Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Carrie Majeske: I am the Associate Director of Global Sustainability Integration for Ford Motor Company. I’ve been with Ford since 1984, and on the sustainability team since 2007, leading development of product sustainability strategies for CO2 emissions, fuel economy, sustainable materials, and life cycle assessment. In my current role, I work with various research teams studying ways to use waste and non-food crops in lieu of petroleum in plastics, experimenting with solutions to urban mobility/congestion, and identify sources of conflict minerals in our supply chain. Ford deals with complicated products with non-trivial social and environmental impact in a mature, highly-regulated industry so an important role of sustainability is to cut through some of the complexity and look beyond the regulatory horizon to decide where and how we can reduce environmental impact and improve social conditions while maintaining profitability.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
CM: As with many companies, Ford originally focused on the communication of environmental and social initiatives, mostly to achieve reputational value. Originally, the department reported through Government Affairs. Over the past 10-15 years, sustainability has become an integral part of the business; our Chief Sustainability Officer, Robert Brown, reports directly to the CEO.
Several years ago, the term “Blueprint for Sustainability” was introduced at Ford to describe the actions we are taking to achieve outstanding fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our products. We now use the term more broadly to describe our sustainability strategy as a whole, reflecting the fact that our important sustainability issues are part of a complex system that interconnects our products, plants, people and the communities in which we operate. We’ve also embraced sustainability reporting, utilizing GRI and stakeholder engagement to establish priorities, drive initiatives to the next level and tell our story publicly. Environmental and social progress is continuing and we now look to the associated business case wherever possible. What started as a corporate citizenship effort has become a business imperative.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
CM: David Berdish, a friend and colleague since the late 1990s, is preparing to retire Nov 1. It’s only as we try to “fill his shoes” that I appreciate what (and how much) he’s been doing. David was one of the first employees in what is now our sustainability department; he was personally selected by Bill Ford to focus our efforts regarding human rights policies. Since then he’s been working with internal and external thought leaders in every role — from a high level strategist to human rights auditor in facilities across the globe. His recent work is most impressive: a project that brought prenatal care to otherwise under-served rural mothers in India, utilizing the rugged Ford Endeavor as the delivery vehicle, and exploiting leading edge software delivery. David has been my role model for personal passion, for seeing beyond boundaries and building networks to make good things happen. We’re all looking forward to seeing what David does beyond the constraints of a big company. Some are calling it “David unchained.” Stay tuned…
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
CM: A couple come to mind. First, “Be tough on the problem and easy on the people,” is useful advice when frustrations run high. Few people deliberately create problems and most are interested in being part of the solution. Creativity to find solutions, and energy to implement them are a lot more likely to emerge when you’re not beating people up! The second piece of advice I rely on was really a helpful observation. I was told, “You’re better than you think,” by a boss/mentor early in my career. I still hear those words when I’m at a low point, either second-guessing my abilities, or about to give up on an overwhelming task. It always helps me to calm down, see the next step and have the confidence to take it.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
CM: Most of what I do is bring teams together, articulate the challenge and listen while the team works through the problem, so I tend to avoid taking personal credit. Still, I’m very proud of Ford’s Climate Strategy, which was developed by a team of environmental scientists, powertrain experts, fuel experts and product planners. Ultimately we arrived at a glide path for reducing fleet average tailpipe emissions which aligns with limiting CO2 concentration to 450ppm. Years later we continue to measure our long term product plans against that glide path.
More recently, I am proud that I had a hand in a series of organizational moves to ensure the future of sustainability at Ford. We have new faces in charge of our sustainability reporting, social sustainability, and supply chain sustainability. This amazing team brings a diverse set of skills and experiences for positions ranging from project manager of our Transit Connect Electric vehicle to military public affairs officer to negotiators who manage communication with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on future safety regulations. I’m proud of our success with developing sustainability professionals.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
CM: I’d like to see the auto industry become true collaborators with governments. It’s already happening to a degree, but substantial CO2 reduction will require energy and transportation policies that build toward the best vehicle, fuel, municipality and consumer solutions. There are huge sums of R&D and tax revenue being spent, but not as effectively as it could be.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
CM: I’m big on balance. A perfect day includes a little bit of everything: driving my son’s carpool to morning water polo practice, a mile swim in the pool, getting through a tough meeting or deliverable at the office, a meal with my husband and kids, and a little spiritual or reading time. A glass of Pinot Grigio and a mindless episode of General Hospital at the end of the day would be the icing on the cake.