Original Post by Steffen Williams:
This week, I chose to look at Ben and Jerry’s. They make some of the best ice cream around which I’m sure has been an instrumental coping mechanism for many people during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Ben and Jerry’s is owned by Unilever. In the 1990s Unilever developed their Safety, Health, Environment (SHE) Framework Standards which closely mirror ISO14001 (Unilever). Much like ISO14001, the SHE Framework follows the “plan, do, check, act” model. The chart below shows the full SHE cycle.
Policy statement: Ben and Jerry’s markets themselves as an activist company. They are big on touting their progressive social and environmental practices. Beginning in 2002 Ben and Jerry’s developed its own environmental management system based off of Unilever’s SHE Framework. As a part of this program, each year Ben and Jerry’s puts out a Social and Environmental Assessment Report (SEAR) where they outline their goals on social and environmental issues and the progress made on reaching those goals. The most recent report available is for 2018. I expect their 2019 report will be available soon.
Significant impacts: In the 2018 SEAR they specifically highlight some of their largest environmental impacts. Namely the annual use of 30 million plastic spoons and 2.5 million plastic straws and the annual generation of 460,000 metric tons of carbon. This clearly is a very surface level look at their environmental impact and they do not really get into other pollution areas they may be contributing to other than plastics and GHGs.
Targets: In this report, they highlight three specific, overarching environmental goals.
Eliminate all single use plastic straws and spoons in their retail stores by 2019
Reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050
Move to 100% renewable energy by 2025
Of note, their GHG emissions goal is specifically designed to be in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aimed at limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius.
Implementation Plan: Ben and Jerry’s has a relatively aggressive implementation plan in place to meet these goals. In order to eliminate the use of single use plastics and straws, they switched to wooden spoons and paper straws. This was a relatively simple fix for them to make. Their GHG plan is a bit more complex. As could be expected with an ice cream company, 53% of their GHG emissions comes from dairy. Consequently, a large part of their plan is focused on this sector of their business. They identify a number of strategies including manure projects on some farms, implementing best practices as part of their Caring Dairy initiative, reducing the reliance on nitrogen fertilizers, implementing no-till cropping, and pilot trials focusing on carbon sequestration in the soil. They have a number of other local initiatives and programs focusing on specific regions of their business which you can read more about in the full report.
Progress: I’d say Ben and Jerry’s plan is more than just corporate greenwashing. At the end of the day, their main concern is still their own business success. However, Ben and Jerry’s seems to have made social and environmental responsibility a key part of their business plan, not just an afterthought or something added in at the end as a marketing ploy. Their sustainability goals are thoughtfully designed and based on the best available science. A quick overview of their implementation plans seems to indicate they have done serious thought on how best to achieve the goals they laid out. Of course, there are certainly areas in which they can improve. I would like to see them focus more on land use concerns and how their dairy farms might be contributing to soil degradation or nutrient imbalances. That being said, by and large they seem to be on a much better track than many other businesses these days.
Ben and Jerry’s. 2019. “2018 SEAR Report.” Accessed May 26, 2020. https://www.benjerry.com/about-us/sear-reports/2018-sear-report (Links to an external site.)
Unilever. 2020. “Eco-efficiency in our operations.” Accessed May 26, 2020. https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/reducing-environmental-impact/eco-efficiency-in-our-operations/
Thanks for providing the Ben and Jerry’s SEAR report. I am shocked it is so thorough and am here to highlight a few other aspects of it. The initiatives in France, the United Kingdom and Australia are very focused on pushing progress in the environmental law system (very political). Why are the only specific campaign projects mentioned in the report all international? Does a company portray its environmental efforts as meaningful instead of greenwashing by embarking on certain types of projects more so than others (for example- source reduction vs. flavor name changing)? Or is the legitimacy all based on having measurable vs. vague targets?
It was interesting to read about coal financing in Japan. What are opinions about a corporation’s focus on reducing investor contributions which is a major source supporting fossil fuels? Ben and Jerry’s helped “Let’s Divest” by digitally amplifying its story to cultivate a larger audience. What may be implementation plans other companies can conduct to join Ben and Jerry’s effort to influence banks? I see a lot of potential in combining environmental management systems of various corporations. For example, one company may be in a more fit position to raise public awareness and understanding of the need for renewables compared to another.
The report mentions collaborating with Pure Strategies and NativeEnergy in order to achieve SBTi targets. Other corporations definitely can benefit from outsourcing these entities. While it’s awesome New Belgium Brewing has the Natural Resource Management team zoned in on sustainability projects, not every corporation wants to devote staff to energy efficiency and source reductions. Taking staff time is a noteworthy drawback of environmental systems (Mugler, 2020). Outside service providers have the potential to accelerate the transition to efficient, green methods. A corporation may be willing to pay someone to take care of projects as long as it’s lucrative. It’s similar to Honeywell settling in the cases of its CERCLA and RCRA violations. Often, a corporation is willing to pay someone else to do the cleanup. There’s a company in Santa Cruz, CA called SupplyShift. It’s a supply chain transparency software that mitigates risk and improves supplier performance. It brings the opportunity to place a company’s custom statistics next to the industry standard and is a shared network for buyers and suppliers to exchange data (Supply Shift, 2020). Are there any corporations our course mates mentioned in other posts that may benefit from Pure Strategies, NativeEnergy or Supply Shift?
Ben and Jerry’s. 2019. “2018 SEAR Report.” Accessed May 26, 2020. https://www.benjerry.com/about-us/sear-reports/2018-sear-report
Mugler, Larry. “Pollution Prevention Act” Online Lecture, University of Denver, 2020.
Supply Shift, 2020. “How it Works,” Accessed May 30 2020. https://www.supplyshift.net