The Plant-Based Workplace   by Gigi Carter


The Business Case for a Plant-Based Workplace

I spent most of my career in business with Fortune 500 companies before entering the health and wellness space.  Consequently, I understand that most companies deem improving profit margins and environmental sustainability as top priorities.  How can companies effectively accomplish both with one change? The answer is simple: by implementing a plant-based workplace.

Improving profit margins and improving productivity can be accomplished by lowering healthcare costs and having a healthier workforce.  It has been covered ad nauseum in the news about how healthcare costs continue to rise at the same rate as chronic diseases – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, among others. This cost increase has been outpacing inflation for several years and is not sustainable. Numerous studies (including randomized, controlled trials as well as epidemiological studies) demonstrate that a dietary pattern consisting of whole plant foods is associated with a lower body mass index (a common measure for obesity), as well as reduced prevalence in and risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and many other diseases. In fact, adoption of a whole-food, plant-based diet has been shown to reverse certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Improvements in employee health can also reduce presenteeism, which improves productivity and adds more money to the bottom line.

What about environmental sustainability? Animal agriculture is wreaking havoc on this planet, and with the massive deforestation movements that have been taking place in tropical rainforests, it has become a serious threat to and influencer of climate change and species biodiversity. Researchers Michael Clark and David Tilman published a meta-analysis that compiled several lifecycle assessment impact analyses and looked at the differences between animal foods and plant foods in terms of greenhouse gases, land use, energy use, acidification potential and eutrophication potential. Below is a graph summarizing the findings based on serving size of food types. Clearly, plant foods leave a lighter footprint and are more sustainable if one considers the growing population.

A graphic showing the environmental impact of animal versus plant based foods.

Beyond the business case for adding profits and reducing the environmental impact, implementing measures for a plant-based workplace has a multiplier benefit of improving health outcomes for employees, thus adding years and quality to their lives.  When caring about the well-being of one person who is helped by reversing his diabetes through whole-food, plant-based nutrition, his family and loved ones (to whom they are also caregivers) benefit, as well as his co-workers and the customers who depend on him.

Engaging employees to be a part of this change will create momentum and make it stick. Engaging employees requires inspiring those from multiple generations by painting a vision and mission that is connected to a higher social purpose. The vision and purpose are best communicated by letting employees know why it is important to transition to a plant-based workplace.  Giving employees multiple reasons to care will inherently engage them in a holistic manner, unleashing the power of employees from all generations and resulting in successful change.