Ben and Jerry's ice cream of Waterbury, Vt. is home to the largest tourist attraction in the state of Vermont. Nearly a half million visitors walk through their processing facilities each year. Let's not forget to mention their nationwide popularity, too. Outlandish flavors like Cherry Garcia are among the most popular. But with this popularity comes a responsibility, they think. Andrea Asch is the manager of natural resources for Ben and Jerry's and recently spoke at the Dairy Business Innovation Center's Profitability and Environmental Sustainability in the Dairy Industry conference held last week in Madison, Wis. Asch answered tough questions about Ben and Jerry's stance on hot-button dairy foods issues while also discussing their one-of-a-kind Stewardship Alliance.
As part of their corporate responsibility plan, Ben and Jerry's developed the Dairy Stewardship Alliance - a partnership between themselves, St. Albans Cooperative Creamery (all of their milk comes from this creamery), and the University of Vermont. The project aims to further the sustainability of their product and the farms that produce their milk. An on-farm assessment tool helps farms become more aware of their social, environmental, and economic practices. In addition, the program equips farms with information on how to continuously reduce their impact on the environment. You can learn more about this program and its modules here.
Ben and Jerry's does not allow farms to use BST and although BST has been shown to reduce carbon footprint, Asch says, "We took a holistic approach to that [BST], and part of that is cow health." You might expect a company with such an extensive sustainability approach to also be engaged in organic production - not so. The ice cream maker had an organic line for a short time but discontinued it after a short run.
Sustainability isn't just about the environment and hot-button issues like BST and organics. We think the definition of sustainable farming must mention on-farm profitability and long-term farm survival. So, does Ben and Jerry's guarantee producers that they will make a profit while adhering to their rigorous "earth-friendly" programs? "We can't guarantee anyone anything," Asch says. "We hope to give producers the tools to do that, but we can't guarantee it."