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Renee Farris headshot

Who Knew Ben & Jerry's Could Save the World Through Ice Cream?


Ben & Jerry’s believes that making ice cream and saving the world go together like its tasty flavors and your taste buds. Earlier this year, it asked: "How can we reduce our emissions?" It turned to CoClear, a New York consultancy that conducts lifecycle analyses (LCAs) on products.

CoClear said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Then it examined 21 of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors. CoClear asked a lot of questions, dug through piles of data and punched numbers into its fancy LCA calculator. Measurements included greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts across all stages of a production cycle, including raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, and recycling or landfill.

What do you think was the main villainous source of Ben & Jerry’s emissions? Cows. Cute cuddly cows.

In fact, 41 percent of Ben & Jerry’s carbon footprint came from cows. Apparently it takes a lot of gas to churn up milk for ice cream. When cows break wind it’s not just stinky; it’s blowing a hole in the ozone. And get this, cows produce gas out their front AND back ends. Okay, so maybe they’re not cuddly. Surprisingly, the methane from cows is about 21 times worse than carbon dioxide. No wonder they can jump over the moon. They are extremely non-aerodynamic rockets. Seriously, liquid methane is used as rocket fuel.

Here’s the breakdown of the culprits, which CoClear shared at this year's Sustainable Brands conference:

  • Growing and producing ingredients: 54 percent (aka, mostly cows)

  • Transporting ice cream from the plant to the distribution centers: 14 percent

  • Freezing product at the stores: 10 percent

  • All packaging throughout the production process: 10 percent

  • Factory operation: 7 percent

The result is that each pint of ice cream adds up to 2 pounds of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. For comparison purposes, when you jump in your medium-sized car and drive a mile you generate 1 pound of CO2.

So, if you drive your car for 2 miles to the grocery and buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, you have just contributed 6 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. It’d be tempting to walk to the store, but by the time you returned home you might have to eat your ice cream with a straw.

Here’s the plot twist. Ben & Jerry’s loves the environment. So, of course it’s doing everything it can to be kinder to our beautiful little blue marble of a planet. Most companies won’t care about the environment until the cows come home … only, the cows may never come home because their environment may destroy them. I’m not exactly sure what that means but it sounds deep.

There are so many reasons why Ben & Jerry’s is a hell of a company. But here’s a sample-size serving:

Two words: Lifecycle assessments

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the first companies to do a lifecycle assessment of its products. This is one reason it’s an industry leader. I spoke with Andrea Asch, Ben & Jerry’s director of natural resources, and Chris Miller, Ben & Jerry’s activism manager, about their experience with CoClear conducting a LCA. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:

TriplePundit: How long did the study take? What was it like to do the LCA?

Andrea Asch: It took six months. We picked the hardest [flavors] to measure. We chose the ones with the widest bandwidth of ingredients and complexity.

3p: Can companies save a significant amount of money by performing a LCA?

AA: It’s not about saving money. However, in the study CoClear does monetize electricity and solid waste so you can definitively measure each reduction and reallocate funds.

Chris Miller: There’s more than one way to look at ROI. Efficiency reduces energy costs which is strategic for minimizing environmental impact. [Also,] if you don’t do these things, there’s a cost in reputation.

3p: Would you recommend other companies perform LCAs?

AA: Absolutely. You see things differently. It provides a different lens to look at your business and identify opportunities.

CM: You can’t have a strategy unless you know with the impact is.

3p: How did you feel about disclosing the results? That’s a risky move that most companies are afraid to do.

AA: There’s nothing we wouldn’t disclose. If people can learn from what we’ve done, that’s great! It’s all about environmental benefit.

CM: [Companies should] be transparent about results. This creates the maximum impact. Disclosing stuff helps everyone. It builds affinity and authenticity. Measure. Manage. Disclose.

3p: What has your personal experience been in working with Ben & Jerry’s?

AA: You’re talking to two people who have the best jobs in the industry. I’ve been here 23 years.

