In 1861 he and his brother, Richard, took over the management of the cocoa factory, but his main interest lay in social reform, particularly in supplying decent housing for the ordinary working man. To forward this he was elected to Birmingham Town Council in 1877 and threw himself wholeheartedly into municipal reform begun by Joseph Chamberlain.
George resolved to remove his cocoa works from the crowded streets of Birmingham into the country as this would make for happier and healthier lives for his employees. This was achieved in 1879, when the works moved to Bournville.
In 1895, George began the greatest experiment of his life - the Bournville Building Estate - which, by 1900, was to grow into the Bournville Village Trust. He bought 120 acres of land next to the factory site and houses were designed to fit in with the surroundings with a generous provision for gardens and open space.
He was a faithful member of the Society of Friends and he did them good service, notably in the establishment of a settlement at Woodbrooke, Selly Oak, his old family home. George Cadbury died at his home, Manor House, Northfield, on 24 October, 1922 and was cremated at the crematorium, Perry Barr.