Going Green One Monday at a Time

David Yeung BS’98 and his startup, Green Monday, want to change the world.

Jul 21 2017 | By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry

David Yeung BS’98 wants everyone to do their part to solve global warming and food insecurity—and with his company, Green Monday, he thinks he’s found a way to mobilize the masses.

Green Monday, which Yeung founded in 2012 with his friend and business partner Francis Ngai, was born over lunch, when the two men discussed social ventures and whether there was the possibility of using them to promote social change and sustainability. And the duo, both longtime vegetarians, came up with a plan: to harness the power of social media to get people to go meatless every Monday. (Why Mondays? “You start a new chapter every Monday—once you hear it, it will ring a bell every week and be a natural reminder,” said Yeung.)

“People don’t know that their choice of food, their diet, and the leftovers and the waste have a huge impact on global warming,” said Yeung, adding that the emissions from the livestock industry are a significant contributor to global carbon dioxide totals. But while convincing the world to go vegetarian full time might be a tall order, getting people to commit to a day of plant-based eating, he said, is achievable. The beauty of Green Monday is in its simplicity: “We’re not asking people to convert to a new diet.” When you add in the inherent health benefits people can see and the social-media appeal of posting about your meals, he said, “you have the ingredients for success.”

The idea is to make the appeal “simple, viral, and actionable”—and so far, it’s working.

To date, Green Monday’s program is active in more than 10 countries, including the United States, and more campaigns are set to launch in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, Albania, and Germany. In the firm’s home in Hong Kong, 1.75 million people—or a quarter of the nation’s population—have taken the pledge to go meat-free on Monday, and Yeung said the company is continuing to expand. The organization has been active at Columbia since 2014, and now Washington University in St. Louis and UCLA, along with a number of other U.S. colleges and universities, have signed on.

And scaling up is where even more substantive change lies.

“If you can get everyone in an organization or a group to take a small step, the holistic impact is huge. It’s actually not a baby step anymore,” Yeung said. “What we do as each individual human being has a big factor in either hurting or saving the planet.”

To that end, Green Monday doesn’t stop there. The company also operates three other arms: corporate consulting, to help other firms build their own sustainability programs; impact investing, to start and nourish new companies in the green and healthy living space; and a retail chain and e-tail site, called Green Common, that sell plant-centered foods.

“We try to be very broad and very comprehensive—some people like to call it the Swiss Army knife of tackling sustainability issues,” Yeung said.

Yeung credits his time at Columbia Engineering for making Green Monday possible.

“The best thing [about SEAS and the major] is it teaches you how to solve problems—it’s not necessarily about writing a program or designing software. It’s ‘what are the results we need to generate?’” he said.

And the University’s place in New York City can’t be overlooked either, he said.

“Columbia has the very unique advantage of a global presence. I’m constantly amazed by the network and the wealth of resources this network provides,” he said. “The world is getting smaller and smaller, and you cannot look at it from a one-city or one-country point of view. Everything is connected, and I think Columbia is really in a position to groom, educate, and train a new breed of leaders who have a global view. Our world has no shortage of problems—we need passionate, methodical, and creative people to address them.”

(Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers)