I am a freelancer in the publishing industry, so words are very important to me. I'm a leftist living in a world gone mad, so politics are very important to me. I'm an environmentalist living in a degrading world, so pick up your damn trash, get rid of your gas guzzlers, and don't touch ANWR, you self-absorbed capitalists!

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04 October 2006

When Combining Values and Profit = Success

Last night we went to hear Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield talk at “An Evening of Social Responsibility, Radical Business Philosophy, and Free Dessert for All”. Sure, you know them: Ben and Jerry. Of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

I’ll admit, I think the girls were mostly swayed by the “free dessert” bit, but they got a lot more than that out of it. Jerry spoke of the founding of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. He kept the audience laughing with tales of their un-businesslike antics. They were true children of the sixties and when it struck them that, hey, they were running a successful business—one of those things that drained the joy out of people’s lives and sucked communities dry (I told you: children of the sixties)—they thought about bailing. Luckily, one of their mentors told them that if there was something they didn’t like about how business is normally run, here was their chance to fix it.

So they did. The guys care about social issues, so they found an organization in New York City that helps the “unemployable” (ex-cons, the homeless) by hiring them to work in their bakery; this is where B&J’s gets all the brownies for their Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. In Vermont, small family farms were at risk of disappearing under the shadow of mega-farms; B&J’s gets 100% of their dairy from local farmers. Ben and Jerry also care about the environment, so they developed their Rainforest Crunch flavor, which uses Brazil nuts from the Amazon rainforest (Brazil nuts must be allowed to grow wild, they can’t be farmed, did you know? I didn’t) plus 60% of the profits from that flavor goes to rainforest protection groups.

Of course, they were forced to sell to Unilever (a Dutch corporation) a few years ago, so buying B&J’s isn’t as strong a statement as it used to be, but Jerry is president of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, which still does a lot of good.

Ben started out as a less fluid speaker. Until, that is, he got into the topics that he really cares about. He founded TrueMajority (a shorter bullet list of their goals is on their Wikipedia page) and is also involved in Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. (Has anyone else seen their red van with budget pie chart in their localities? Or are they only here in Iowa because we’re the first caucus?)

I found links to the two demonstrations he did for us. First, he used giant oreo cookies to give the audience a sense of the Pentagon budget vs. other discretionary allocations. (This animated video looks like it is a bit on the long side, I didn’t watch it since I’d seen in in real life last night.) Then he asked us to close our eyes and he did an audio demonstration on the size of the US nuclear arsenal vs. others. There is a video version, nice and short, that you can watch.

In the end, seeing as it was after 9 pm, and the line for the free ice cream reception was oh-so-long, we left and bought some B&J’s ice cream at our corner gas station to celebrate an enjoyable evening before sending the girls to bed. If any of you watch the videos, let me know what you think.