I recently attended a lecture by Ben & Jerry’s co-founder and fellow Jew, Jerry Greenfield. The lecture was entitled “An Evening of Social Responsibility, Radical Business Philosophy and Free Ice Cream.” Although the free ice cream didn’t hurt (Cherry Garcia, anyone?), I truly was interested in hearing Jerry’s business philosophy. And I’m glad I did.
Jerry began the lecture by talking about the central forces that have led our country throughout history. First it was religion, then it was government, and now it’s business. While religion and government both worked for the betterment of the people, businesses work for the betterment of themselves. Something here wasn’t right.
It was Ben and Jerry’s vow to themselves never to become just another big business that led the ice cream company to become more than simply a profit-seeking entity. Instead of measuring their success based on the traditional bottom line – how much the company was profiting – they decided to base it on two bottom lines. The first being the company’s profits. The second being the company’s contribution to the improvement of quality of life within the community. The philosophy was born, and Ben & Jerry’s became a business on a mission.
With some trial and error, the company soon found ways to be a profitable business while giving back to the community. For example, Ben & Jerry’s has several flavors that utilize brownie chunks. Instead of simply purchasing the brownies from the cheapest provider, the ice cream moguls made a conscious decision to purchase the brownies from Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York. Greyston is committed to employing and training former homeless, low-income and disenfranchised people and their families ultimately helping them get back to self-sufficiency.
Jerry explained that the business was based on a simple principle: We all have souls. We’re all interconnected. And if you put good out into the universe, you’ll get good back. And boy, has Ben & Jerry’s gotten some good! Jerry mentioned that some shy away from the philosophy claiming it’s too spiritual or religious in nature. But Jerry argues that it’s a life philosophy. And a valuable one.
What do you think of Ben & Jerry’s philosophy?
What other businesses out there are taking a strong stand on social responsibility?
Does your Judaism affect the way you do business?