By Kenny Torrella
In 2013, President Obama formed a new department, informally known as the “Nudge Unit,” tasked with creating and implementing small changes to federal programs that could have an outsized impact. “Nudging” comes from behavioral economics, and its proponents say that reminders, indirect suggestions, and minor adjustments to our environment can greatly influence our behavior.
Now Google, the longtime business leader, is taking lessons from behavioral economics and becoming a sustainability leader. For almost a year, the company has been nudging its employees to eat less meat, and it’s working. Google has teamed up with the Better Buying Lab, a division of the World Resources Institute, which uses the nudge theory to “enable consumers to buy and consume more sustainable foods.”
Google’s health nudges, which have made its employees 71 percent more likely to eat healthy at work, include the following:
- Replacing 50 percent of the beef in hamburgers with mushrooms
- Creating plant-based versions of popular dishes, like tacos
- Giving healthier dishes more indulgent names (e.g., “Korean spiced maitake tacos” instead of “mushroom tacos”)
- Positioning vegetarian dishes more prominently on menus
In 2016, Google also served plant-based shrimp from New Wave Foods.
Scott Giambastiani, Google’s global food program chef and operations manager, told Fast Company that “we need to think through how we can make a better choice easier for people.”
Google’s well on its way to doing just that—and in good company. Cafeterias nationwide have been undergoing a more plants/less meat makeover during the past decade. Take the Meatless Monday movement, for example. Hundreds of K–12 school districts and universities are going plant-based on Mondays. Or consider the American Medical Association, which has called on hospitals to offer more plant-based meal options.
Why the shift toward plant-based eating? Cutting back on meat consumption is better for our health. Generally, eating less or no meat reduces your risk of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
While Google is focused on improving employee health, serving less meat is also part of its initiative to reduce its carbon footprint. Significantly more water and other resources are required to raise and slaughter animals than to grow fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. According to a study published in the journal Climatic Change, a plant-based diet has a significantly lighter carbon footprint than a meat-heavy diet.
Google is no stranger to trying to change our food system. In 2013, Google co-founder Sergey Brin bankrolled the development of the first “clean hamburger,” a burger patty grown from animal cells. Brin supports clean meat because he believes current methods of meat production are unsustainable, and he’s not comfortable with how farmed animals are mistreated at factory farms.
In early June, when President Trump backed out of the Paris Climate Accords, Silicon Valley leaders such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg declared their continued commitment to fighting climate change. They should begin by serving their employees more healthy, eco-friendly plant-based meals. All it takes is a little nudge.
Kenny Torrella is the public relations manager at Mercy For Animals. Image credit: Holly Williams