Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ben & Jerry's Field Trip
Part 4 - Headquarters

Hey everybody. I promised two more posts about ben & jerry’s but as you may have noticed, a month has now past and I never finished the series. As much as I enjoyed my trip, my day to day responsibilities take precedence. A trip like this does make one wonder what it would be like to be a “professional” blogger, you know, someone that actually makes a living doing this. The good news is that I realize I will never be a full time blogger, so delusions of grandeur will stay at a minimum. Ok, I’m rambling already. What I’m trying to say is that I will continue to right as a fan of ice cream, and never as a journalist, that’s just not me.

Thankfully, I wrote some stuff down already, now it’s time to stitch it all together.

Now in my first post I did get up on the soap box a bit and go over some of the aspects of Ben & Jerry’s three part mission. Here, tell me if this sounds familiar. You company’s goal is to “provide the best products at the best prices built by the best people” or some kakamayme junk like that. Wow, ooooooooooo, I feel so inspired, ladedada. You know what I hear “blah blah blah blah blah”. As you may remember, my company was recently purchased and the new owners came in and put up all these wonderful posters everywhere saying that customers are so important and we have the best people and blah blah magic fairy dust blah blah. Meanwhile, we must be burning through 4 or 5 times the amount of paperwork we use to. In this gigantic company, there is not a single mention of the environment or giving back or being responsible. Just squat. Do I know what I’m talking about? Actually, I do. At my last company, I helped our VP of Human Cattle (or whatever he was called) work on a new green initiative that included me actually redesigning our company’s logo to reflect a new green mission for our people. I even have a mug with the logo on it. He put a ton of effort into this project, I did my best to help where I could, but when he went to the board to get final approval… well, we got a new CEO and the company experienced a massive breakup (streamlining) [Update: company is now bankrupt and closed]. Man we were so close. Thankfully, Ben & Jerry’s did not undergo the same terrible fate. Instead they slowly built up there three part mission.

Ok, I don’t want to repeat everything that is said on but let’s run through it quickly.

Product Mission : To make, sell, and distribute the finest quality ice cream and euphoric concontions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.

Economic Mission: To operate the company on a sustainable financial basis of profitable growth, increasing value for our stake holders and expanding opportunities for development and career growth of our employees.

Social Mission: To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally, and internationally.

The product mission probably sounds like your own companies quality or mission statement, but here we have the great tilt towards remembering the planet. Without Earth, we are all in big trouble.

I love the economic mission. Yes, it’s common sense but they live this everyday. It was amazing how many employees had risen through the ranks after starting out as ice cream scoopers. I wish I had a count for you but it seemed like more than a few.

I think the social mission is tough for a lot of companies to grapple with. We live in a society where we seem to have forgotten that it’s better to invest in a quality long term product than it is a cheap piece of junk that will only last half as long. I’m not naïve, I realize we can’t all afford to buy Mercedes even though they will outlast whatever car we can afford, but we still need to plan ahead. My point is that Ben & Jerry’s could easily outsource natural ingredients from some ultra cheap place, but instead they pay a bit more and make it a fair trade. Just because you can get something cheap doesn’t mean you should. I debate stuff like this with two of my buddies all the time. One is very stuck on survival of the fittest. If one company offers a lower price and the other goes out of business, well, it is what it is. We all have bills to pay and kids to feed, but certain people believe (like Ben & Jerry) that there is a balance.

Ok, I’m rambling again, I need some examples: Rob, the Director of Social Missions came in and gave us a PowerPoint presentation on the last day. The great thing was you could hear the passion in his voice. As Jerry basically put it “it’s always sunny in Rob’s world”. What a great compliment. He’s always ready and willing to do the work and make things happen. He gave this great example of a banana co-op that was devastated by a hurricane. He would love nothing more than to just hand them a million dollars, but that’s not possible. Did they give up? Ofcourse not! Instead they underwrote a bobcat to make it easier for the village to rebuild itself. I love it, social responsibility undertaken with a realistic approach to how the world works. That’s why people build foundations and endowments, to help slowly and surely. If Ben & Jerry gave away all their profits, there would be nothing left to build the company. Only by growing the company can you slowly affect more and more people’s lives. I love that simple sensibility and I don’t know why every company wouldn’t want to strive for that. We live in a material world and it’s so hard to remember that there’s more to being happy than buying yourself the latest gadget or splurging on something. I’m not trying to lecture here, I struggle with the same issues, we all do. The question is, where do we go from here?

Ok, more examples, that’s what you need.