CM: People want to show up to work and feel like they're doing more than selling stuff. There are a lot of benefits to this type of work. It helps build a culture of sustainability. It helps companies attract talent. The value in ROI can be measured in recruitment and retention. I left Ben & Jerry’s for 12 years. The people I worked with before I left were still there when I came back. Some people have been here 10, 20, 30 years.

Saving 10,000 metric tons of GHGs

When it comes to making changes based on the LCA results, Ben & Jerry’s is lucky because it has innovative and open-minded farmers. These farmers partnered with Native Energy and bought a separator that reduces 50 percent of the methane by making cow bedding out of manure. It sounds gross, but I assure you … the cows LOVE it. Here’s a picture for proof.

Happy cows make better tasting milk which fetches udderly better prices for farmers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Here’s how it works. The machine separates the liquids and solids in manure. The liquid is used on the field as fertilizer. Solids are composted and create clean bedding for cows. Around 360 cows can make enough bedding for nearly 900 cows, so the excess bedding is sold for a profit. The bedding also saves farmers $30,000 annually because they no longer have to buy bedding.

And here’s the best part -- 10,000 metric tons of GHGs will not be added to the air over 10 years, this way the U.S. doesn’t end up looking like Bejing. It’s equal to keeping 5,000 cars off road for a year. Ben & Jerry’s is turning “a problem into a productive solution.”

Fancy new refrigerators

Ben & Jerry’s tapped the EPA on the shoulder and handed them legislation to legalize hydrocarbon refrigeration (aka, "cleaner greener freezers"). It said, “Sign on the dotted line and carbon emissions will be reduced.” It was a no-brainer, so the EPA signed. These freezers are energy-efficient and use a natural refrigerant with less global warming impact than hydroflurocarbon refrigerants commonly used in the U.S. These new freezers also save money: a cool solution.

The "Save Our Swirled" flavor

Ben & Jerry’s has the same philosophy about ice cream as it does about the planet. It says, “If it’s melted, it’s ruined.” So, it bravely decided to bring attention to global warming and polar bears balancing on melting mini icebergs by creating a new flavor. It’s called “Save Our Swirled” and is raspberry ice cream with marshmallow and raspberry swirls, plus dark and white fudge ice cream cones. It looks melted even when it’s not. The lid is covered in a myriad of “SOS” words.

The ice cream was such a great climate change message that Ben & Jerry’s decided to pack a Tesla electric car full of the ice cream and drive across the U.S. giving free samples to raise awareness. Tastiest climate change campaign ever.

The "Endangered Pints List"

These ingredients are “in the crosshairs of climate change.” Ben & Jerry’s says if the globe continues warming, these ingredients will be scarce or disappear. Warning: This is going to make you very sad, and in your state of depression you'll want to eat ice cream. Here’s the list:

  • Chocolate: This would be disastrous for women everywhere.

  • Nuts: No more Chunky Monkey. Nut trees require a winter chill to jump-start spring growth. Legumes that are must haves for the Peanut Butter Cup flavor require consistent temperatures and specific doses of rainfall.

  • Coffee: Say goodbye to Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz. Higher temperatures, heavier rainfall, droughts and more pests are ways climate change is reducing the ability to grow coffee. One study predicts that the areas able to grow coffee may shrink by 65 to 100 percent by 2080. As the Union of Concerned Scientists said, it’s time to “Wake up and smell the coffee.”

Ben & Jerry’s is the crème de la crème when it comes to companies lightening their environmental footprint. For most companies, the phrase “environmental footprint” is a misnomer. Footprints are cute, little and what you create when running along a sandy beach. But most companies are doing things that are driving species extinct, and causing hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts. That’s not a “footprint.” That's a ginormous environmental wrecking ball.

Many thanks and a big hug to Ben & Jerry’s for actually creating a “footprint.” Can someone please bring me a big bowl of “Save Our Swirled” ice cream?

Image credits: Ben & Jerry's

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

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