Ben & Jerry’s co-founder emphasizes spirituality in business

Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s, spoke at Van Meter Hall on Monday night as part of the WKU Cultural Enhancement Series. Greenfield signed his new book, Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip, distributed ice cream and shared thoughts on entrepeneurship and business philosophy.


Co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Jerry Greenfield, spoke on the spiritual and humanistic sides of business during his presentation Monday night.

“Spirituality in business isn’t your normal business rap,” Greenfield said. “Ben & Jerry’s seeks to redefine the bottom line of business.”

Greenfield spoke to a crowd of around 200 WKU students, faculty, and community members in Van Meter Hall at 7:30 p.m.

David Lee, dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters, introduced Greenfield, calling the Ben & Jerry’s corporation “one of the least conventional success stories” of our time.

Greenfield opened his presentation with the background story on how the company got started. He spoke about meeting his business partner, Ben Cohen, for the first time in a junior high gym class, and the evolution of their friendship.

By the time post-college living rolled around, “Ben and I were essentially failing at everything we tried to do,” Greenfield said.

The two men decided that they would go into business together, picking ice cream because they both loved food. They learned ice-cream making from a $5 correspondence course offered by Penn State.

“We finally found an education type suited to our unique learning styles,” Greenfield laughed.

After settling on Burlington, Vt., as their store’s location, Ben & Jerry’s slowly took off, thanks to some of Cohen’s promotional tactics. Greenfield and Cohen’s business became so popular that the Haagen-Dazs ice cream company began threatening to pull their product from distributors if distributors continued to carry Ben & Jerry’s product, Greenfield said.

Thus began the company’s first foray into activism.

“We just knew that what they were doing had to be illegal,” Greenfield said.

The duo campaigned for their company, selling shirts, bumper stickers, and handing out leaflets to boost awareness of Haagen-Dazs’s action.

“We even took out a small ad in ‘Rolling Stone’ that said ‘Help two hippies fight the corporate giants,’” Greenfield said. “It was awesome.”

It was shortly after their campaign to save the company that Cohen and Greenfield realized business was more than making a profit. Since then, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has become “not just about money made, but improving the quality of life for our customers.”

“There’s this spiritual aspect to business we forget about,” Greenfield said. “As you give, you receive back. For some reason, we take that part out of business.”

Currently, the Ben & Jerry’s foundation takes 7.5 percent of their profit and gives it to various organizations, ranging from education to environmental protection.

Greenfield admitted that the new business plan wasn’t fool proof.

“The idea sounds all nice and warm and fuzzy, but when you really think about it, it’s kind of impossible because that’s the way we’re conditioned to think of business,” Greenfield said. “They’re around to make money, not give it away.”

He said that implementing a socially-responsible business module was a “process of innovation.”

“It’s like new ice cream flavors,” he said. “You’ve heard the adage ‘Many are called, few are chosen?’ Well, we like to say ‘Many are cold, few are frozen.’ And that’s how it was with some of our business ideas.”

Greenfield’s presentation ended with a question-and-answer session. The first question asked was one on the minds of many: “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?”

“[Stephen Colbert’s] Americone Dream, no doubt,” Greenfield said. “It’s got the ice cream cone pieces and chocolate. So good.”

Other questions centered on the company’s uniquely activist stance, including a discussion about “Happily Ever After,” a renamed flavor in support of marriage equality.

Lee said he enjoyed Greenfield’s non-traditional approach to business.

“I thought he had challenging ideas,” Lee said. “There was real, contemporary significance in what he said, which is what part of what we want for this series.”

Greenfield’s presentation is a part of PCAL’s Cultural Enhancement Series, which is responsible for bringing in cultural figures and giving students a chance to be personable with them. Following Greenfield’s speech, there was a book signing and photo op, where students could ask even more questions and meet him face to face. There was also free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream given away to attendees.

Freshmen Caitlin Wilson and Rachael Jones “loved” Greenfield’s speech.

“He’s my hero,” Wilson said, pulling up a picture on her iPad of her and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt. “This is a huge day for me.”

Jones thought the speech was “very interesting.”

“He was definitely not boring, like most presentations are boring, and it caught my attention,” Jones said.