RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Co-working startup WeWork recently made national headlines when it announced it was going meat-free, essentially forcing its employees to fall in line and eat their veggies at company events – or else.

Don’t expect two of its biggest competitors in the Triangle to follow suit anytime soon.

WeWork logo

As “environmentally friendly” as the new dietary policy may be, many feel that the New York-based company – which plans to open locations in Durham and Raleigh in coming months – has overstepped the mark in the view of some people.

It’s none of our business, say WeWork competitors.

“American Underground is a founder-centric tech hub,” said American Underground’s (AU) executive director Doug Speight.

“[We] provide the best environment for creative problem-solvers to be their best selves. If that best self is achieved after eating a tasty steak, so be it. We won’t interfere.”

Another drawback: It would hurt local business, he said. “We have a host of events throughout the year. We typically use local caterers and restaurants as a way to support them. That would definitely hurt the local economy.”

HQ Raleigh’s Business Development Manager Christie Williams also pushed back on the policy.

“Our team is made of individuals with their own dietary preferences and being strictly vegetarian, even for just a few days, may not be an option for all team members,” she explains.

“While we completely respect their decision, and have vegetarians on our founding team, this is not a policy HQ will likely ever adopt.”

Both AU and HQ Raleigh did, however, emphasize their “commitment to environmental sustainability” and their robust recycling and composting programs.

Local green non-profit also skeptical

 Even Green-To-Go’s Amy Eller, who helped start one of Durham’s first reusable, to-go container service under the non-profit Don’t Waste Durham, seemed wary.

“Meat ‘bans’ are really new, and we’d say the verdict isn’t out yet. We’re watching closely to see how it unfolds,” she tells WRAL TechWire.

GreenToGo’s Amy Eller and Crystal Dreisbach.

However, she admits that she did see “value” in a company choosing not to serve or pay for employee meals that contain meat, considering “the very large carbon footprint of meat production, factory-farmed meats in particular”.

Perhaps a better strategy, she suggests, would be coupling a ban with adequate education.

“Education about humanely and sustainability-raised local meat options would allow these companies to meet people where they are and offer alternatives,” she explains.

One thing her company is definitely opposed to, however, is the use of single-use cups and straws.

“Many other local Durham businesses are joining the no-straw movement,” she notes, singling out Bull City Burger and Brewery, Pompieri Pizz, Bar Virgile, Dain’s Place, among others. “We’re happy to see we’re beginning to hit a tipping point in the mainstream.”

Save ’15 million animals’

 In a memo sent out to WeWork’s 6000 employees last week, its company’s founder Miguel McKelvey outlined the new policy that would see the company no longer serve meat at employee events or reimburse them for meals that include red meat, poultry and pork.

He opined the company, which is valued at roughly $20 billion and operates in more than 20 countries, could save “an estimated 16.7 billion gallons of water, 445.1 million pounds of CO2 emissions, and over 15 million animals by 2023 by eliminating meat at our events”.

When WRAL TechWire contacted the firm’s closest office in Charlotte for a reaction, we were redirected to corporate headquarters in New York. A spokesperson was quick to clarify the policy, stating that “fish is not included in our meat-free initiative”, and that “employees and members are welcome to bring meat into WeWork for their own meals, and members are welcome to serve meat at events they host”.

“This initiative only applies to food purchased with WeWork company money,” the spokesperson said.