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Monday, September 17, 2018

Strategic CSR - WeWork

The article in the url below covers the decision over the summer by WeWork to exclude meat from its offices. Specifically, the company announced it will no longer pay for any meals that include meat – whether that is catered events in their offices or any reimbursed meal by employees anywhere (inside the office or at a restaurant):
"The company will no longer serve red meat, pork or poultry at company functions, and it will not reimburse employees who want to order a hamburger during a lunch meeting. In a memo to employees announcing the new policy, Miguel McKelvey, WeWork's co-founder and chief culture officer, said the decision was driven largely by concerns for the environment, and, to a lesser extent, animal welfare."
WeWork has grown quickly in recent months and now employs 6,000 employees (aside from the various companies/entrepreneurs that rent its work spaces). As such, as McKelvey noted in the email he sent to employees explaining the decision, the firm can have an impact. What is interesting, however, is that this decision has little to do with animal welfare and everything to do with climate change:
"'New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact — even more than switching to a hybrid car,' he wrote. Additionally, WeWork could save 'over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events.'"
Beyond WeWork, however, the article raises a more fundamental point about values in the workplace. Rather than the company reluctantly reflecting the values of its employees who pressure it to adopt this policy or that practice, it is companies that are shaping the behavior (and values) of their employees:
"In ways large and small, companies are imposing corporate values on the personal lives of their employees. Hobby Lobby has refused to pay for birth control for its employees, citing the owner's Christian values. And the chief executives of companies including Koch Industries and Westgate Resorts have sent memos and informational packets to employees suggesting how they vote. Other companies have tried to prevent employees from using everything from Uber to cigarettes. In 2015, IBM banned employees from using ride-sharing apps, citing safety and liability concerns. (Employees rebelled, and the company did a U-turn a day later.) And several big employers, including General Electric, have successfully paid employees to quit smoking. Scotts Miracle-Gro even has a policy of not hiring smokers, a move it says helps keep health care costs down."
Among this growing evangelism, however, "WeWork appears to be the first big company to tell its employees what they can and can't eat." The article suggests that removing choice is difficult for a company to do. Far more effective is to maintain at least the illusion of choice through the power of nudges:
"… at Google, two of the many cafes at company headquarters tried out 'meatless Mondays,' going vegetarian for just one day a week. Employees rebelled, throwing away silverware and staging a protest barbecue. Meatless Mondays didn't last at Google. But in time, the company made changes to the cafeterias — like offering smaller plates and making salad bars more prominent — that improved employees' eating habits."
For McKelvey, however, this is an issue larger than diet and larger than any one person:
"At WeWork, a company led by idealistic co-founders who got their start with an eco-friendly co-working space in Brooklyn, the move to vegetarianism is a reflection of their unconventional personalities. 'I don't eat meat, but I don't consider myself a vegetarian,' Mr. McKelvey said. 'I consider myself to be a 'reducetarian.' I try to consume less and be aware of the decisions I'm making. Not just food, but single-use plastics, and fossil fuels and energy.'"

More than an imposition on his employees that he needs to apologize for, therefore, McKelvey sees it as his duty to influence their lives:
"As Mr. McKelvey sees it, imposing his values on his employees is a natural part of being a corporate leader today. 'Companies have greater responsibility to their team members and to the world these days,' he said. 'We're the ones with the power. Large employers are the ones that can move the needle on issues.'"
As such, it seems that there is more to come:
"Uncomfortable as the new dietary policy may be, Mr. McKelvey said WeWork is only just getting started. The company is phasing out leather furniture, single-use plastics and is going carbon neutral. In time, he said, the company will evaluate its consumption of seafood, eggs, dairy and alcohol."
Take care
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Memo from the Boss: Meat is not an Option
By David Gelles
July 22, 2018
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final