There are few companies that make the list of sustainability leaders, and even fewer who set out with sustainability in mind from the beginning. Ben & Jerry’s is one of those companies, and given that it is a US based ice-cream company, not an obvious product category for environmental and social issues, it makes the company quite a rare breed. Whilst it is unlikely the company would have labelled it as such, there is much in its approach that shows an intuitive application of integral theory.
Unlike many of our case studies there is no crisis; there is no ice-cream specific issue here. Just people starting a business led by their values. Values that have led to an ice-cream business that talks about changing economic models, that talks about peace, that has mission statements like “We strive to show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live.” And perhaps most importantly one that has fun while it does it and communicates it in a way that is engaging and impactful; who else talks about the dire consequences of climate change by reminding you that it will make your ice-cream melt!
Whilst showing a strong ‘I internal’ focus from its leadership, it permeates the culture of the organisation and the way the business runs. One example of this is the Dairy Stewardship Alliance, a partnership between Ben & Jerry’s, the University of Vermont, the State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the St Albans Cooperative Creamery.
The partnership seeks to educate dairy farmers on how to be more sustainable, regardless of herd size or farming style. It includes a module based toolkit that looks at such topics as animal husbandry, biodiversity, community health, energy, farm financials, nutrient management, pest management, soil health and water management, with an additional module on organic farming.
Farmers complete the modules to see whether their current practices are green (best practice), yellow (some good and some best practices are being used) or red (indicating that current practices should be carefully evaluated). The results are benchmarked for their area and farm size and participants are asked to make two changes on their farms as a result of the information.
A farmer exchange programme is also run between Canadian and Dutch Ben & Jerry’s suppliers to share best practice.
The requirement to make two changes allows farmers to make changes that best fit with their current worldview and focuses on changes that appeal to them, again with a strong focus on the internal.
Whilst perhaps this example fits more into the, educate, rather than inspire category there are plenty of examples that take a more novel approach to engaging people in change. For instance, its Peace and Justice campaigns that included a ‘spontaneous’ dance for peace in Miami where people made peace signs in the sand under the banner of ‘Peace, Dance, Art.’ This is further supported by curriculum materials supplied to 3,800 schools in support of the Peace One Day programme.
By taking a strong internal view Ben and Jerry’s has created a value-led organisation that advocates on issues that may not have an obvious fit with its business operations, such as peace. It takes a partnership approach to its sustainability activities engaging with suppliers and customers alike. Whilst these focus on education they are done in a way that is engaging and by including aspects such as farmers’ exchanges allow for more personal insight and transformative change than the usual rule book approach to supply chain management.
© Article 13 - April 2010
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