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Why Beyond Meat’s CEO chose to fight climate change by going into business

November 24, 2020, 10:30 AM UTC

Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life when he was in college. But after a conversation with his dad, he realized that the biggest problem facing the world was climate change, and that the contributions made by a musician or doctor in an environmentally unstable world would be weakened.

Once he determined the problem he wanted to solve, he wasn’t quite sure of the best way to address it. He started his career at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, then worked at Ballard Power Systems, a hydrogen fuel-cell company. 

“I learned in that process about how to attack a global problem, and the type of infrastructure you need if you’re going to use technology to solve problems,” Brown says on the latest episode of Leadership Next.

He ultimately found the pace of change in both government and the nonprofit sector to be too slow. Meanwhile, over the years, he had learned about livestock and the role it plays in climate change, natural resource use, and conservation, as well as the role that animal protein has in widespread human medical issues including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. So he chose to focus on creating plant-based meats in the private sector. 

The goal, he explains, is to make a product that not only is indistinguishable from animal protein, but also is better for you and cheaper than traditional meat. But creating the product has been less of a challenge than getting people to build it into their diets. 

“We do have our work cut out for us,” he says around the nine-minute mark of the episode. “The thing that I got clear on very early on was, you’re not going to browbeat or moralize your way to this issue. People don’t want to hear it.” 

Right now, to convince people to add Beyond products to their grocery lists and takeout orders, the company is focusing on marketing using athletes such as DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. It’s also pushing the trademarked “Eat what you love” slogan, rather than using dietitians or scientists to persuade consumers. And it’s working. The company’s stock is up despite the coronavirus pandemic battering many parts of the food industry. 

To hear about Brown’s approach to investment in China and his views on competition (“a great thing as long as I’m winning”), listen to the rest of the episode where you get your podcasts.