How would you feel if your expenses were declined because your meal contained meat?
That’s the situation at property developers Igloo Regeneration, where all corporate entertaining, workshop catering and even staff expenses must now be vegetarian if staff wish to be reimbursed.
Development surveyor Kate Marfleet, 28, is head of the firm’s values team and persuaded staff to go vegetarian last year, to reduce its environmental impact. The idea was put to an internal vote and passed, with a few dissenters.
“We realised we needed the whole company to come on board, it couldn’t just be imposed,” she says.
“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.”
As many of the 30-strong company regularly work outside of the office, the biggest impact has been on meal expenses.
But the policy is self-policing and Ms Marfleet says employees should be able to make their own decisions based on their dietary requirements.
“If you’re gluten-free and there’s no suitable vegetarian option, then you can make a choice,” she says.
“And if you are somewhere where there is no vegetarian option, then obviously you shouldn’t starve. Even if you decided you really wanted a bacon sandwich, then that’s fine, but the company won’t pay for it.”
The property developer is not the first company to bring in a rule about meat products. In 2018, shared office space provider WeWork told staff it would no longer reimburse them for meals containing poultry, pork and red meat.
WeWork cited research suggesting going vegetarian was “one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact” and estimated its change would save 16.6 million gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions and 15,507,103 animals over five years.
However, the UK’s TUC trade union body said at the time that employees “should not be left out of pocket if they choose to eat meat”.
Mark McWilliams, senior associate in law firm Kingsley Napley’s employment team, says Igloo Regeneration’s meat free policy “may raise a few eyebrows” but that “a dynamic workforce is more likely to be inspired by it than to complain about it”.
He added: “I would certainly be concerned about discrimination if an employer was not providing food for their vegetarian staff.”
‘We knew it was controversial’
“We’re not checking the bins,” said Igloo director John Long. “The important thing is that we want to treat everyone as a grown-up. A lot of people thought it was challenging when we first talked about it. We knew it could be controversial internally.”
Igloo says it is the country’s “leading responsible real estate business”, and he thinks its internal policies should reflect that.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of our property development on the planet,” he says. “We invest a lot of time thinking about sustainability and we’ve been thinking about carbon for 20 years. About six months ago, we thought we ought to look at ourselves rather than just our projects.”
The firm also encourages employees to use trains wherever possible and doesn’t provide company cars. There are hopes going veggie may also make it more attractive to the next generation of environmentally minded employees.
“I think my generation and my friends are really drawn towards employers that they feel reflect their values,” says Ms Marfleet. “This is one way of doing that. I don’t think someone would think, ‘That company is vegetarian, so I will go there.” But it’s a reflection of the culture. It would feel wrong as an environmental company to sit down and all eat a steak for lunch.”
The possibility of going one step further and becoming vegan was raised, but employees felt it was “too restrictive”. And despite introducing the policy, Ms Marfleet herself is not vegetarian outside of work. “I almost am,” she says. “I eat meat probably once every 10 days.
“It certainly sparked a lot of internal conversation about food and particularly as a younger person, it’s interesting to have conversations with our older colleagues who say they are now eating a lot less meat at home as well.
“I think it’s the right thing, it’s about encouraging people to make small, positive changes. Eating less meat is one of them,” she says.
- Listen to an interview with Kate Marfleet and the rest of the business news by downloading the BBC Radio 5 Live Wake Up To Money podcast