Jostein Solheim is at the helm of one of the world’s most loved food corporations – Ben & Jerry’s. And he’s also been one of the key names calling for political leaders to take firm action against climate change at the COP21 in Paris this December.
Since being appointed as CEO in 2010, Solheim has actively campaigned against GMO use, for GMO labelling, and was the driving force behind the company’s climate change campaign.
Solheim spared a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk to The Huffington Post UK about why businesses have a responsibility to go green – and exactly where they need to start.
Jostein Solheim (centre) with Ben (left) and Jerry
Are businesses starting to realise they have a responsibility to be environmentally conscious?
Increasingly, environmental sustainability is becoming a routine part of doing business, as consumers demand products and services that are more responsible. Consumers see brands as more than just companies offering new experiences, tastes and flavours – each choice represents reflections of their personalities and values.
Our co-founder Jerry Greenfield might have said it best, “The strongest bonds you can build with your customer are over shared values”.
What’s even sweeter is that as companies focus on sustainability, they often become more efficient across their operations, from energy to water, to reducing waste, which presents a good business case as well.
Who’s doing well at being “green”?
A company that I really admire is Patagonia.
They grew out of a small operation that made tools for climbers, people who wanted to see and enjoy the natural world around them. This love of, and respect for, nature has remained with the company as they’ve grown, and they continue to work with grassroots environmental groups all over the world to help protect the environment.
In addition to their philanthropy and advocacy work, they also design their products using materials that are less harmful to the environment, that are extremely durable, and offer repair services so that their products can last a lifetime. What works is their authenticity; they have a deep-rooted commitment to make values-led choices throughout their business.
Solheim poses for photographers at the COP21. He is among several major US food and beverage companies calling on world leaders to push for a meaningful agreement
Are businesses using technology enough to help them be greener?
Yes and no.
Many companies are investing in technology to make their operations more efficient. For example, at Ben & Jerry’s we have invested in developing hydro-flourocarbon (HFC) free technology for our freezers, that limits the potent greenhouse gases found in traditional freezer cabinets, whilst also reducing the amount of energy required to operate them.
A double win for the environment.
Another example is our investments in different technologies to in-set carbon in our dairy supply chain.
However, what is also true is that businesses cannot do it alone. We need to put pressure on policy makers to support climate policies that drive investments in research and development – to both stimulate the deployment of the current technology and to create the next generation of sustainable technology needed to deliver a low carbon economy.
Is it possible to make being green profitable?
In many cases, the most successful and fastest growing companies are those that focus on creating more efficient and sustainable products and services.
Companies that don’t put sustainability at the heart of their business are increasingly at risk in an economy where increased transparency across digital and social media make it easier for consumers to access information and understand the impact that companies have on the planet.
Is it the responsibility of any business, regardless of size, to encourage their customers to be green?
What’s most important is that businesses take responsibility to make their operations, products, and services more sustainable, and to set ambitious reduction targets.
There’s also a big opportunity for companies to engage their consumers and fans in issue advocacy campaigns, in order to build movements and drive social change. Companies can be unwilling to take positions on issues that might be considered controversial, but we’ve found that our fans care about the same kinds of issues we do and that by addressing serious issues in a fun way we can make great things happen.
Over the last ten months, our “Save Our Swirled” climate justice campaign has been taking fans and citizens on a journey. Through activities including tours that bring the climate justice message to people’s doors all across the world, to melting replica ice sculptures of political leaders in London and taking a Tesla on tour across the US; over 300,000 Ben & Jerry’s fans have joined the international climate change movement.
Should businesses be held accountable by an international court of law if they contribute to and/or cause environmental disasters? Should they be fined if they’re not green enough?
Businesses are part of the problem and need to be part of the solution, but what will really help us get there is firmer policies and guardrails that deliver the clean energy economy of the future.
What we need is an agreement in Paris that begins to create a framework for reducing global emissions. We need a price carbon pollution, we need policies that transition to 100% clean energy and away from fossil fuels, and we need to ensure that financing exists to help the least developed countries transition to a safe and sustainable future.
Should businesses be required to invest in and use renewable energy sources?
All companies should transition their businesses to 100% clean energy. What really drives scale, is when the private sector and governments work together to deliver the clean energy economy.
Policy makers need to end fossil fuel subsides and pass polices that enable a transition to clean sources of energy like wind and solar. Where polices that encourage this transition exist, the uptake of renewables is quicker, driving lower costs and greater scale.
What could other businesses learn from Ben & Jerry’s?
It would be great if more companies were willing to use their power as a business to support progressive social change through issue advocacy and activism.
Together, we can all be a part of creating a safer and more sustainable world.