Serving up Social Change: An Evening With Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s

By Marisa Cabrera

Free ice cream and the opportunity to learn more about how businesses can help promote social change drew students to An Evening With Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Oct 10.

Greenfield cheerfully took the stage and launched into his story. He began with the start of his relationship with his business partner, Ben Cohen, in the seventh grade. It was after college that the pair decided to open an ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont.

The idea to start an ice cream company in one of the coldest regions of the United States seems crazy and not profitable. Nevertheless, the two concocted a plan and have since then turned a $12,000 investment into a multimillion-dollar company together.

The way they attained this success was anything but ordinary. By acting on their deeply held morals, the two have gone off the beaten path most businesses take. Their goal was always to make sure their business benefited their community rather than only themselves.

“I think corporations do kind of have a bad reputation,” said junior environmental science and policy major Samantha Berman. She said she liked “the idea of making change and not just using your power for bad things and making money”.

The concept that all people are interconnected has motivated Greenfield’s unique business philosophy.

Like most other business owners, Greenfield said he views businesses as a machine for making money. He has used this view in a different way than his competitive counterparts though. Interconnectedness has caused him to believe that giving back to his community would benefit his business the most.

When they needed more investments to grow, Greenfield and Cohen allowed people of every social class to to invest and make profit, which made their ice cream company the first ever in-state public stock offer.

They soon went against the norm again when they used a national public offering to create a foundation that gave back 7.5 percent of profits. This was the highest percentage of any corporately owned company at the time.

Both of these bold moves have paid off and shaped the company that so many Americans know and love today.

Ilana Herold, a junior environmental science and technology major, was particularly interested by Greenfield’s assertion that “business is the main factor in our society.” She said she feels “[business] is what really pushes people to do things” and recognizes “a lot of businesses are just about profit”.

On the contrary, Greenfield offered the perspective of a business owner who has not exploited their employees or the environment for financial gain. Every step of the way, Greenfield and Cohen have twisted the system and used capitalism to the advantage of those who are usually harmed by it. Their company even went so far as to publicly support Occupy Wall Street.

This was one of many causes Ben & Jerry’s has supported. Greenfield’s belief that “there is a spiritual aspect to business” has also motivated him to put great thought into the sources of Ben & Jerry’s labor and ingredients. Sustainability and social responsibility have always trumped the path of least resistance for Greenfield’s company.

Greenfield closed the evening by stressing the importance of helping others one more time. He insisted that when we give back we cannot help but be assisted in return.

Students walked away from the event with a better understanding of Greenfield as a person and motivation to support socially conscious companies that want to make a positive impact on the world.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ben and Jerry’s Facebook page.

Marisa Cabrera is a junior English major and can be reached at 

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