Business and social responsibility don’t have to be competing principles, according to Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade ice cream company.
Greenfield addressed a crowd of more than 200 people last week at Ryan Family Auditorium, sharing the history and values of his company.
From their early days in Burlington, Vermont -- a location they chose because of the lack of ice cream competition -- Greenfield and his partner, Ben Cohen, decided on the theme of business that cares.
After setting up shop in an abandoned gas station, the partners knew the company's growth hinged on money and investment. Instead of bringing in venture capitalists, they took a risk and invited Vermont citizens to buy stock in the company and take ownership of the product. As the business prospered, so too did the community.
“If we were going to run a business, we wanted to do it our way, in a way consistent with our values,” Greenfield said.
Ben & Jerry's Foundation, established in 1985, offers competitive grants to non-profit, grassroots organizations that address societal and environmental problems.
“There’s a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is in our lives,” Greenfield explained. “As you give, you receive. As you help others, you are helped in return.”
The company's community and gastronomic benefits are felt in Evanston through the Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop located downtown at 1634 Orrington Ave.
Members of Greenfield's audience lined up for free ice cream after the talk, which was part of the Fiedler Hillel Center's annual speaker series.