Why this Hong Kong-based Entrepreneur is Encouraging People to Give Up Meat
David Yeung is on a mission. The practising Buddhist and long-time vegetarian is trying to make the citizens of our planet eat less meat. Reason: Raising awareness about the livestock industry’s increasing impact on global warming, and to save Mother Earth.
His prime focus is Hong Kong, which has the world’s highest per-capita meat and seafood consumption (according to a 2015 Euromonitor report). Through his social start-up Green Monday, the 41-year-old entrepreneur, who was recently awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award by the World Economic Forum, has introduced the concept of not eating meat of animals at least one day a week in eateries across Hong Kong, and in over 600 universities in 31 countries, including the US. He has also opened Green Common, a plant-based food store, at seven locations in Hong Kong.
The store offers snacks, fresh produce and staple foods, including Hainan Chicken (minus the bird), Beyond Burger (a protein-packed vegan burger that looks, cooks and tastes like fresh ground beef), and Omnipork by Right Treat (a plant-based alternative to pork). Such is the popularity of the Green Monday campaign that in September, Berkeley became the first US city to adopt the movement that encourages people to give up meat on Mondays.
Research shows that agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide (this is more than the whole transportation sector). “Meat is the new tobacco,” believes Yeung, recipient of Hong Kong’s “Ten Outstanding Young Persons 2015” award. “Our aim is not to create a world of vegetarians but offer a more balanced diet, which has greens as well as meat.”
Why Monday, though? “It’s the start of the week, a perfect time to begin a new resolution,” says Yeung, who’s 90 percent vegan.
After getting a degree in engineering from New York’s Columbia University in 1998, Yeung worked for 1.5 years as a management consultant with PwC, and then launched a software start-up that went kaput owing to funding. He grew up eating meat, but in 2001 turned vegetarian. “I’m a Buddhist. It teaches us about love and kindness. Even when I was eating meat, I didn’t really enjoy it much. So I just stopped,” Yeung says.
Before moving back to Hong Kong, Yeung came across Meatless Monday, an American campaign that urges citizens to give up meat one day in a week. The 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, about former US vice president Al Gore’s campaign on global warming, had an impact on him too. So, one day over lunch, Yeung told his friend Francis Ngai, founder of Social Ventures Hong Kong, a venture philanthropic organization that invests in social innovation projects, if he would be interested in starting something to teach people about sustainable living.
Yeung says, “Ngai was a marathon runner and strict about his diet. Over a period of time, he realized the less meat he would eat the better his stamina would be. And that’s it. It was an instant yes.” Green Monday was born in 2012.
The Business Model
There are four entities under Green Monday. The plant-based store Green Common; the non-profit Green Monday Foundation, which promotes healthy living through public advocacy; the for-profit consulting agency Green Monday Solutions that works with corporations to focus on sustainable solutions; and seed fund Green Monday Ventures that invests in start-ups that work to build sustainable products or services.
“Although we are a social enterprise, we are not much different from a Silicon Valley start-up,” Yeung explains. He refuses to divulge any numbers when it comes to funding. “Our investors include ultra high net-worth Asian family offices, renowned Greater China banker/economist as well as influential celebrities from Hollywood and Greater China, but the majority of shareholding remains with me and my business partner, hence we have not disclosed names or figures on valuation and fund-raised.”
Susan Rockefeller, an environmentalist and Green Monday’s advisor, says Yeung’s work has been revolutionary and can be the game changer. “It tackles climate change and global food insecurity by making low-carbon and sustainable living simple, empowering, viral, and actionable.”
Green Monday’s success can be partly attributed to social media. In May, Saudi Arabian Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, a vegan himself, shared a picture on his Instagram of his visit to Green Common, with the caption, “... Killing it (no pun intended).” It went viral. Yeung believes in the power of social media. “It helps us spread our messages widely,” he says.
The vegan market is indeed opening up. Although the movement is much stronger in the US, it's just beginning to pick up pace in Asia. At present, 23 percent or 1.6 million people are practising Green Monday in Hong Kong. The number of vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong has increased from 130 in 2013 to over 250 now.
He refutes that veganism is just another trend the world is currently enamoured with. “Our food system is flawed, with preservatives, chemicals being present in whatever we eat. Today’s youngsters are aware of this. We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift. Not eating meat is not a personal choice, it’s a social choice.”