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Plant-based food at PwC

Setting the scene

Greenhouse gas emissions are changing our climate, causing extreme weather events and impacting people, ecosystems and economies. The IPCC warned in August 2021 that “climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying”, and the Glasgow Climate Pact, developed at COP26, reiterated that limiting warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid, deep and sustained” emissions cuts.

The volume of meat in the western diet is a significant contributor to climate change because the production of meat and dairy has a high carbon (and water) footprint. The EAT Lancet report, released in January 2019, stated that planetary health could be transformed if we all adopted a more plant-focused diet. The UK Committee on Climate Change recognises this and recommends policy to influence dietary choices towards more plant-based food as one way to help achieve net zero emissions.

Meanwhile, people in the UK are not eating the seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day that medical experts recommend, contributing to a rising epidemic of obesity and associated illnesses. Indeed, analysis by the Food Foundation shows that the typical grocery basket only includes one third of the spend on vegetables needed to form a healthy diet, whilst Public Health England reports that the NHS spend £6bn per year supporting people with obesity-related diseases1.

In 2017 the Food Foundation and Worldwide Wildlife Fund launched an initiative to get UK citizens to eat better. Called 'Peas Please', this campaign engaged organisations across all sectors, asking them to commit to making it easier for everyone to eat more vegetables.

What we did

I'm taking part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge #VeganuaryWorkplaceChallenge

At PwC, we joined the Peas Please campaign, together with our on-site catering service provider, committing to increase spend on vegetables sold in our in-office restaurants from 15% to 20% within the first year, and to 25% by 2020.

In the first year, we focused on building awareness and interest. We promoted delicious, healthy, vegetarian or vegan ‘hero’ dishes in a campaign called “Celebrate the seasons”. We shared recipe cards so people could replicate the meals at home, and we ran lunchtime games for our people to improve their understanding of the connection between plant-based diets and environmental issues.

Subsequently, we’ve concentrated on directly encouraging our people to choose more plant-based options and we signed up for the Veganuary Workplace Challenge, becoming the first major employer to promote the challenge to their people. Veganuary is a charity aiming to support and inspire people to try a vegan diet for 31 days each January and beyond.

We run a campaign each year, centred around Veganuary, inviting people to “Be vegan curious” while encouraging them to “Join the Veganuary movement”. Alongside firm-wide communications and an active social media presence, we provide information, tips and offers around plant-based eating, and have established an informal online vegan and vegetarian community where people can connect with like-minded colleagues and share their experiences with plant-based food.

Our annual Veganuary campaigns have served to ignite, and subsequently boost, our people’s interest in plant-based diets. Consequently our caterers have transformed their everyday offering through:

  • Training chefs to rethink recipes to include more vegetables
  • Show-casing meat-free options on menus
  • Signposting plant-based options well, making them front and centre
  • Doubling up, providing plant-based equivalents for popular dishes as easy alternatives
  • Labelling vegan and vegetarian dishes clearly and consistently
  • Offering incentives, especially during promotional periods, to encourage people to try plant based meals
  • Creating plant-based food ‘theatre’, with pop up stands to generate interest

The Covid pandemic has seen our people working from home for extended periods, but we’ve remained committed to the overarching goal of supporting them to adopt more climate friendly and healthier diets. We’ve provided inspiration and practical tips for cooking plant-based dishes, reducing food waste and growing veg at home as part of a new ‘Sustainable Living at Home programme’. And, as our people started to return to work, we ensured that plant-based options remained prominent among a number of catering innovations in our offices.

Making a difference

By February 2020, just before the Covid lockdowns began, we had achieved our initial target and increased the percentage of spend on vegetables in our restaurants to 25%, up from 15% in 2017.

As our video shows, the campaign has been popular with our people, who have welcomed the improvement in the quality and choice of healthy meals, and the opportunity to take action in line with their values - whether health-related, environmental, or cultural.

We’ve seen a real shift in attitudes towards plant-based food. A 2020 survey of our people showed that the number who identified as ‘meat-loving’ reduced by 76%, those who identified as vegan or vegetarian increased by 35%, and flexitarians, who previously made up nearly half of participants, increased by 28%. The campaigns also sparked conversation and debate amongst our workforce as they found a ‘voice’ on a topic that matters to them.

We’re confident we’ve reduced the associated environmental footprint too, given that the carbon emissions associated with vegetables is roughly 90% less than an equivalent weight of beef, 80% less than cheese and 70% less than chicken, for instance2. And it’s a similar picture for water consumption (80%, 70% and 10%, respectively)3.

The 2021 Veganuary Workplace Challenge fell during the Covid related lockdowns, with the vast majority of our people working from home. This presented an opportunity to offer virtual support: working with our caterers to produce a plant-based cook-along video series; holding livestreams sessions with a head chef; and running competitions and social media challenges to build camaraderie. We received great feedback with 92% of participants telling us that they’d “love to take part again” and others commenting that they “really enjoyed the challenge and the positivity at a really challenging time”.

We’ve since continued to promote plant-based eating through our commitment to Count Us In, where we’re encouraging our people to pledge to take some of the most effective steps that can reduce carbon pollution. One of the most popular steps our people have signed up to is to ‘Eat more plants’, showing engagement with the issue.

Building on our successes and learnings throughout the Peas Please initiative, and in the spirit of PwC’s worldwide commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2030, we'll continue to embed plant-based food into our catering propositions to help our people establish new habits that can enhance their wellbeing, and accelerate the transition to a more climate and nature positive economy.

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[1] Source: Public Health England. Health matters: obesity and the food environment,
www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-obesity-and-the-food-environment/health-matters-obesity-and-the-food-environment--2
[2] Source: Clune et al., “Systematic review of greenhouse gas emissions for different fresh food categories”, 2017 – LCA database, by country
[3] Source: Water Footprint Network, www.waterfootprint.org/en/resources/waterstat/product-water-footprint-statistics/

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Bridget Jackson

Bridget Jackson

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom

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