ıwants to save the planet,
one business at a time
By T. Foster Jones
IN THE EARLY 1980s, Gary Hirshberg had an epiphany. It was a life-changing, career-altering, light-bulb-over-the-head moment. And it happened, of
all places, at Disney World.
An avid environmentalist, Hirshberg, now president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm—then a seven-cow yogurt operation—came to the realization that,
in order to achieve his long-held goal of saving
the planet, he had to convince business leaders
everywhere that being environmental stewards
while running their companies would not only benefit humankind, but would make them bucket loads
of money. That being a capitalist and caring for the
planet were not mutually exclusive pursuits.
To get their attention, of course, he had to prove
it could be done.
Today, 23 years later, Stonyfield is the third-largest yogurt brand in America and the largest
organic yogurt company in the world, selling natural and certified-organic yogurt, cultured soy, milk,
frozen yogurt and ice cream in all 50 states, as well as
overseas. The company’s sales in 2006 hover around
$250 million, having grown an average of 25
percent per year for the last decade, far
outpacing the industry.
The company is also monumentally “Earth friendly.” It invests in projects that prevent or
offset 100 percent of any greenhouse gas emissions that the
manufacture of its products
might cause. It was the first company to pay farmers not to use
hormones on their cows. Seventy-two percent of the company’s waste
goes out as recyclable. It has introduced green manufacturing processes
that have been adopted by other large companies. And Hirshberg has instituted programs such as
Menu for Change (vending machines offering
healthy foods in schools); O’Naturals, a chain of
healthy fast-food restaurants; Good2Go school
breakfast programs; and Profits for the Planet,
which contributes 10 percent of Stonyfield’s profits
to organizations and projects that work to protect
and restore the Earth.
from profits, they have actually
contributed to the company’s bottom line. Stonyfield is in fact making bucket loads of money, and it
is doing it without having strayed
from its environmental ideals.
And business leaders are paying attention.
To meet Gary Hirshberg at
Stonyfield’s headquarters in Londonderry, New Hampshire, is to
meet the face, the voice and the
soul of the company. He doesn’t just run Stonyfield;
the self-titled CE-Yo is, to a large degree, Stonyfield.
Self-effacing, gregarious, passionate about his
beliefs and highly opinionated, Hirshberg has a
youthful appearance (which he attributes, naturally,
to yogurt consumption) that belies his seasoned 52
years. Over the past 30 years he has demonstrated a
canny business sense, a flair for unique marketing
techniques and the ability to cultivate loyalty
among consumers to a company and
product that is just short of cultish.
None of this was readily ap-
parent when Hirshberg first came
to Stonyfield Farm to help the
farm’s owner, Samuel Kaymen.
As a matter of fact, the success of
Stonyfield as any kind of enter-
prise, let alone a profit-making
Samuel environmental leader with de-
Kaymen signs on changing the very nature
of business, was very much in doubt
in the early years, or what Hirshberg
laughingly refers to as the “bad old days.”
Kaymen had recruited Hirshberg, who
met him when they were both operating organic-farming schools, to develop new ways to keep Kaymen’s Rural Education Center afloat. Hirshberg,
whose previous careers included directing an institute devoted to organic agriculture and renewable
energy systems and being an environmental-educa-tion specialist for the U.S. government, struck on the
idea of selling the organic yogurt for which Kaymen
had become locally known.
Name: Stonyfield Farm
President: Gary Hirshberg
10 Burton Drive
Londonderry, NH 03053
Products at Costco:
Kirkland Signature™ by
Stonyfield Farm Organic
Comments about Costco:
“I haven’t found a retailer in
America who seems as similar to us in this unrelenting
focus on quality and value.
That’s what it is: unrelenting.”