Manchester property firm Igloo Regeneration has committed to being a vegetarian company, and will no longer reimburse expenses related to meat products, it has told the BBC. 
The policy covers workshop catering, corporate entertaining and individual staff members’ snack purchases.
Speaking to Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money, Igloo development surveyor Kate Marfleet – head of the firm’s values team – explained that the policy stemmed from an internal vote last year, in which only a few employees dissented.
She said: “We realised we needed the whole company to come on board, it couldn’t just be imposed. 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 Igloo’s employees work outside the office, the policy is self-policing and encourages staff to take a common-sense approach.
For example, Marfleet said: “If you’re gluten-free, and there’s no suitable vegetarian option, then you can make a choice. 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.”
Igloo director John Long noted: “We’re not checking the bins. The important thing is that we want to treat everyone as a grownup.”
He admitted: “A lot of people thought it was challenging when we first talked about it. We knew it could be controversial internally.” However, he added: “We spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of our property development on the planet. 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.”
Igloo’s policy recalls a similar one announced by co-working brand WeWork in 2018.  In a memo to staff, co-founder Miguel McKinley wrote: “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.”
What should leaders take away from the emergence of such policies?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Some firms already take an ethical stance on expenses in other fields – for instance, by saying they won’t fund alcohol, which certainly sends out a strong message. But what’s really interesting about Igloo’s position is the level of internal support it attracted. It’s impossible to take for granted that other types of organisations would share that enthusiasm, which underlines how difficult these sorts of initiatives can be. All the time, they are presenting challenges to existing practices.”
Cooper notes: “Greta Thunberg and many others have said that the best thing we can do on a personal level to fight climate change is to reduce our meat consumption – but the step Igloo has taken is to say, ‘Right – this is actually beyond the individual. It’s about looking at how we can support the individual in delivering on those intentions. How can we send messages not just to our employees, but to our customers and everyone in our supply chain that we’re taking climate change seriously?’
“They’ve adopted a policy that may present some individuals with a measure of irritation or discomfort – but in the end, no one is going to want for nourishment. People are still free to buy meat products if necessary – it’s just that the company won’t reimburse them. And that will, in the long run, influence workers’ purchasing behaviour.”
Cooper predicts that, as time goes on, we will see many more schemes like Igloo’s. “Leaders who bring such initiatives to the table must recognise that resistance and dissention are inevitable,” she says. “But it’s about holding the line and riding the policy through. That said, Igloo’s impressive level of buy-in provides us with a revealing insight into how there’s a tangible willingness in certain quarters to take decisive action.”
She adds: “Companies are typically so focused on delivering results to their clients and customers that they often forget they are powerful consumer voices, too. These sorts of schemes – which pose no immediate cost concerns – give them a chance to say, ‘Okay – we’ll go through this short-term period of discomfort and change, because we want to deliver on these objectives for the greater good.’”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on integrity