As Detroit and Michigan rebound thanks to a recovering automobile industry, Ford Motor continues to perform relatively well. Its stock price may be flat, but its overall financial health is strong. Part of the company’s long term plan is to improve its overall sustainability and financial performance, and to that end, Ford released its most recent sustainability report late last week.
The debate over fuel consumption and gas mileage in the U.S. has been a long one, and Ford has made some progress on improving both the fuel efficiency and environmental performance of its vehicles. But what is most interesting about Ford’s sustainability report this year is the emphasis the company has placed on improving the energy efficiency of its manufacturing operations.
Volatile energy prices naturally hit consumers in the wallet, but they are also devastating for manufacturers. Ford claims that sustainability is at the core of its overall strategy, and that appears to be true. For example, Ford has reduced the amount of electricity needed to manufacture each vehicle in its factories by almost 800 kilowatt hours: from an average of 3576 kwh in 2006 to 2778 kwh in 2011.
To put those numbers into context, the average household in some of the larger U.S. states including California, Illinois, Michigan and New York use 550 kwh to 800 kwh hours a month. The decrease is in part due to more modern and technologically advanced manufacturing such as a “three-wet” paint process that not only conserves electricity but cuts both carbon dioxide and VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions. A factory that churns out the Ford Focus and Focus Electric has a 500 kilowatt solar power installation, but at Ford, smart investment in energy efficiency technologies are both saving the company money and decreasing its overall environmental footprint.
Ford promises even more efficiency in the coming years. By 2016 the company wants to slash energy use per vehicle globally by 25 percent. Emissions per vehicle are to decrease by 30 percent in 2025; Ford achieved an eight percent decrease between 2010 and 2011. And it is not just energy that Ford is eyeballing: the company is improving its waste diversion performance and water consumption fell eight percent last year. Ford is also examining its supply chain closely and holding its vendors responsible on everything from greenhouse gas emission reductions to improving human rights.
But what is really exciting from a consumer’s perspective is that the Fords rolling out now and continuing on this decade are not the cars that your grandparents revered and your parents reviled. The use of Design for Sustainability principles is slowly taking root. Foam seating is now standard all vehicles manufactured in North American factories. More recycled materials are finding their way into seats and headliners. Better cars, safer and more upcycled materials and happier stockholders are the result of this slow embrace of sustainability by a company that not too long ago had spurned it. This is real change we should believe in.
Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter. Leon will be at the Further With Ford event later this month in Dearborn.
Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.