NewsNews Features

The Scoop on Ben & Jerry’s Progressive Politics

Two scoops with chocolate syrup, sprinkles and a double helping of politics on top is what Ben & Jerry’s has been serving up since the start.

The ice cream maker pioneered environmentally friendly packaging, opposes the use of growth hormones in dairy cows, supports “1% for Peace” in the federal budget and made the world’s largest Baked Alaska to protest drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield remain active in political and social causes, even after selling the company to Unilever in 2000.

Locally, Athens scoop shop manager Landon Bubb and crew have gotten involved with Bag the Bag, a University of Georgia club that was “formed four years ago with the mission to reduce plastic bag waste and consumption,” says Tiffany Ederhard, a past executive director. “Our mission has broadened to reducing plastic waste, single use plastics and promoting alternatives, because we saw a such an increase in how we’re using plastics in our society, and this increase has caused a lot of waste to be produced, and it takes a lot of energy to make these materials that just end up in the landfill.”

Recently, the Ben & Jerry’s corporation has focused on addressing climate change, and for a free cone promotion last month, the company steered its scoop shops to partner with an environmentally minded nonprofit. “My scoopers unanimously wanted Bag the Bag to be the partner,” says Bubb, who is also one of the directors of Bag the Bag.

On Free Cone Day, the line wrapped around College Square and down East Clayton Street, but patrons who brought in plastic bags for recycling got to go straight to the head of the line. Bag the Bag also installed a recycling bin, and customers who drop off plastic bags get 10 percent off.

“At the Free Cone Day, we collected around 5,000 plastic bags, and in the past year we have put up plastic bag bins around campus,” Ederhard says. “We got a grant through the [UGA] Office of Sustainability to implement new plastic bags recycling bins and make our program more efficient. We plan on expanding them through campus [beyond] just the residence halls to the library and Tate Center.”


Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen speaks at a town hall meeting in Athens.

Cohen joined a forum on Apr. 20 with Athens community leaders, including poet and social worker Life the Griot and Athens-Clarke County Interim Police Chief Carter Greene, at the Morton Theatre to address youth empowerment, focusing a large portion of the discussion on police shooting African Americans in Ferguson, MO, and North Charleston, SC. The forum started at the national level and moved into encouraging UGA students to get involved in the greater Athens community. Greene talked about equipping officers with body cameras and the department’s “fair and impartial policing” courses.

The town hall meeting came out of the backlash from a photo posted on Facebook of Bubb and Cohen, who was wearing a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” T-shirt.

“When people first said there were a lot of comments on the website, I figured they were favorable, but then I found out they were not favorable,” Cohen says. “To me, this pointed out the necessity of doing what we did in having the conversation. There are some people who don’t think there was anything wrong with what happened in Ferguson, and I guess there are a lot of people who believe that the police are right and that the police are always right, and young black people with hoodies are wrong.

“To me, it’s hard to justify it—an unarmed person getting shot by the police. I think the body cameras are great, but I think it was interesting that they’re [ACCPD] trying to hire from within the community, but they can’t get people to apply. And the other thing that [Greene] was saying is that it’s hard to find African-American males to apply that haven’t been arrested. It’s kind of like a circular self-fulfilling thing that black males get arrested for things that white guys don’t get arrested for, and they have to say ‘Yes, I’ve been arrested,” and so then they don’t get accepted to the jobs.” Cohen says.

“And I definitely believe that colleges like UGA and Yale that are located in urban areas, where there is a significant population of really poor people, need to use and focus the resources of their university on working with that population. It needs to become part of the purpose of the university,” he says.

“We have 30,000 students. If every student gave one hour to the community, we could change Athens,” Life says.

Coming out of the Morton Theatre forum is a monthly chess and ice cream night. “The second Friday of every month, all the kids from Chess and Community [Life’s nonprofit] come out, and we turn the outside area of the store into a chess playground. Twenty percent of proceeds from the day go back to them to help with scholarships and buying more chessboards and outreach events,” Bubb says.