On Earth Day, don't just turn out the lights -- watch what you eat

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Today is Earth Day. This year’s theme is “Protect Our Species." In Canada, our endangered species include the black-footed ferret and the narwhal.

Big or small, companies can take action to mark Earth Day -- today, and the other 364 days of the year -- by cutting down on waste and injecting sustainability into their business’s daily operations. That will ultimately help our endangered species, too.

But what if businesses, particularly the ones that feed us, considered not just endangered species, but what and how we eat this Earth Day?

Meat consumption is down in Canada, and it’s not vegans or vegetarians driving the trend -- it’s meat-eaters who are quite dramatically cutting back on how much meat they eat. They’re known as flexitarians.

It’s a visible trend. Anecdotally speaking, the meat-eaters among us at Provident consume substantially less meat than we did as children. And there are noticeably more meatless options on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. Fast-food chains like A&W have veggie options, including its wildly popular burger made with Beyond Meat. The Beyond Meat CEO has suggested it’s not vegetarians he’s trying to appeal to with Beyond Meat by making it as meat-like as possible -- it’s meat-eaters.

The details about the rise of flexitarianism contain some valuable clues for businesses wanting to capitalize on the trend as experts advise how we can gradually reduce meat in our diets. Obviously, people want to eat less meat, so food manufacturers, food retailers and restaurants should give them more meatless options. And they’re eating less meat due to concerns about the environment and animal welfare in addition to their health (which presents opportunities for companies that make dietary supplements, like market leader Jamieson Wellnesss).

Raising cattle for beef production, after all, is carbon-intensive. So any company that emphasizes its efforts to combat climate change, and makes a commitment to buy from suppliers who care about animal welfare, will be attractive to prospective customers and clients.

The recently released 2018 Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, the leading global measure of farm animal welfare management, reported that some of the world’s biggest companies, including Walmart and Amazon, are ignoring animal welfare concerns.

But the organization had kudos for companies that were doing much better by comparison, including Unilever and Danone. Both companies have made farm animal welfare integral to their business strategy. In the U.K., Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are also taking the lead on animal welfare by only working with producers who have proven animal welfare standards.

Maybe this Earth Day, with its call to protect our species, we might pay attention to how the animals we raise for human consumption are treated too. It’s not only the humane thing to do, it’s a smart business strategy as well to showcase your supply chain and its commitment to animal welfare. Consumers are increasingly demanding it, after all.