Jerry Greenfield was born on March 14, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with a degree in biology from Oberlin College in 1973, he applied twice to medical school but was not accepted. On May 5, 1978, Greenfield and his longtime friend, Ben Cohen, together invested $12,000 to open an ice-cream parlor in Burlington, Vermont, which they named Ben & Jerry's (B&J). The store was enormously successful and soon developed into a franchise business.
In 1985 Greenfield and Cohen created the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, a philanthropy that historically has taken 7.5% of B&J's pre-tax profits and distributed them to organizations whose political and social agendas are consistent with the leftist leanings of the founders.
In 2000, Greenfield and Cohen sold B&J to the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever for $326 million. As Biography.com notes, “the sale … contained provisions to allow Ben & Jerry's to maintain its existing social mission and brand identity.” Also under the terms of the sale, B&J became a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever and maintained a separate board-of-directors that included the two founders.
Greenfield and Cohen strongly opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2004 they took a twelve-foot effigy of President George W. Bush on a national “Pants-on-Fire” tour, setting it ablaze at each location to signify their contention that Bush had lied to the American people when he announced that major military hostilities in Iraq had ended.
In 2012, Greenfield and Cohen joined with other business leaders (calling themselves the Movement Resource Group) to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement.
In 2015, Greenfield and Cohen spoke out in support of the nuclear-weapons-program agreement that President Barack Obama and other world leaders were in the midst of negotiating with Iran. (For details about the provisions of that accord, click here.) In an email to MoveOn.org activists, the B&J founders stated that the pending deal represented “the only peaceful way to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and to “kee[p] America out of another war in the Middle East.” Further, the longtime Democrat supporters vowed not to donate money to any congressional Democrats who failed to back the Iran accord.
After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 U.S. states in 2015, B&J claimed that “the movement for marriage equality is on an unstoppable roll.” The company celebrated the decision by introducing a new cookie-dough ice-cream flavor called “I Dough, I Dough.”
In 2016, B&J paid honor to its preferred presidential candidate, the self-identified “Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, by introducing a new mint-and-chocolate ice-cream flavor called “Bernie's Yearnings.” Greenfield, for his part, praised “Democratic socialism” as a political and economic system where the “government will work for all the people and not just for the few at the top and for the corporations, and [where] we are going to pay for it by having [everyone] pay their fair share” in taxes. “We need what Bernie calls a political revolution,” Greenfield added, in order to prevent “all the [political and economic] benefits” from “go[ing] to the top one percent, to the ultra-wealthy, and to the corporations.”
In April 2016, Greenfield and Cohen were arrested along with some 300 others at the U.S. Capitol during so-called “Democracy Awakening” protests agitating for: (a) an end to Voter ID requirements, and (b) the restoration of an anachronistic provision -- requiring mainly Southern states to undergo special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way -- that the Supreme Court had struck from the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
On May 17, 2016, B&J announced that the proceeds from yet another new ice-cream product, “Empower Mint,” would help fund the North Carolina NAACP’s campaign to repeal that state’s Voter ID law. Moreover, the money would also be used to promote legislation designed to get “big money donations from corporations and wealthy elites” out of politics. “This flavor,” wrote Greenfield, “helps us connect with Ben & Jerry’s fans” as we “work nationally on trying to help reauthorize the voting rights act.”
Announcing its support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement in October 2016, B&J lamented that “systemic and institutionalized racism” was “disadvantaging and discriminating against people of color” nationwide, most notably in the form of “violence and threats to the lives and well-being of black people.” “All lives do matter,” said B&J. “But all lives will not matter until black lives matter.” One method by which B&J raised money for BLM was by selling T-shirts that read, “Hands Up Don't Shoot,” a slogan that had grown out of the false narrative which claimed that a white police officer's fatal 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man in Missouri, had occurred while Brown was raising his hands in submission and pleading, “Don't shoot.”
Claiming that “it can no longer be denied” that “the effects of climate change” caused by “man-made carbon pollution” are having an “increasin[g]” effect on “our fragile planet,” B&J declares: “The scientific evidence is settled; global warming is real and already impacting people around the world.” “The cruel irony of climate change,” the company adds, “is that people in the developing world, who can least afford to adapt to climate change, will pay the steepest price for the 200 years of industrialization and pollution from the developed world. It truly is an issue of climate justice.” To address this matter, B&J launched a carbon-offsets program for its Vermont manufacturing facilities in 2002; carried out its first global-warming advocacy campaign in 2007; initiated a “Save Our Swirled” ice-cream flavor (to increase climate-change awareness) in 2015; and published a list of “Endangered Pints” in 2016—i.e., ice-cream flavors that, because of “the impact of global warming” on harvests of ingredients like cocoa and peanuts, could possibly become scarce or unavailable in the future.
In addition to his continuing work with B&J, Greenfield is a board member of the Institute for Sustainable Communities. He is also involved with Businesses for Social Responsibility and TrueMajority.
Greenfield and Cohen each have a reported net worth of approximately $150 million.