Have you ever heard of Ice cream being made from ice cream?
The world is on a mission to go green by the latest year 2050, and as hard as the humble household tries their best, the bulk responsibility falls to large corporations to adapt their production methods in a way that compliments the survival of our planet.
Ben and Jerry’s are not only leading the way in deliciousness, but behind the scenes, they are also a beaming example of how consciousness can be integrated into every aspect of production.
Understanding that as a company, their carbon footprint or ‘hoof print’ as they like it, is vast, so are the steps they must take to reduce it. Ben and Jerry’s have three production factories, two in the United States and one in the Netherlands, the motherland where the very first pint was ever made. Their main production factory in Hellendoorn, Netherlands, has a strong and strict decarbonisation programme. One of their most significant modifications is a Bio Digestor tank, BIOPAQ®AFR, that takes all the ice cream waste dumped in everyday production and converts it into energy that now powers 20% of the total heating needed to run their factories. Considering their colossal company size, 20% is a massive chunk.
Stephanie Curley, the Impact and Activism manager for Ben and Jerry’s Australia and New Zealand, explains the process in full simple detail,
“We call it the Chunkinator, it sounds more magic, and it uses not just wastewater from the ice cream production process but also waste products. So any nuts, fats, creams, or anything leftover goes in with this wastewater.
“It then creates billions and billions of different micro-particles that then break down. That breakdown causes heat, which makes fuel, so it does two things for our reduction of fossil fuels. We don’t have to transport waste away from the factory, so we save on carbon miles there. It also means that it makes ice cream! So I think it’s the only ice cream in the world that’s made by ice cream. To date, it’s produced over 16 million pints of ice cream.”
The chunkinator is an anaerobic flotation reactor. Meaning it’s an incredibly effective sludge retention system. The tank’s gut holds 24 billion natural micro-organisms that do a fantastic job at converting the waste into biogas, which in turn helps to run the plant. Since dairy production accounts for more than 50% of their emissions, this is a massive step in the right direction for the company and any onlookers searching for green inspiration.
“As a brand existing, we know that we are part of the problem in terms of climate just by virtue of making a product and particularly because we’re dairy.”
Stephanie continues passionately,
“We don’t carbon offset. We have a really strict rule around it because we don’t think it’s going to get rid of the problem. What we do instead is we tax ourselves a really hefty carbon tax. We then have an independent group tell us how much the price of carbon is, and then for every amount of carbon that we release, we tax ourselves for it. We then make sure that we are what we call ‘inset’ with that carbon. So rather than buying offsets and saying that’s someone else’s problem, we actually put that money into pilot programs and research that in the long run.”
They really mean what they say on the packet. One project that Ben and Jerry’s are funding the research for right now is the use of a fast-growing and abundant seaweed that grows predominantly off the coast of Tasmania called Asparagopsis in livestock feed. Scientists discovered that feeding just 0.2% of the seaweed to cattle and sheep reduces the amount of methane they produce when they ‘toot’ by 98%. A university in Vermont, USA, is currently piloting the programme on Ben and Jerry’s partner farms, with fingers crossed worldwide to see this up-scaled and in effect.
If successful, Ben and Jerry’s have estimated it will have the same effect as keeping 5,000 cars off the road each year, just from their farms alone.
“It’s a great potential solution to biomethane, it’s really exciting. Asparagopsis is being trialed at the moment at a number of our farms. We have very caring programs that we are really really strict about in terms of how our cows are looked after, how our migrant workers are looked after, how people in the farm use regenerative agriculture, all those things. So they have to have a very special stamp with us. It’s a very caring system.”
Another way the company giant cares for its farmers is by installing a different methane-trapping biodigester on the plots of land to store the animal waste, trapping the methane in one spot, which allows it to be converted into energy to power the farm functions further.
