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A Clear Mission Can Be Incredibly Powerful: Lessons from Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation


Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield and Vermont governor Peter Shumlin unveil the Food Fight Fudge Brownie flavor in June, developed to support the state’s legal defense over its law to require labeling of bioengineered ingredients. | Image credit: Food Business News

All businesses value consumer and employee loyalty and the opportunity to shape the playing field in which they operate. Mission-driven businesses such as B Corps Seventh Generation and Ben & Jerry’s are finding that having an authentic purpose that resonates with their customers opens the door to exciting approaches to activism that engage their base in powerful ways. The union of company and employee passions not only boosts loyalty but also can lead to successful advocacy for shared causes. Conventional companies seeking to emulate their successes should follow three key steps:

1. Build a mission that is relevant for your consumers

Seventh Generation has always had a higher purpose,” notes Ashley Orgain, Manager of Mission Advocacy and Outreach at the Vermont-based maker of household and personal care products. One way that Seventh Generation lives its commitment to ‘caring today for seven generations of tomorrows,’ is by working to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals that harm human health and the environment.

When we see thousands of untested chemicals having an effect on our children, even prior to birth, it is a catalyst for us as business leaders to take responsibility to create meaningful change.
“No one should have to worry about toxic chemicals in their personal care and other household cleaning products,” Orgain stresses. “When we see thousands of untested chemicals having an effect on our children, even prior to birth, it is a catalyst for us as business leaders to take responsibility to create meaningful change.”

The company continuously reformulates its products to protect consumer health and takes this a step further by actively supporting industry-wide change through trade group programs, toxics legislation reform and consumer education and engagement on the issue.

Just five miles away, premium ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has committed to ‘leading with progressive values across our company.’ This includes commitments to a livable wage, local farms, and Fairtrade ingredients.

“As a progressive company, we have an opportunity to engage our customers on diverse issues with broad relevance,” describes Chris Miller, Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission Activism Manager. “For example, we support Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)-labeling for many reasons, among them that we think consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. Most companies are risk-averse, but I have the support of management to pursue independent activism and advocacy campaigns.” The company backs up its campaigns with action and has begun transitioning to sourcing non-GMO ingredients.

While owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s retains an independent board of directors with control of the social mission and brand equity.

“This has led to some interesting discussions internally,” Miller notes. “We’re given the independence to take positions on controversial issues. We may put some fans off, but we’ve created many, very loyal consumers.”

2. Engage consumers on your mission and boost brand loyalty

In fact, consumers that are aware of Ben & Jerry’s values are 2.5 times more loyal. To account for this, Miller states: “Ben & Jerry’s is authentic. Standing for something in a world where people so often stand for nothing is incredibly powerful.”

Standing for something in a world where people so often stand for nothing is incredibly powerful.
When the company takes on an issue, it leverages a vast network of loyal consumers, 7 million Facebook fans, several hundred scoop shops, free cone days, and event sponsorships.

Seventh Generation also relies on an extensive network of activist consumers and savvy use of social media and other outlets, including a 2014 partnership with, which helped it collect more than 120,000 petitions supporting congressional toxics reform.

These opportunities for engagement – along with strategic events and sponsorships — can generate publicity that leads to even greater levels of consumer awareness and participation. Miller notes that Ben & Jerry’s “event, alongside the governor, ceremonially renaming one of our iconic flavors to Food Fight Fudge Brownie in support of our state’s GMO law’s legal defense fund earned more than 46 million media impressions. The story was picked up nationally and was covered on outlets like MSNBC and CNN. The value of that kind of exposure is tremendous.”

3. Motivate employees through a sense of purpose

Both Orgain and Miller agree that when employees believe that their company’s goals are important and feel that they are valued members of the team contributing to achieve them, they are more likely to feel motivated, engaged and proud of their work. Orgain describes the palpable sense of purpose in an organization where everyone is working toward a shared goal. “Our Toxin-Free Generation campaign was the thread that tied everything together internally this year. Just before the critical vote for the state toxics bill, nearly all employees in the office that day contacted their legislators.”

Does shared activism lead to political wins?

How successful are campaigns involving shared corporate/consumer activism? Is the marketing value from publicity and consumer loyalty the biggest win for mission-driven companies or does engaging consumers successfully amplify the message for political change?

Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation have both seen big wins in their home state of Vermont with the passage of toxics and GMO-labeling legislation this spring. “When the governor signed the toxics bill right at our office, it was the proudest moment of my career,” says Orgain.

While success on the national stage remains elusive, both companies are seeking to replicate their Vermont wins by supporting efforts to pass similar bills in other states, while also continuing their federal advocacy. And Ben & Jerry’s is bringing its activism to the world stage in 2015 with a global effort focused on climate change, an issue the company views as integral to the prosperity of the business and the world at large. In this new campaign, Ben & Jerry’s will be teaming up with Unilever to engage consumers from its 26 global markets. Their combined reach may create a uniquely powerful initiative in the months leading up to the 2015 Climate Change conference in Paris.

Learning from the Leaders

As Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation demonstrate, having a clear direction that aligns with consumers’ values is an important business foundation. These companies have created loyal networks of consumers and employees and have successfully leveraged their enthusiasm in pursuing campaigns for political change. As Miller of Ben & Jerry’s describes it: “Everyone wants to be part of making the world a better place, and we aspire to help them do it.” Companies that are providing people with meaningful opportunities to engage are finding that purpose goes hand in hand with success.

This article was originally published on the Sustainable Brands website
Tara Gallagher specializes in developing and communicating sustainability strategies and in assessing water resource needs and risk at Pure Strategies. She assists clients with sustainability communications and with the development and execution of organizational strategies to improve their sustainability performance.

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