You would think that making the delicious brownies and cookies featured in Ben and Jerry’s most popular ice creams flavors would be enough for any bakery business. You would be wrong.
Greyston Bakery in Yonkers is one the U.S.’s growing number of B Corporations and the first one in NY state. B Corps hold themselves to a higher standard of success than just profit and publicity. They are better companies – better for workers, better for communities and better for the environment. Essentially they are change agents in the world of business running as a force for good, not just profit.
In 1982, Bernard Glassman opened Greyston Bakery as a way to help alleviate homelessness and poverty in Yonkers, a small industrial town about 30 minutes north of NYC. The bakery was intended not only as a traditional business but as a way to create jobs for Yonkers residents who lacked education and skills. Glassman has been a pioneer in the American Zen Movement and the founder of the organization Zen Peacemakers. The bakery has posters with the teachings of his “Socially Engaged Buddhism” up everywhere and although he is no longer involved in the day to day operations, Glassman’s presence can be felt throughout the building.
The bakery’s “open door” policy offers employment opportunities regardless of education, work history or past social barriers, such as incarceration, homelessness or drug use. There is a sign-up sheet in the lobby that allows anyone to apply for a job. The wait for a position can be anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Once employed, dedication and hard work are rewarded with support and the opportunity for advancement and training. The motto on the packages of brownies is true-Greyston’s mission is to change lives.
In 1989, Glassman joined up with Ben & Jerry’s – a company that was one of the first in the world to place a social mission as equal in importance to its product and economics, and since then Greyston Bakery has become the supplier of brownies and cookies for several lines of the company’s ice cream. Glassman then founded the Greyston Foundation, which offers HIV/AIDS programs, job training and housing, child care services and educational opportunities to the residents of the bakery’s Yonkers neighborhood.
Care and thought are given to every aspect of the business. The building was designed by architect Maya Lin with the idea of “form following function,” and 50% of the building relies on natural light as a source of its illumination. There are big windows that allow the workers to see the Hudson River, a roof garden that doubles as a public meeting place and adds insulation to the roof. Even the baking process is state of the art, with an efficient impingement tunnel oven that is insulated so well it does not feel hot to the touch when in use. A computer center on the top floor of the building gives workers the opportunity to expand their horizons and as a gateway out of poverty.
The bottom line is that Greyston and other B Corps are models for how businesses can and should operate. Manufacturing a great product in a way that positively impacts both the community and the earth is not an easy task, but the people who work for Greyston would probably tell you that it’s worth it.
To find out more about B Corporations click here.