How does a brand stay true to its purpose?  And how does a company create an emotional connection with its stakeholders, employees and consumers?

These were just a few of the questions addressed by Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s during a Roundtable session Nov. 19th on “Sustainable Brand Power” at Cornerstone Capital Group.  Mr. Solheim talked about the how the company lives its mission, which is centered on the idea of “linked prosperity” – prosperity for the company and society – that seeks to create excellence in three specific areas: product, economic and social.  He explained how the unique governance structure of the ice cream firm, which is owned by Unilever, allows it to maintain its commitment to its mission.  First, CEO compensation is linked more closely to the company’s sustainability goals than to its profit-making goals.  Second, the Board of Directors includes members with both business expertise as well as sustainability experience.  These factors allow the company to be “super product sensitive, but have fun,” under its “Act Now” blueprint.

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courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s

Mr. Solheim also described the company’s broad-based commitment to contributing to solutions to many of the problems encountered by the company’s stakeholders, including: their embrace of equality for gay employees since the 1980s; their  commitment to fair trade; their use of organic ingredients and their efforts to help suppliers move away from the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); and their efforts to mitigate climate change.  He cited the business benefits to doing so: customers of Ben & Jerry’s are two and a half times as loyal to the brand than to its peers. Moreover, he noted the loyalty of other company stakeholders (ie., suppliers): “If they lose half the almond crop, I want the other half.”