Question: Why are cows considered such great workers in the dairy industry?
Answer: Because they are always out standing in their fields.
If you’re wincing from that corny joke, I don’t blame you. I did too when I first heard it, during a group tour of the iconic Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vermont. But the joke, delivered as one of many by the tour guide, symbolised the light-hearted, fun atmosphere of the place. I mean, really, imagine a business that used a cowmobile for promotional tours, and has products (flavours, actually) like Cherry Garcia (after you know who of The Grateful Dead), Chubby Hubby (if your wife gives you some, don’t take it personally), and Phish Food (don’t ask).
This is a company that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And yet, it has a very serious business objective that includes a sharp focus on sustainable procurement.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started their ice cream business in 1978 with a mission to use the company “to serve the common good” as well as to make money. They’ve done both, proving that sustainability is neither boring nor a drain on profits. Just check the company’s website for a flavor of their attitude. As to their sales, Unilever, their parent company since 2000, said, succinctly, in the company’s Q1 2011 financial report, “Ben & Jerry’s did well globally.” Unilever bought the company because of its profitability and its values, which it promised to continue.
Among the company’s environmentally friendly initiatives are sustainable packaging (they use Forest Stewardship Council-certified paperboard for all US pint containers and 100-percent recycled paperboard for the boxes for their US ice cream bars); and investments in energy-efficient technology for cooling systems, lighting, and waste-water management. One of their largest initiatives is in the area of Fair Trade.
Anna Pac, who heads up the company’s values-led sourcing efforts, spends a great deal of time on Fair Trade. All the company’s ice cream sold in Europe will include Fair Trade-certified ingredients by the end of this year. In the US, they will transition to Fair Trade vanilla and cocoa throughout 2011 and plan to begin using Fair Trade sugar. All of that information is on Ben & Jerry’s website, along with the refreshingly candid statement that they haven’t yet figured out every last detail of the transition.
Ben & Jerry’s sustainability efforts blend nicely with parent company Unilever’s own efforts, including its efforts to get suppliers involved. And, they are similar in spirit to those of another well-known food company, Premier Foods, whose group procurement director, Mark Hughes, leads efforts on sustainability in purchasing.
Sustainability doesn’t have to be sanctimonious. It can be fun, as Ben & Jerry’s proves.
Please excuse me now: I’m going into the kitchen to have a dish of “Jamaican Me Crazy.” I’ll let you know how it tastes.
Paul Teague is US contributing editor for Procurement Leaders