Property firm rolls out veggie-only expense policy
A property development firm is the latest business to stop meaty expense claims in order to reduce its environmental impact.
If employees at Igloo Regeneration want a bacon sandwich, they’ll have to pay out of their own pocket. The property business will only reimburse vegetarian meals and has taken meat off the menu for workshop catering and corporate entertaining.
The firm’s decision to go vegetarian last year was brought about by environmental concerns. Not everybody at the 30-strong business was initially convinced by the environmental impact, but it got an overall backing at an internal vote.
Development surveyor Kate Marfleet told the BBC that the policy is self-policing. "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 company has also extended its green policy to other areas of the business, such as doing away with company cars and encouraging employees to use trains instead.
Although Igloo’s director John Long insisted that "We're not checking the bins," the ‘ethical accountant’ Tessa Hebditch said similar non-optional meat-free policies "would be hard to enforce" and raises the risk of becoming a “nanny state”.
“You should make it clear that you're not going to enforce it because you understand people have a right to claim allowance when they're away. But making it optional with the education alongside means that people are more likely to listen and understand the reasons why,” she said.
As the scale of the climate emergency has dominated the headlines, the environmental impact of the meat industry has come under intense scrutiny. With animal products attributing to more than half of food emissions, plant-based diets are on the up and have been bolstered by events such as Veganuary.
“Being able to eat more sustainably is a great idea,” added Hebditch. “One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the meat and farming industry, but a lot of the pressure has been put on individuals to change. However, if we focus our attention on industries there will be a much bigger immediate impact.”
Is it a mis-steak?
Igloo is not alone in encouraging staff members to swap their steak bake for the vegetarian option. Igloo’s new policy follows a similar stance taken in 2018 by shared office space provider WeWork who banned red meat, poultry and pork from the expenses policy. Enforcing the policy for its 6,000 workers worldwide, WeWork calculated that it would save an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1million pounds of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023.
However, WeWork’s veggie position attracted some dissenters in the AccountingWEB community. Ian McTernan criticised the policy as “stupid virtue signalling”, while AccountingWEB member crebourret said, “I bet they reimburse mileage done in SUVs and other powerful engines”.
Meanwhile, Tom 7000 suspected that these policies were not always environmentally motivated. “[I wonder if the] FD will rub their hands together as subsistence payments drop by 70%?”
Despite these opposing voices, the founding partner of Telic Yogesh Patel sees the environmental shift as a planning opportunity for accountants to help clients that goes beyond vegetarian expense policies. “From 6 April 2020, the electric company car taxable benefit will drop from 16% to 0%. This is a significant step to help businesses focus on more environmentally family transport options as it will also provide cost savings.”
In the coming years, Patel envisions more companies to embrace similar green policies. "Within the next 2-3 years or even sooner, I expect there will be a significant cultural shift in how businesses incorporate tackling the climate crisis within their company culture and values.
“With the UK hosting the UN's climate change conference COP 26 in November, I expect to see more UK companies and the UK government bringing in new initiatives to help us work collectively to help us manage climate change.”