So we headed over to the corporate headquarters after our factory tour. It was your typical meeting lunch of cold cut sandwiches, some kind of salad, beverages …and giant cookies for dessert. Now we kept cycling through different people during our meetings and to be honest I forget who came first. What I do remember is that one person brought their own plate and fork which I got a kick out of (something I might do). To make it better, we found out that not just our plates, but our forks, knives and spoons were compostable. Nice touch. So when we were down, our leftovers, plates, utensils all go into a special compost bucket. That’s right, not only are they recycling paper, not only do they recycle bottles and cans, but they are composting as much as possible. Let me clarify that this was not some act either. Somebody had accidentally thrown some wax covered cups in the compost bin and one of the other employees basically said “DOH!” but that they would fish them out later. Now that’s taking recycling and composting seriously.

I’m guessing most of you are familiar with the fact that Ben & Jerry’s has long been opposed to rBGH, and you’ve heard me talk about fair trade a couple times now, but now you can also throw in the fact that B&J are moving to eggs from certified human, cage free Hens. Cage free is good, and then certified human is even better (means more movement room per chicken). These are all little steps that one by one move every process towards the responsible choice.

Ok, sorry, too many words, you want, no, you need, more pictures!

"if it's not fun, why do it?"

Everybody needs a hug now and then

Ben & Jerry's annual shareholder meetings became quite the festival

One of my favorite items on the wall, the Ben & Jerry's hot air balloons.
How cool would it be to see this giant ice cream cone floating overhead?

Donating space to the Americorps DREAM program.

One of several freezers filled with ice cream for the employees to take home.

Ben & Jerry's foundation having a discussion

Well, I hope I've conveyed a least a small bit of the coolness that is Ben & Jerry's. I want to stress that I'm not saying that they are the only company that tries. I appreciate any and all effort that any company puts in to making our world a better place, but I then call on that company to try even harder. Companies need to be open to this kind of thing. Just the other day I asked a green question at work and let's just say I felt very foolish and regretted asking by the time all was said and done. I won't give up though, as the great Captain Jason Nesmith once said: Never give up, Never surrender!

1 comment:

Adam said...

First off, I just want to say that I read your website on a regular basis and enjoy your reviews. Also, I'm not the guy you met from GrubGrade on the trip, but the "other" writer on the GrubGrade blog.

I preface my comments with that little caveat because, frankly, I find a great deal of hypocrisy in the Ben and Jerry's "social mission," and find your excessive praise for the company to be somewhat off-putting. I do not consider myself a health freak fanatic and am largely against attempts by the government to regulate, shall we say, “less” than nutritious options in schools. I also find the classifying of “good” and “bad” foods to be setting a dangerous precedent in our society, especially for young people. That being said, we as citizens hear an awful lot about the childhood obesity epidemic, and see a lot of mud being slung in the court of public opinion and government action at large fast food and food retail companies. Think about it; the cereal companies are demonized for providing cereal with (gah!) 10+ grams of sugar per serving, while anyone who offers a cheap French fry to a kid is decried as a greedy and faceless, we-don’t-care-about-your health company which gives our great institution of capitalism a bad name. God forbig something contain a dietary isignificant amount of trans fat provided by partially hydorginated oil, because obviously the use of much more expensive organic palm oil in a similar product will add year’s to the consumers life.

Ok, I’m rambling. Sorry. My point is that at the end of the day, Ben and Jerry’s may have a great mission with being nice to their employees and using quality, fair-trade ingredients, while all the foodie Obama-ites in our society can applaud them for it. But how come the company gets the pass when it comes to the very real fact that their ice cream is probably the most fattening stuff on the market? I’m not saying it’s not good or can’t be enjoyed in moderation, but it really seems to me that just because they are the “hip” or “progressive” company with their environmental image, they get a free pass when it comes to many of the criticisms that people have of larger company’s that don’t excessively tout their environmental virtues and blah blah blah. Nevermind that the stuff costs double or triple as much, but the fact that a half cup of Ben and Jerry’s has 270 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat per ½ cup (and seriously, who eats a half a cup?) doesn’t garner nearly as much outrage as say, a kid ordering a small fry off the dollar menu at Micky D’s strikes me as the most hypocritical aspect of the current debate in food politics.

I am all for people making responsible choices and enjoying crappy foods in moderation (hey, I look forward to my Dunkin Donut each week and nightly bag of potato chips as much as anyone) but why does Ben and Jerry’s avoid the criticisms of the health watchdogs? To me, it’s a question of elitism and pretension, and like I said, it’s really off-putting.

Ok, that was long and probably fairly convoluted, but hopefully someone gets at least some of what I was trying to convey.