“Ben and Jerry’s, the way we see things with our social mission is kind of a double bottom line. So other than just being a functioning business, we see our role in business to bring everyone around us with us on the journey to actually make money alongside us and be prospering alongside us. Linked prosperity is what we call it. And that means that one of our really core values is social mission. We have an economic product and social missions and none of them are higher than the other. Just as much as we have to have a good product, we have to make sure that we’re heavily driving social change aswell.”
And drive the hard social change they do. Ben and Jerry’s is at the front of many global campaigns that protect human, animal and land rights. In Australia, Ben and Jerry’s is working with the Surfrider Foundation Australia to save the Southern Sea Country. There is a plan to build the world’s largest offshore drilling project amongst not only one of the most beautiful ocean areas in the world but also the most thriving in terms of life.
They are working hard in trying to protect Australia’s notoriously beautiful and beloved oceans from being turned into a gas field. In a time when the world is trying to reach carbon zero, the progress of these works, aside from damaging the land and our health, is more unnecessary to proceed with than ever before. With the help of Ben and Jerry’s, the cause has reached millions more eyes than possible. You can join the campaign by clicking here.
The campaigns aren’t just cheered on from the sidelines; as part of her work for the ice cream giant, Stephanie gets to immerse herself directly into the cause,
“I’ve been able to spend time with traditional elders in the bush, learn from them and share stories and learn about bush tucker. That was an experience that really came from wanting to learn rather than it being a transactional experience. I’ve been able to go on the road with partners for weeks at a time and do road shows educating people. You meet these small communities who have everything to lose if these big gas projects go ahead. They have nothing to win. The work that we do feels like we’re fighting for them as well because they are the ones that are really on the front line and it’s great to be able to see that in person and not always just sit behind a desk.”
Stephanie explains with enthusiasm, having seen first-hand the milestone impacts that Ben and Jerry’s initiates and how being involved in their positive pro-action is an energising career change from her previous corporate solicitor job, making working for the company sound even more fruitful than one may have imagined.
“I never dread Mondays. I love every day of The week equally. For me working here has been just the most eye-opening. It’s really easy to come into a company wide-eyed and think, “Wow, this company is amazing” Then, over the years, I learned with other companies that actually, behind the scenes, a lot of it is stories and made up which is disappointing. I feel the opposite at Ben and Jerry’s. People don’t know just how incredible and authentic, and genuine beneficiaries are behind the scenes. What goes out to the public is just a tiny bit of what we do, and quite often, the public only sees our climate activism campaigns which is really just the tip of the iceberg of what’s been worked on.”
“From a personal perspective, the thing that I’ve really loved seeing from Ben and Jerry’s is how we can support small NGO partners on the ground to get their message about what they’re campaigning across to a lot more people and grow the movement within and alongside them.”
“The partners that I get to work with, they’re just so generous in their knowledge and willing to share. We have such real partnerships and friendships that I love my job, it’s real. I’m so lucky to live my life in a way that I work in a role that reflects my values that I live outside of work and I don’t have to leave them at the door.”
When the two best friends, Ben and Jerry, began churning the quality ice cream we all know and love in the ’80s, their intention was never to be a business giant but to be a display of how a business should and could look like from a morally led perspective.
You can taste the love in the ice cream and see the love in their action stretched out to the world. Keeping them accountable on their website are the results of each yearly Social and Environmental Assessment Report or SEAR report. It’s publicly accessible and evaluated by a third party offering excellent insight to any onlookers about the depth of with they manage to get done around the globe.
Ben and Jerry’s honest and value-committed work through the years has been fed down the line through their staff and into their partners, binding meaningful relationships who all have the same kind of goals in mind. The team spirit woven across the globe is attractive to people who want to be a physical part of driving positive change and making a living wage without compromising their values. Encouraging all businesses to reach out and get involved in their campaigns or reach out to smaller local NGOs that might need some extra guidance to get their job done, every spoon full of ice cream tastes even more delicious than ever before.
This is only a tiny portion of the incredible work that Ben and Jerry’s does worldwide; click here to view some of their current campaigns that you can join in with.