Ford Lays Out Evolving Vision of 21st Century Smart Mobility

Ford EV solar charging

Ford Motors executives took to the Web on a conference call with members of the press on Wednesday. Moderated by consulting company SustainAbility‘s Chris Guenther, Ford’s global director of sustainability, John Viera, and VP of advanced engineering research, Ken Washington, highlighted the automaker’s progress in enhancing the overall sustainability of its operations. The senior Ford execs also talked about how sustainability initiatives are integral to the company’s strategic plans and evolving vision of “smart mobility” in the 21st century.

Ford’s conference call coincided with and zoomed-in on the automaker’s 2014-2015 corporate sustainability report, Global Mobility Through Changing Times. During the call, Viera and Washington offered illustrations as to how the progress Ford made this past year ties in with its long-term “Blueprint for Sustainability.”

Viera got the ball rolling by emphasizing that Ford’s approach to enhancing overall sustainability is rooted firmly in science, and that the automaker is doing all it can to help stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (ppm). He also explained that Ford’s sustainability strategy is based on addressing five so-called mega-trends: urbanization and congestion; growing middle classes in developing nations; air quality; changing consumer preferences and habits regarding autos and transportation; and the finite nature of many natural resources.

Addressing challenging mega-trends via smart mobility

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Ford sets outs the basis for its Blueprint for Sustainability strategy and the initiatives resulting from it by defining sustainability “as a business model that creates value consistent with the long-term preservation and enhancement of environmental, social and financial capital.” From there, Ford has been, and continues, to craft, refine and enact a multi-faceted series of major sustainability initiatives.

Global society is facing unprecedented economic, social and ecological challenges, Viera highlighted at the outset of Ford’s press conference call on corporate sustainability. “New challenges threaten global mobility,” he told participants, saying aging infrastructure, skyrocketing populations and urban congestion are prominent among them.

Ford’s 2014-2015 corporate sustainability report is its sixteenth. During this period, it has worked closely with organizations including SustainAbility and the Sierra Club in originating, designing and following through on its Blueprint for Sustainability. This encompasses initiatives to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and the negative environmental and social impacts of its operations. This, in turn, includes reducing and conserving water, reducing materials usage and waste.

“We have a dual goal at Ford: serving the evolving mobility needs of a growing world population while reducing environmental impacts and making sure that solutions not only make sense today, but in the future.”

Sustainability that extends well beyond auto manufacturing

For Ford, that reaches beyond manufacturing vehicles to decoupling mobility from resource use, Viera continued. Keys to this is promoting multi-modal mobility – development and use of a range of personal-use vehicles and other modes of transportation in concert with connected technologies that embed intelligence in vehicles and public and commercial transportation infrastructure.

Via its Smart Mobility program Ford is conducting experiments that aim to identify smarter ways of transporting people and goods worldwide, especially in “challenging environments,” such as increasingly polluted and congested mega-cities, Washington highlighted. Ford has launched more than 25 smart mobility experiments around the world, including one in London, that are focused on developing multi-modal models of transportation.

Among other innovations, Ford’s Smart Mobility experiments envision making use of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, as well as ride-sharing and on-demand vehicle use. More broadly speaking, these experimental smart mobility trials leverage the latest mobile computing and telecoms technology in an effort to alleviate urban congestion and reduce pollution while also improving living and working conditions for urban residents, Washington explained.

Ford’s Go Drive smart mobility trial that began in London makes Ford EVs and high fuel-efficiency vehicles available to an initial small group of project participants. Go Drive employs a pay-by-the-minute revenue model via which participants can use a mobile app to reserve and make use of a vehicle on one-way journeys. Better yet: Parking spaces are guaranteed, alleviating the driver headache, traffic congestion and emissions associated with circling around in search of a parking space.

Community and employee engagement and development is another core aspect of Ford’s sustainability strategy, Viera and Washington highlighted. Employing some 187,000 people across its worldwide operations, Ford is hiring as it seeks to transform the organization in line with its evolving vision of transportation in the 21st century.

For example, Ford has added 200 new employees at the “electrification” lab at its global headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan as its works to develop and manufacture more in the way of emissions-free electric vehicles. More broadly, Ford has hired some 6,000 new employees at 62 manufacturing plants across eight world regions so far this year.

The company has invested nearly $46 million in local communities, while Ford employees have voluntarily contributed some 160,000 hours of community service. Furthermore, management is increasingly looking to all its employees as sources of ideas and agents of change.

New “smart” vehicles, business models and multi-modal transportation options

The automaker’s MyEnergi Lifestyle program is an example of how it’s enlisting its workforce, partnering with other corporations and engaging local communities in its effort to transform the organization and promote sustainable transportation and lifestyles.

Partnering with Nest, SunPower and Whirlpool, through My Energy Lifestyle Ford is promoting a lifestyle that offers material comfort and convenience to the masses while significantly reducing the toll exacted on ecosystems, human health, safety and quality of life, Viera explained.

Ford EVs, hybrid EVs, and high fuel-efficiency cars and trucks are key elements of the MyEnergi Lifestyle program. So are Nest’s smart thermostats, SunPower’s solar photovoltaic energy systems and Whirlpool’s high energy-efficiency home appliances.

MyEnergi Lifestyle, Viera elaborated, “allows consumers to shift the bulk of their energy use off-peak … This model, if widely adopted, could reduce consumer energy costs 60 percent and enable sustainable consumer lifestyles.”

Drive Green for Life is another example that illustrates how enhancing sustainability is integral to addressing the five mega-trends and Ford’s evolving vision of mobility and transportation in the 21st century. Joining with SunPower and the Sierra Club, Drive Green for Life offers buyers of Ford EVs and hybrid EVs – the Ford Focus, Fusion and C-Max models – a $750 rebate if they also sign up to have a SunPower home PV energy system installed. SunPower will make a $500 donation to the Sierra Club for each Drive Green for Life program participant.

Achieving a zero waste to landfill goal is another key element of Ford’s Blueprint for Sustainability. That goal has already been achieved at Ford’s manufacturing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico and others around the world, the Ford execs highlighted.

The automaker’s zero waste to landfill initiative extends to its cafeterias and food services. Nearly 45 tons of food waste from its cafeterias are being diverted from landfills and sent to facilities that use it as feedstock to produce compost for agricultural use, Viera told Web conference participants.

Images credit: Ford

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email: huginn.muggin@gmail.com