Ben & Jerry’s: If it’s melted, it’s ruined!

Ben & Jerry’s takes action to keep our world cool enough for ice cream!

Ben & Jerry’s: A Long History of Corporate Sustainability 

Ben & Jerry’s company ethos is embodied by the title of its founders’ 1998 book: “Doing well by doing good.” A core part of Ben and Jerry’s business and operating model is centered around the company’s social mission and brand integrity.  For instance, when Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000, one unique aspect of the deal was that an independent Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors would be created to help maintain focus on these issues. [1]

Ben & Jerry’s has real skin in the climate change game.  

  • Key inputs that the company has historically relied on for its flavors are now endangered because climate change is reducing the amount of arable land available for both farming and coffee-growing across the globe.
  • As Ben & Jerry’s own website states: “As a food company, many of the our partners in our value chain, are at real risk from a warming planet. And because climate change is a risk to people in our supply chain, it’s also a risk to our business. [2]
  • Like Chocolate Fudge Brownie? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that anticipated rises in temperature and the associated decline in freshwater could reduce global cocoa production by as much as 50% by 2050 [3]. Fan of Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch? A study cited by the company predicts that the number of pre-existing regions suitable for growing coffee could fall from 65-100% by 2080 [4]. And just plain vanilla? Actually, the more frequent extreme weather induced by climate change in the world’s tropical regions is threatening the stable environment needed for vanilla to grow [5].
  • In addition, Ben & Jerry’s needs dairy products to make its ice cream, uses freezers to house its ice cream products, and trucks to bring its finished pints from factories to point of sale.

Ben & Jerry’s has been a clear leader in the ice cream industry in adapting its operating model to anticipate and adapt to climate challenges.

Carbon Footprint Monitoring and Internal Carbon Tax

  • Ben & Jerry’s made the decision to conduct a company-wide lifecycle analysis to see where the company’s carbon emissions stemmed from (see Figure 1 below).
  • As one result of this process, the company decided to institute an internal carbon tax of $10 for every metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions, from farm to landfill [6]. The company has also supported efforts alongside other companies to introduce a first-in-nation carbon tax in Vermont [7].

Hydrocarbon Refrigeration

  • Ben & Jerry’s (along with other brands under corporate parent Unilever, like Klondike and Popsicles) was one of the earliest adopters of more energy efficient and climate-friendly freezer cabinets. These freezers use hydrocarbon refrigerants instead of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) [8].
  • HFCs  have a direct global warming impact more than a thousand times worse than the reference gas carbon dioxide [9].
  • Ben & Jerry’s was the first to bring this climate-safe ice cream freezer to the US after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed its regulations to approve this alternative refrigerant in 2011 [10].

Reducing Methane Use

  • Ben & Jerry’s has some of the most innovative and resourceful farmers in the business.
  • In partnership with Native Energy, the company has introduced a machine that separates the liquids and solids in manure. Solids are composted to create a manure bedding material for cows, while the liquid is used in the field as fertilizer. [11]
  • Methane gas is a major contributor to climate change. Ben & Jerry’s use of existing manure separators will keep at least 10,000 extra tons of C02 out of the atmosphere over the next 10 years. [12] 

There are still new frontiers for Ben & Jerry’s to explore that would increase sustainability and reduce its climate change impact.

  • Development of non-dairy flavors:   The company’s analysis showed that 41% of Ben & Jerry’s carbon footprint came from cows — more than factory operation, packaging, and freezing combined. Dairy farms are major sources of GHG emissions. Currently, each Ben & Jerry’s pint produced adds ~2lbs of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere [13]. Therefore, by transitioning to more vegan or non-dairy flavors, Ben & Jerry’s can help to significantly reduce its greenhouse emissions.
  • Integrated Supply Chain: 14% of Ben & Jerry’s carbon emissions are linked to outbound transportation of ice cream from factories to distribution centers to retail locations. By investing in more factories outside of Vermont and Maine, they will be able to produce  closer to point of sale, thereby reducing emissions from transport costs.
  • Continued Advocacy: Ben & Jerry’s can continue to serve as a leader in the corporate community as a voice on climate, both by inspiring other companies to emulate their innovations, and by providing backing for future legislative efforts.

Figure 1.


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Student comments on Ben & Jerry’s: If it’s melted, it’s ruined!

  1. I really enjoyed learning about the carbon footprint of ice cream! Who knew that 10 minutes (roughly how long it takes me to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting by myself… yep) of indulgence would equate to 2 CO2 equivalents. I love your suggestion of reducing carbon emissions in the ice cream value chain by broadening Ben & Jerry’s product portfolio to include more non-dairy ice creams. I would be really curious to know how the production of a pint of coconut-based or soy-based ice cream compares to a pint of dairy ice cream in terms of carbon emissions. I would guess that almond-based ice creams are not more sustainable as the nut itself is highly water-intensive.

  2. Thanks to your post, I really want ice cream. But I’m sadly stuck on this plane for another three hours and feeling pretty bummed…but anyways, this was really interesting and I love what Ben & Jerry’s has been doing! I can’t believe they have an internal carbon tax, what are they doing with that money? Some other things I’d be really interested in learning more about:
    1.) What vegan/non-dairy options reduce greenhouse emissions (similar to Ann’s question) and are there innovations that could help this?
    2.) Is investing in more factories feasible for them? Does it conflict with some other aspects of their brand and contribution to society (for example, staying true to their New England roots and creating jobs in their communities)?
    3.) Are there other ice cream companies who have followed their lead? Or other types of companies? Would love to hear more about how others have incorporated their ideas.

  3. Very insightful post on a key form of indulgence for many! It is evident that Ben & Jerry’s strives to abide by its ethos of “doing well by doing good.”
    1) Your suggestion to introduce vegan ingredients resonated with me. This strategy will not only help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but will enable lactose intolerant and vegan consumers to savor the blissful ice cream consumption experience.
    2) Currently, I believe the company sources majority of its almond needs for non-dairy frozen desserts from Israel. It would be interesting to see how their sourcing patterns evolve as they scale their non-dairy flavors and the subsequent impact on cost structure and pricing.
    3) Offering innovative flavors has been the mainstay for the brand. Once the vegan line picks up momentum, its dairy suppliers will face a significant loss in revenue. The company should work towards maintaining its longstanding relations with its dairy suppliers who have grown with the company. Therefore, the Unilever brand should continue its work on reducing methane use by collaborating with farmers. This will provide flexibility in offering a mix of dairy and non-dairy flavors down the road.

  4. As a huge fan of Ben&Jerry’s, this was a really fun read. I was actually kind of surprised that the content (ice cream) of the packaging was only 5x the packaging impact, when you consider their volume ratio. I see that as a huge opportunity.
    I couldn’t help but to put on my marketing hat while reading your post. I liked your point about Vegan ice cream. I feel like Ben&Jerry’s has this authentic, “local” brand image, which would help its customers to be more receptive to Ben&Jerry’s message about climate change and why vegan ice cream needs to be more consumed instead of dairy ice cream. But I wonder what alternatives the company has about its popular flavors – would the more sustainable option be local fruit flavors?
    I see Ben&Jerry’s brand image as a huge opportunity for them to make a change – encourage people to consume less dairy and more local flavors.

  5. Rachel,

    This was very interesting. I didn’t realize the impact of having factories farther from the distribution centers was so great in creating emissions. I thought it was a good idea to locate the factories closer to the distribution centers. However, I’d challenge you to consider the feasibility of this option. Ben & Jerry’s is sold in thousands of locations ( which makes it difficult to hone in on a factory location that would significantly reduce this. According to their website, a large portion of their product is sold at mom and pop businesses which are not concentrated.

    It seems to me that your comparison of emissions of ice cream vs. a car implies that cars are more efficient than ice cream production. Further, looking at the emissions breakdown would indicate a large portion of emissions come from the cows. Given this, your idea of migrating to non-dairy sources makes great sense. However, to what degree does this change impact consumer demand? When Coke changed their recipe decades ago (, it led to a significant consumer backlash. How can Ben & Jerry’s avoid this similar outcome? One alternative this made me think of was to capture methane from cows instead of avoid them altogether. There are developing technologies that act to capture excess methane from cows ( I thought this was an interesting alternative to your proposed suggestion in terms of feasibility. Ben & Jerry’s could require that supplies utilize this type of technology rather than having a significant change in a baseline ingredient.

  6. I am depressed now… how would I know that by eating my favorite thing in the world (there is nothing like dulce de leche ice-cream…) I was impacting climate change?

    I think this is the bigger issue. We usually think that climate change, global warming, lack of clean water, or any other major problem of humanity is fault of big corporations and is the responsibility of the governments in power, when that is a very shortsighted view. All of us (at the end corporations and governments are not more than a group of organized people) are responsible of this problem, and is in our hands to find and implement the solution. Are we ready to stop using products or services that impact climate change (i.e. dairy ice creams)? Are we ready to start using the ones that are eco-friendly? and even more complicated, Are we ready to educate others on how their behaviors are impacting climate changes?

  7. Very interesting post! The internal tax credit Ben & Jerry’s instituted really resonated with me. Do you think this is a model that could be transferred to other industries? For example, I would think that McDonald’s could institute a similar program and encourage internal competition to reduce emissions. At McDonald’s scale, the impact of a program like this could be huge!

  8. Interesting post about my favorite indulgence! (Seems like all the above comments feel similarly…) 🙂

    Your post highlighted a number of things for me:

    -The internal tax related to Ben and Jerry’s carbon footprint resonated with me as well. It seems based on other articles on the website ( that this is being modeled after a VT legislative proposal that calls for both tax cuts for individuals and organizations and for decreasing heating bills by contributing to efforts making buildings more green. (I couldn’t find more clarity on where the dollars are going?) If so, is this akin to the benefits of producing renewable energy from solar panels? Or is this a penalty for exceeding a particular carbon footprint based on an operating model? The differences in these approaches certainly would influence how peer organizations and unrelated ones might respond in improving their own operations.

    -The idea of vegan/non-dairy ice cream options is an interesting one, but I am skeptical that 1) the end customer base of Ben and Jerry’s would be amenable to this shift (I promise I’m not biased…) and 2) how the supply chain involved in the production of Ben and Jerry’s products (e.g. dairy farmers) might be impacted. I would be curious to see how radically (or not) the economy might shift in order for them to pursue the non-dairy options aggressively. Additionally, I think this ties back more broadly to local sourcing, encouraging the population to consume more naturals foods, and the obesity crisis and how those components of our food cycle impact the environment as well.

  9. Great post, Rachel! Totally craving ice cream now…

    I had no idea that the non-dairy flavors that Ben and Jerry’s has introduced recently was actually an effort to help curb climate change. I assumed these non-dairy ice cream flavors were meant to target people with dairy allergies (which is how I originally heard about these new flavors, from someone who can’t eat real ice cream). I wouldn’t have made the connection between dairy and the cows that produce it to climate change, kudos to Ben and Jerry’s for doing such an in-depth review of their entire process.

    Like Joanna, I too was wondering what Ben and Jerry’s actually does with the 10% carbon tax they charge internally. Would be very cool if they reinvested those tax dollars into future sustainability initiatives…

  10. This was incredibly interesting – thank you Rachel! Although I knew Ben & Jerry’s began in Vermont, I had no idea that they still produce exclusively in the Northeast. I see your point that it may make sense for the organization to open factories across the USA, depending on demand patterns in other parts of the country, as doing so would reduce emissions from transportation. To avoid such heavy capital expenditure, I wonder if they could leverage other Unilever plants, for example those producing such brands as Klondike, Breyer’s, etc. If these other plants are more geographically diverse, they may enable Ben & Jerry’s to lessen their carbon footprint from distribution (… providing the inputs into the final product aren’t produced exclusively in the Northeast – e.g., milk from cows in Vermont).

  11. It is interesting that the company’s analysis showed that 41% of Ben & Jerry’s carbon footprint came from cows. As such, it seems incredibly viable that turning to non-dairy ice cream (despite definitely requiring significant adjustment from Ben and Jerry’s current supply chain and operating model) could be a way for the company to diversify in a way that could make it less weak to climate change. I am not certain about tastes in the US, but in Europe there is definitely demand for non-dary ice cream.

    “Demand for non-dairy ice cream is booming in Germany, as dairy alternatives are no longer strictly marketed to consumers with special dietary requirements, but appeal to a wider health-conscious consumer base. Indeed, new Mintel research finds nearly two-thirds (63%) of German ice cream consumers are interested in non-dairy alternatives, such as almond or coconut based ice cream.

    Moreover, it seems German consumers are even willing to pay a premium price for these options, as one in five (20%) Germans say that they would be willing to pay more for non-dairy ice cream, rising to nearly one third (30%) among 16 to 24 year olds.”

  12. As an ice cream and Ben & Jerrys fanatic I liked this article very much. If we are going to solve the climate change crisis we need more socially responsible companies like Ben & Jerrys. One of the most urgent public policies that needs to be implemented in the US and worldwide is the carbon tax and Ben & Jerrys has been a leader on this by instituting an internal carbon tax and supporting efforts to introduce a public carbon tax. Mexico, my home country, has had a carbox tax for almost 3 years now and it has been succesfull in reducing gasoline consumption by 3% per capita and the government has raised more than US$30bn inntax revenues to combate climate change directly.
    It is also incredible and worth noting how Ben and Jerrys cooperates and works with government regulators to tackle these issues, instead of fighting them as many other businesses do. This country and the world need more companies like this one as only strong regulation and private cooperation will really solve the problem.

    The post is very detailed on the actions Ben and Jerrys has taken to tackle climate change such as substituing HFC refrigeration and manure methan separators. These are two of the most recognized and effective actions known today to solving the climate change crisis and I am glad to hear Ben and Jerrys is at the cornerstone of the efforts.

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