Ice cream man builds business morals

By the

April 19, 2001

In a speech last Friday, the co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ben Cohen, spoke on the importance of operating morally responsible businesses.

Cohen said he realized he wanted to work for social change growing up in Long Island; he would visit New York City and witness extreme poverty on the streets of Harlem.

“I realized how important it was that I was just born on the other side of a line,” Cohen said. “The only thing that seemed important to me was helping other people.”

In 1978, Cohen and a friend, Jerry Greenfield, decided to create a “community based business.” The result was the first Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream store, founded in an abandoned gas station in Burlington, Vermont.

“Our initial plan was to eventually sell the store and use the money to become cross-country truckers,” Cohen said.

Cohen said business grew and Ben and Jerry’s began selling ice cream in bulk to area restaurants. Cohen said he only wanted to operate the business as a tool for community improvement.

“If we couldn’t grow the business in a way where we spread the wealth among the community, we didn’t want to do it,” Cohen said. Within a year, one out of every 100 Vermont families had bought a share.

Ben and Jerry formalized their commitment to social change by working to give equal importance to economic profits and positive social impact.

Cohen has since sold Ben and Jerry’s, but said the company donates money to charity and has integrated nearly every part of production with helping society. All the dairy products used to make the ice cream come from Vermont family farms. The coffee used is bought directly from peasant farmers, and all baked goods in the ice cream come from Greyston Bakery, an organization in New York that employs disadvantaged workers. The ice cream flavor, Rain Forest Crunch, encourages the production of Brazil nuts in rain forests that would otherwise be destroyed.

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