Jerry from Ben & Jerry’s talks about Climate Justice

Ben and Jerry's

Last month, we interviewed Jerry Greenfield, Co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, about issues and values important to Ben & Jerry’s. Here’s the interview:

Why is climate justice important to you?

It is important for us as an organization because it’s aligned to our Social Mission which states that we must actively recognize the role that we play, as a business, to innovate ways to improve the quality of life. Just a few months ago Ben, I, and dozens other from our company participated in the Climate Change march in New York city to show our support around climate justice. I know people working in the Social Mission department and our Marketing team are working hard to make an impact around the climate issue this coming year.

Ben and Jerry’s has an impressive sustainability programme, do you think more companies should lead by example?

We do what we do because it feels like the right thing for us at Ben & Jerry’s. It’s great if all businesses can incorporate an awareness to be able to measure their success by more than simply a financial yardstick at the end of the day. There are so many ways that businesses can be supportive and helpful in society, which in turn is a good thing for them. We’re impressed by businesses like the Body Shop and Patagonia who have displayed that you can include a greater focus and still be a very profitable business.

What can smaller companies do to improve their footprint?

Little things do matter! Working to educate your employees can make a difference not only at their work but also in their lives outside of work. At Ben & Jerry’s it was our line workers who really took the initiative to challenge us as an organization to include a better model of operation within a sustainable framework. They were the ones who saw how much cardboard there was, and how much ice cream was washed down the drain. They were innovative to come up with ideas to turn the cardboard into a reusable source for another business, and to use the ice cream waste back then to feed pigs on a farm in Vermont. Those early actions helped frame the future for Ben & Jerry’s to make sustainability part of our DNA.

If you could fix one problem for the planet, such as the melting arctic, the loss of diversity or the loss of rainforests, what would it be?

It’s a really big scope, and there’s so much to do. In 2014 we focused much of our energy on our sourcing practices, specifically transitioning to fully source Fairtrade ingredients, and non-genetically modified ingredients in the U.S. In 2015 we won’t give up on those projects, but we’ll try to have a much bigger impact on the climate justice issue with our actions. I don’t know that we have the luxury to choose just one project!

Has your sustainability programme increased your customer loyalty? Is it something people think about when buying ice cream?

Honestly, we don’t really use the word “sustainable” that much, or hardly at all. We talk more about being “values-led” or Mission driven. For us, it’s more about trying to live up to that mission. How do we help support the global community? How do we lessen our impact on the environment? It’s not that we do these things to gain a label of sustainability. Often we have to dive into the deep end of the pool before we have all the details figured out, like we did with Fairtrade. But when it’s important enough to you, you follow your gut – because you know it’s the right thing to do – and you make adjustments along the way. Most of the research we see indicates that only a 1/3rd of our fans really know the full impact we try to make with our business. Another third know we are a “good business” but can’t really tell you anything more specific than that. Again, we don’t choose to act as a values-led business as a marketing angle – so we don’t mind hearing those statistics. We do what we do because we know it’s the right thing to do ~ not as a marketing tool.

Do you visit your caring dairies and have you ever milked a cow?

I have to say I have never milked a cow. As a matter of fact, it’s a good thing that our business doesn’t rely on my farming expertise! We’ve got good people in place who’ve been working for us for a long time who manager our Caring Dairy programs, who DO roll their sleeves up, put on their rubber boots and get out there on the farms to see where we can be helpful. It’s an industry that we’ve been indebted too for a long time. We’ve worked with our local cooperative for many years on everything from paying the farmers a premium NOT to use bovine growth hormone here in the U.S. - to looking at increasing the farmers’ ability to be sustainable and look holistically at their operations. We know excellent quality dairy is a big difference for our product and we try to be a good partner to our dairy suppliers.

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