Do you wish your workplace catered more to issues that are important to you? You can make it happen, as the following story shows.
Cole Deloye, 25, had just started at Dropbox as a Compensation Analyst. Being vegan and passionate about promoting the benefits of plant-based eating, he decided to revive an existing but dormant internal group called “Vegbox”. Largely on his own, he set out to bring action-packed “vegucation” to his workplace.
Can you be both a vegan activist and corporate professional? And why are you vegan?
Cole: I view myself as a corporate professional who is vegan. I am fortunate to work at a company that encourages employees to support causes and movements openly.
I became vegan for personal health reasons and also because as a huge animal lover, I was enormously compelled to advocate for them. Those same reasons have also kept me vegan. I feel that going vegan was the best decision I’ve ever made.
You decided to launch a vegan initiative at Dropbox, one month after joining the company. How much interest did you expect?
Cole: I expected a lot of interest especially since I used buzz words like “plant-based” and “sustainability”. I described Vegbox as “A new community of Dropboxers interested in plant-based solutions and sustainability.” Besides appealing to our vegan or vegetarian employees, I figured that discussing the environmental angle of plant-based living would attract additional people. Plus, many employees who do not describe themselves as vegan or vegetarian, or even pescatarian, should still be interested in Vegbox.
How did you get the initiative off the ground?
Cole: I immediately started contacting vegan public figures who I thought would make interesting guest speakers. I also contacted the chefs in our restaurant, as well as our head food purchaser, to discuss food sourcing and vegan options. For the Vegbox launch, I asked our internal design team to design a logo, which they graciously did. They also designed placards I then placed at the vegan stations in our restaurant the week of the launch. I created an internal webpage for the group which outlined the mission and values as well as a preview of the year’s events. On the launch day I emailed our entire San Francisco office introducing the group and inviting them to join the Google Group and the Slack Channel. The following week we had our first Vegbox lunch meetup.
I focused on events that would appeal to a wide employee audience. Our first event was a Wine & (vegan) Cheese Tasting with featured the founder of Miyoko’s Kitchen who generously donated lots of her artisan cheese paired with Dropbox wine. Our next two events, also food related, hosted representatives from Memphis Meats and Hampton Creek.
What did you mostly hope to accomplish with Vegbox?
Cole: I had several goals in mind which were inter-connected. One, I wanted to create a community of Dropboxers that live plant-based; identify as vegan, vegetarian or simply are exploring transitioning to a more plant-based diet. Two, our group would help our members achieve a more inclusive and veg-friendly environment at Dropbox. Three, we would raise awareness on the benefits of plant-based living and sustainability to the broader Dropbox community through Droptalks, events and campaigns. And lastly, we hoped to engage with Dropbox leadership and our chefs to adopt more plant-based offerings and transition company practices away from using animal products.
Interestingly, Dropbox already provided vegan options with our free breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, afternoon tea and Friday happy hours so we were already a very veg-friendly workplace to begin with. However, as one of our company values is “Aim Higher”, Vegbox aimed at the next level of progress with plant-based offerings and being one of the best places to work for vegans.
What are your plans for 2018?
I want to continue to host a unique, open invite event each month – usually featuring a guest speaker. Our 2018 line-up includes Beyond Meat CEO and Founder Ethan Brown, Vega founder and triathlete Brendan Brazier, What the Health director Keegan Kuhn and Beyond Carnism founder Melanie Joy. We will have a product sampling and presentation by the Lush company as well as film screenings starting with Okja at the end of January. Our beautiful library at Dropbox gave me the idea to request book donations from various animal protection non-profits. We received many book donations and started a book club which began with reading Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals and we will continue reading other books in 2018.
Another goal for 2018 is to increase our social impact. Each Dropbox employee can donate one Dropbox Business account to a non-profit of their choice each year. Vegbox has a goal to donate 20 accounts to non-profits in 2018. In addition, we are organizing a field trip to Goatlandia Animal Sanctuary.
I will continue to work with our chefs on the animal welfare standards for our food purchasing as well as work with the real estate and design team to make our interior design more animal friendly (i.e. no leather, skin rugs, down pillows, etc.)
I would also like to expand Vegbox to 85 members which would be a 30% increase from year-end 2017.
How does this sort of initiative benefit the employer?
Cole: There are strong benefits to Dropbox. In addition to reducing the costs of our in-house restaurant and snacks by dropping meat, the long-term benefits would be the overall employee health and well-being plus the social goodwill of having a lower carbon footprint and being more animal friendly. Our society is increasingly putting more social capital on animal welfare causes and all companies would benefit from advertising their support of these causes. From a recruiting standpoint, Dropbox would have appeal to candidates that care about health, sustainability and/or animal welfare.
What was the hardest part of this initiative? And what went more easily than you expected?
Cole: As with starting anything new, the hardest part was the uncertainty at the beginning. I had to believe that launching Vegbox was the right move and it would become successful. At first, I encountered some push back and had to adjust my approach and learn from a few missteps.
While I wouldn’t say it was easy to get the speakers to come to Dropbox, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get the founder and CEO of a major vegan cheese company as well as the presidents and founders of two leading animal rights non-profits to come for a talk without compensation. We had never met before and most planning happened over e-mail but they were all interested and willing to come talk to relatively small audiences.
What factors make a vegan initiative at a non-vegan corporation possible?
Cole: Succeeding with this type of initiative requires a certain grit, motivation and perseverence. Strong communication skills are essential as well as a certain degree of tact and diplomacy since you are working to accomplish goals outside of your main role and outside of the company’s stated priorities. It helps if a company has internal interest-based groups.
Being creative and flexible is also key. For example, while my main drive is to advocate for animal welfare, this topic often falls on deaf ears. To succeed, I had to try different angles and figure out what appealed to the masses. Lastly, listening to feedback and even criticism was invaluable for the long-term success.
What final advice would you give to others who also wish to raise awareness about veganism in the corporate world?
Cole: As an employee you can be part of defining the values and culture of your company. Your mission will only be as important to those around you as you make it out to be. People will join you if you give them an opportunity to learn something valuable. Align with the company values as much as possible, and pay attention to how you are perceived. Adjust your approach as needed. Lastly, be creative with word choice and branding. The term “vegan” can be rather polarizing and limiting. I often hear people say “but I’m not vegan” when I ask them if they are interested in joining the group. Plant-based is neutral and people understand the concept of this term. Finally, whether your goals are big or small, you have to get started somewhere so just go for it!