Whilst plastics have been at the forefront of the sustainability conversation for much of 2018, a quieter revolution has also been happening around food. Millennials are reported to be driving a shift away from meat consumption, with plant-based eating on the rise in the UK.
In October 2018, the IPCC warned that we have less than twelve years to avoid the catastrophic effects of runaway climate change: eating less meat, they said, is one way to help curb greenhouse gases. In fact the EAT Lancet report released in January 2019 stated that planetary health could be transformed if we all adopted a more plant-focused diet.
So, building on our Peas Please pledge, we decided to run a Veganuary Workplace Challenge as a way of cutting the carbon associated with the meals we serve and driving up sales of plant-based food towards our target of 25% of spend by 2020. It would also cater to a growing number vegans and vegetarians in our workforce.
In December 2018, we encouraged our people to be ‘vegan curious’, kicking off with an ‘Introduction to Veganuary’ event which included a panel discussion, a Q&A session and a delicious vegan feast. We then promoted the Veganuary Workplace Challenge itself, directing those who were interested to a dedicated PwC page on the Veganuary website. Individuals pledged to go vegan for January and subscribed to receive an email full of information, tips and offers, each day for 30 days.
We then worked on making sure our people were supported in the workplace as much as possible. We collaborated with our caterers, BaxterStorey, to make sure there was a permanent, plant-based food stand in our London offices (where demand was greatest) and an increased plant-based offering in our regional offices throughout the month. To encourage people to try it out, we distributed Veganuary lanyards which could be used to claim a 10% discount on the plant-based meals in our restaurants. An informal vegan and vegetarian network was formed too, where people could meet like-minded colleagues, and share information amongst peers, including recipes, substitutes for favourite non-vegan foods and places to eat vegan around town.
During the campaign, there was a firm-wide news article with a short poll which asked people their perceptions of the initiative. A more detailed survey was sent to all Veganuary participants at the end of the challenge to understand any shift in dietary attitudes, and to gather feedback.
The feedback from our people was hugely positive; the campaign seemed to tap into a latent demand from our workforce, giving them a way to both take action in line with their values and have a ‘voice’ on a topic that matters to them. It sparked conversation and debate amongst our people, as well as with people outside the firm. Restaurants around London heard about our participation in the challenge and came forward with discount offers for our employees, too.
All this activity was reflected in the numbers: 550 people formally pledged to try vegan via the Veganuary website, and 1,500 people wanted Veganuary lanyards. On its highest-selling day, the vegan dish made up 42% of the total number of mains sold in one of our largest offices, and plant-based dishes made up an average of 18% of total mains sold daily across all our in-house restaurants.
From our post-campaign survey, we found that the percentage of people identifying as ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’, or ‘meat-reducing flexitarian’ rose from 70% to 90%, and most notably, the percentage of respondents that identified as ‘meat-loving’ dropped by 85%.
64% of respondents said they thought the firm should encourage our people to consider changes to their diets. Survey feedback and social media by employees showed they felt a sense of pride in our decision to run this initiative. They also reported health benefits, including more energy, weight loss and better sleep.
Moreover, our Veganuary programme helped boost revenues in our in-house restaurants, showing that commercial, health and environmental success can go hand in hand. As a result, our caterer intends to continue to offer a daily vegan dish in our London restaurants, as well as vegan versions of some of the most popular, regular meals across the UK. This means we’ll be serving our vegan veterans, Veganuary fledglings and vegetable enthusiasts throughout 2019.
Later in the year, we’ll estimate the carbon and water reduction arising from the campaign, as well as reporting on our year two progress towards our Peas Please pledge. We’ll update our website with the findings in due course.
“During Veganuary, I had more energy and better mental health because I felt like I was contributing to a good social cause, even though I took a more flexitarian approach.”
“I loved this campaign. By being more conscious about what I ate, I lost some weight, had more energy, and increased my awareness of environmental issues and my impact on the environment.”
Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom