Ben and Jerry’s co-founder emphasizes the ethics of business

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Jerry Greenfield, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, explains how he and partner Ben Cohen began their business almost 35 years ago in Burlington, Vt.  Greenfield has been nationally recognized for his success as a businessman and has since then co-authored a book detailing what it takes to maintain a business.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

A co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company said there is a “spiritual” aspect of business ethics that is undervalued in the corporate world during a lecture at the AT&T Conference Center
on Tuesday.

Jerry Greenfield said he and co-founder and junior high friend Ben Cohen decided from the beginning that they should focus primarily on what their company was doing for their Vermont community.

“It felt like our company was becoming a cog in the corporate machine, and we decided to get out of the business,” Greenfield said. “Our friend Maurice said, ‘If there’s something you don’t like about the business, change it.’ So we decided to focus on helping our employees and the environment.”

Greenfield and Cohen continued to focus on community needs by offering company stock exclusively to Vermont citizens, a tactic that had not been tried before. Greenfield said this was an attempt to bring the bulk of the company’s profit to the community, as opposed to big-name stockholders. 

Greenfield said business is the most powerful force in modern society: It has a significant influence on elections, legislation and the media, and therefore holds a major ethical responsibility within
the community.

“What we started to realize at Ben & Jerry’s is that there is a spiritual part of business — as you give, you receive,” Greenfield said. “We’re never going to actualize the things we believe in unless we bring them into the realm that we’re the most powerful, and for us, that was the world of business.”

Greenfield said Ben & Jerry’s fulfills its spiritual duties by purchasing goods from bakeries that give jobs to the homeless, establishing shops that are run by nonprofit organizations and making a commitment to using only fair trade products.

Advertising junior Joel Lowinger, who came to hear Greenfield speak about his entrepreneurship, said it was fascinating to consider the ethical aspects of business.

“Hearing about the start up of the company was really interesting, but Jerry also reached out to different areas in ethical and social realms,” Lowinger said. “Doing the right thing truly did lead the company to success.”

Megan Johnson, a business honors and Plan II honors senior, organized the event with her sorority, Delta Gamma.

“We’ve been having lectures such as these since 2002, and we aim to focus on educating our sisters and students to make ethical impacts on the world,” Johnson said.