public sector, amongst others, asking them to make commitments to make it easier for everyone to eat more veg. This included increasing both spend on vegetables and the number of portions of vegetables sold to customers or employees. Peas Please set the ambition for Pledgers to achieve their commitments within three years i.e. by 2020.
At PwC, we joined the campaign together with our catering service provider BaxterStorey, committing to increase spend on vegetables sold in our in-office Social Co. restaurants from 15% to 20% within the first year.
Working together, we started to promote delicious, healthy, seasonal, vegetarian or vegan ‘hero’ dishes, encouraging our people to try out new plant-based dishes across the UK, in a campaign called ‘Celebrate the seasons.’ We changed the range of food offered, increasing both availability and choice of vegetarian and vegan dishes, as well as vegetable sides. We created recipe cards for the hero dishes so that people could replicate the meals at home. Our aim was to make a plant-based diet easier to access, more exciting and healthier.
Moreover, we engaged staff in fun games that raised awareness of the environmental impact of meat-based diets or highlighted ways to get the daily recommended amount of protein from plant-based food: many people in Britain think they need to eat a lot more protein each day than is actually the case, and most believe that meat is the only way to get it.
Finally, we surveyed staff to understand the profile of our people by diet (meat-eaters, flexitarians, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans), as well as to understand the barriers to a plant-based diet and to test whether people understood the environmental impacts of different food categories.
By June 2018, just eight months later, we hit our target - increasing the overall percentage of fruit and veg purchased to 20%. During the 28 days over which we ran our ‘Celebrate the seasons’ promotion, we sold c.850 vegetarian or vegan ‘hero’ dishes (9% of all meals). Just under 3,500 recipes cards were taken or downloaded from the ‘Peas Please’ employee microsite. More than 200 people took part in the ‘Carbon and water challenge’ or ‘Protein challenge’ games.
As our video shows, the campaign has been incredibly popular with our people. Many different groups within the overall workforce have welcomed the improvement in the quality and choice of vegetables: employees looking to eat more healthily; those wanting to move away from industrialised food; those seeking to adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle; and ethnic groups whose diet is culturally plant-based. The recipes card were particularly well-received.
From an environmental point of view, we’ve been working to understand whether the change in diet has reduced the environmental impact of feeding our people: a high level analysis of sample data indicates that it may have helped cut our carbon footprint by around a fifth and our water footprint by roughly a quarter.
Moving forward, we’ve set our sights even higher, declaring a target for 2020 of 25% plant-based food, raising sales of vegetables another 25% above our year one result, with new initiatives to engage our people. In January 2019, we took part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge, inviting our people to be 'vegan curious' and explore a plant-based diet, with discounted Veganuary dishes available every day in our main Social Co. restaurants.
Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom