Ben & Jerry’s makes non-dairy ice cream to slash emissions

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's is introducing a non-dairy alternative that will result in 40% lower emissions during the production process compared with it's traditional ice cream equivalents.

iOS Devices




YouTube Music

The non-dairy offering will be made from a blend of coconut and almond milk. It is being rolled out in America from the start of 2016, with plans to expand to Europe within the next couple of years.

The dairy sector accounts for 4% of global emissions thanks in part to the methane produced by cows and the energy and land-use associated with keeping them. Approximately 40% of Ben and Jerrys’ entire carbon footprint comes from dairy.

Replacing cow’s milk with natural alternatives like almond or coconut milk significantly reduces these emissions.

Ben & Jerry’s chief executive Jostein Solheim told edie that the development of the new range was not primarily a financial decision – it will allow the company to reach a new audience in vegans and those with lactose intolerance – but that the decision was “very much motivated by the fact that you can reduce your carbon footprint significantly”.

Selling sustainability 

The low-carbon credentials of the ice cream will not initially be a part of the branding, Solheim said, because the company wants to ensure it has “really good tracking mechanisms in place” before it makes official claims.

Ben & Jerry’s has not been shy about sharing its environmental message on its packaging in the past. In October, the company launched an ice cream flavour – Salted Caramel Brown-ie Ale – with packaging that told the story of Protect Our Winters, an organisation that tries to mobilise the winter sports community against climate change.

Back in September, the company launched another flavour called Save our Swirled, replete with calls for climate action on the packaging. 

The development of sustainable brands and products is part of Ben & Jerry’s efforts to fundamentally change the way it does business.

“We’ve recognised that we need to invest a business model that delivers the 80% reduction in our total carbon footprint that the world needs to achieve by 2050, which is a daunting task,” said Solheim. “We needed to look at our business in a fundamental way.”

Making scoops, closing loops

A key part of this transition is the adoption of a ‘carbon insetting’ model. Last year, Ben & Jerry’s formally introduced a price on carbon across the entire business, where individual business units are charged for the carbon they emit, with the funds going to carbon offsetting projects.

However, Solheim says the firm is now trying to switch to an insetting model where that money is invested in projects in their own supply chain. For example, Ben & Jerry’s might finance an anaerobic digestion plant on a dairy farm, reducing energy costs and boosting energy security.

Of course, the transition to sustainable brands and sustainable operations is not without its business benefits. “I think people increasingly want to buy things that make a difference,” Solheim said.

He pointed to a recent Nielsen survey which found that almost three quarters of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Generation Z (15-20 year-olds) were close behind, with 72% saying they would pay more for sustainable products.

“You’re seeing a shift in behaviour and business will act on that,” Solheim said. “There are smart profitable ways of reacting to this, but businesses need to act now and change their thinking.

“The tipping point is coming really fast because people have so much information. The level of transparency is increasing so quickly that I am incredibly confident that businesses will see the opportunity and react in the right way.”

What I want from COP21: Jostein Solheim, Ben & Jerry’s

Solheim and the Ben & Jerry’s team are in Paris this week lobbying for an ambitious climate deal. Solheim spoke to edie about what an ideal Paris agreement would look like.

Brad Allen

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie