Ben & Jerry’s: a Role Model in B-Corp Innovation

Ben & Jerry’s is an American company that manufactures ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet. “It all started in 7th grade gym class.” writes the co-founder of the now-iconic Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Their little ice cream store, which started in an old gas station, went on to change the definition of business. The company was founded in Vermont by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978 and was sold in 2000 to Unilever. When Ben and Jerry’s ice cream business started taking off, they decided that, if they could not grow the business by spreading the wealth across the community, they did not want to do it at all. This required a change in management techniques, new metrics, and a new way of thinking about the role and importance of a business in a community. Finally, Ben & Jerry’s social mission, which influenced and was influenced by the companies it partners with, shows how its transformative partnerships make Ben & Jerry’s a values-led company.

Their support for family dairy farms, as outlined in their Sustainable Model of Linked Prosperity, operates on a three-part mission that aims to create prosperity for everyone connected to their business. Some of the more well-known, long-standing examples of linked prosperity include their livable wage policy, ongoing support for family dairy farms, commitment to supporting small-holder agricultural producers by purchasing Fairtrade-certified ingredients, and investment in values-led sourcing partnerships, among other things. Moreover, Ben & Jerry knew from the start that they couldn’t make quality ice cream without milk from quality cows in the care of quality dairy farmers. Therefore, in 2010, the Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy™ program was established to offer a practical framework for understanding, evaluating, and improving the sustainability of their partner farmers’ dairy operations. This shows how a successful, mission-driven business can influence and be influenced by other mission-driven businesses as they grow together over the years.

Their support for family dairy farms, as outlined in their Sustainable Model of Linked Prosperity, operates on a three-part mission that aims to create prosperity for everyone connected to their business. Some of the more well-known, long-standing examples of linked prosperity include their livable wage policy, ongoing support for family dairy farms, commitment to supporting small-holder agricultural producers by purchasing Fairtrade-certified ingredients, and investment in values-led sourcing partnerships, among other things. Moreover, Ben & Jerry knew from the start that they couldn’t make quality ice cream without milk from quality cows in the care of quality dairy farmers. Therefore, in 2010, the Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy™ program was established to offer a practical framework for understanding, evaluating, and improving the sustainability of their partner farmers’ dairy operations. This shows how a successful, mission-driven business can influence and be influenced by other mission-driven businesses as they grow together over the years.

In 2012, Ben & Jerry’s became a Certified Benefit Corporation with B-Corp legal status, which measures and benchmarks the social impact of a company. During the same year, they started the Producer Development Initiative (PDI), which is the process of mapping their whole value chain, starting with supporting farming communities around the globe, and working with them to improve their environmental footprint. Its dairy farmers follow strict environmental standards that get stricter every year, and Ben & Jerry’s helps the farmers cover the cost of meeting these increasing standards. Like Ben & Jerry’s, benefit corporations don’t get special tax breaks. The difference is that decision-making at a traditional corporation is usually focused on maximizing profits for the benefit of its shareholders, and pursuing a public good may be viewed as inconsistent with this motive. Benefit corporations, on the other hand, have expanded their purpose beyond shareholder value to explicitly include general and specific public interests and social causes.

Thus, Ben & Jerry’s is committed to paying all of its workers a livable wage, and their Livable Wage Policy covers all full and part-time employees. They defined “livable” wage to mean the amount needed to sustain a reasonable quality of life, which includes expenditures for housing, utilities, out-of-pocket health care, transportation, food, recreation, savings, taxes, and other expenses. Since 1995, they have adjusted this livable wage annually to ensure the relative value is sustained in today’s marketplace. For instance, in 2015, it was set at almost $17 per hour, compared to the Vermont minimum wage of $13.

Furthermore, Ben Cohen had courage and a deep, intuitive connection to his customers. He was a pioneer of the Benefit corporation, which requires a balanced consideration of the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders, but across all the community. The movement for marriage equality, which now seems to be a solidified societal achievement, was supported by Ben & Jerry’s since its early stages. In the late ’80s, they began offering health and insurance benefits to all domestic partners, . In the UK, they support community empowerment via their partnership with Bob Marley’s 1Love Foundation. In Jamaica, they partner with with Partners for Youth Empowerment, and in Australia, they advocate for the Great Barrier Reef.

Since 2011, Ben & Jerry’s has also partnered with the social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka to run Join Our Core, an international competition aimed to find and help support the best young social entrepreneurs. Innovative businesses with strong financial sustainability and a positive social and environmental impact are invited to apply for the prize. Ben & Jerry’s has a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices by integrating these concerns into their day-to-day business activities. All of the suppliers for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are expected to follow practices consistent with the Code of Business Principles of their parent company, Unilever.

In 2015, Ben & Jerry’s defined a comprehensive climate justice strategy, which includes a self-imposed price on carbon. These revenues are invested in projects and innovative technologies to help achieve their ambitious long-term goal of reducing the absolute carbon footprint of their business by 80% by 2050, which is in line with globally established targets. Today, Ben & Jerry’s B Lab score is about double that of an average sustainable business, while maintaining the $1,232 billion (global sales) business economically healthy, showing that it was not only one of the first to become a model for the benefit corporation, but also that it is still among the best.


Lionel Coezy is an exchange student from Guadeloupe, a French island in the West Indies, and is studying at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Lionel studies in Paris at ESSEC Business School. The multiculturalism of his native island Guadeloupe built the open minded person he aims to be. Therefore, the comprehension of the world as a whole is his top priority.

Photo by Opacitatic from Wikimedia Commons

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