by Chris Miller Forty years ago, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield turned an old gas station into the birthplace of Vermont’s Finest. While it wasn’t part of a conscious strategy to reduce Burlington’s consumption of fossil fuels, there is something a bit satisfying that Ben & Jerry turned a place that pumped gasoline into cars into a place that pumped hot fudge onto ice cream.
You might think that a company that sells ice cream would love a warming planet; after all, the hotter the weather the more ice cream we sell. But you’d be wrong. Ben & Jerry’s is a food company that buys ingredients from all around the world. Many of our ingredients come from places that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and already feeling its impacts.
Cocoa and vanilla producers in Africa have seen dramatically reduced yields from extreme weather conditions. The coffee cooperatives we buy from in Mexico have been battling a blight called Roya, brought on by warmer temperatures during the winter. Even here at home on the dairy farms in Franklin County, drought conditions in the Midwest and plains have caused spikes in feed prices.
Climate change is not only impacting some of the most vulnerable, it’s increasingly adding cost, complexity, and uncertainty to our supply chains. If there is one thing business doesn’t like, it’s uncertainty.
While Ben & Jerry’s has been working hard to reduce our environmental impacts, we’re also strong proponents for policies that accelerate the transition to the clean energy economy of the future. That’s why we’re strong supporters of a price on carbon. It’s an elegant way of disincentivizing the use of fossil fuels while shifting the cost of polluting from the public to the polluters. We understand carbon pricing isn’t a silver bullet, but we know we can’t tackle climate change without it.
That’s why we are enthusiastic supporters of the ESSEX Plan. It’s a plan designed specifically for Vermont by Vermonters. It is the product of a collaboration between businesses, low income advocates, and environmental leaders who’ve developed a plan to strengthen Vermont’s economy and protect our environment, all while prioritizing low income and rural Vermonters.
The ESSEX plan requires fossil fuel companies to pay a fee for the dirty carbon pollution embedded in the products they sell, and return 100% of the revenue raised to ratepayers in the form of lower electricity rates. Hundreds of Vermonters testified in favor of this carbon pricing proposal at the governor’s Climate Action Commission hearings last fall and it was the winning concept at the Vermont Climate & Energy Summit. It’s simple, intuitive, and designed specifically for Vermont.
Here are the benefits of the plan:
- Lower electricity bills for every Vermont home and business – helping families and industries transition off of fossil fuels imported from far away and onto low-carbon electricity increasingly being generated right here in Vermont.
- Additional rebates for low-income and rural Vermonters – ensuring equity and progressivity.
- Cleaner air, cleaner water, and improved public health.
In full transparency, this plan would save money for Vermont companies, including our own. We use a lot of electricity at our Waterbury and St Albans manufacturing plants. At the end of the 8-year phase in of the ESSEX plan, we’d see just under $900,000 in reduced electricity rates annually. When fully implemented, the ESSEX plan not only reduces the burden of our manufacturing on the climate, it also makes our plants more competitive in a global economy.
We currently manufacture ice cream in St Albans that we export to places like Australia and Japan. The ESSEX Plan will make our plants in Vermont more cost effective to operate for export, which is good for us, for Vermont, our workers, and the dairy farms that we purchase milk and cream from.
Two outstanding leaders -- Senator Chris Pearson and Representative Sarah Copeland-Hanzas – along with their co-sponsoring colleagues, have introduced legislation based on the ESSEX Plan – S.284 and H791. We’re proud of the leadership they’ve shown, and we believe that as Vermont has so many times before, our little state can lead our nation. We encourage the legislature to put this plan on Governor Scott’s desk.
As our co-founder Ben said, “If it’s melted, it’s ruined.” That’s as true for our planet as it is our ice cream.
Chris Miller is the Social Mission Activism Manager for Ben & Jerry's, and a co-author of the ESSEX Plan.