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Sustainability, a Strategic Imperative at Ford

By 3p Contributor

By Sue Rokosz, Principal Environmental Engineer at Ford Motor Company

I’ve been in the auto industry my entire career, and during that time I’ve witnessed a number of changes. Of those changes, many have been only passing fads. Is it possible to predict which changes will last?

In the auto industry, we are used to looking beyond immediate solutions to the “root cause” of issues.  If a part on a vehicle is not functioning properly, we don’t just replace it, but we seek to understand the “root cause” for the failure and eliminate it.  Extending the example to manufacturing, instead of just adding “end of pipe” controls to an air emission stack, we seek to replace or eliminate the chemical (the “root cause”) which required us to install the controls.

This is why sustainability is not just a passing fad, but a strategic imperative for Ford Motor Company.  By looking at the triple bottom line (environmental, social, and economic), we address the “root cause” of issues and make systemic, lasting change.

These days at Ford, we work to build sustainability into the DNA of our vehicles. We’ve incorporated a sustainable approach to the whole life cycle of a vehicle, from the design, raw materials, and manufacturing, to customer use and end-of-life. These and other advancements are detailed in our recently released 2012 CSR report.

We don’t believe that sustainability means “one size fits all” in terms of vehicle offerings.  That’s why we promise to provide our customers with the Power of Choice by offering fuel efficient electric, gas, hybrid and plug-in hybrid options, so that drivers can select the vehicle that best suits their needs.  Around one-third of Ford’s vehicle lines offer a model with 40 miles per gallon or better. The Ford Focus Electric gets an EPA-certified 110 miles per gallon equivalent, or MPGe, making it the most fuel-efficient five-passenger car on the road today.

Sustainability isn’t only expressed in terms of miles per gallon. It’s also seen in the raw materials used in cars. Ford makes seats and headrests out of soy-based foam and uses wheat straw and other plant-reinforced plastic for storage bins and door panels. The introduction of these materials reduces oil consumption and makes the process more sustainable.

Seat fabric in most of Ford’s new or redesigned vehicles must now consist of at least 25 percent post-industrial or post-consumer recycled content. We’ve also recycled nearly 4.1 million pounds of carpet into cylinder head covers. Our carpets and fabrics are made from recycled plastic bottles, and old blue jeans are used for insulation and noise dampening. We’re even looking at retired currency from the Federal Reserve as a potential base material for plastic components in interiors.

We’ve also taken strides to improve the sustainability of our manufacturing processes. Since 2000, Ford has reduced its CO2 emissions from its global manufacturing facilities by approximately 48 percent, or 4.5 million metric tons, and reduced facilities-related CO2 emissions per vehicle by 36 percent.  Over the same time period, we have reduced our water use by 60 percent (over 10 billion gallons), or 49 percent per vehicle.

We are also focused on the sustainability of our supply chain.  The automotive supply chain is one of the most complex in all of industry, and our efforts to help our suppliers become more sustainable have far-reaching impacts.  Ford’s focus on human rights in the supply chain has made us an industry leader.  Additionally, we are working with our suppliers to help them understand and improve their environmental footprints, especially in greenhouse gases.

At Ford, sustainability has moved from the periphery to the core of our strategy for succeeding in the marketplace. We understand that business practices focused on energy efficiency, sustainable materials, human rights and consumer safety are the key to the continued growth of our company and quality of life worldwide.

So, are we seeing the makings of an enduring business strategy, or another passing fad?  Looking at the basis for these developments – heightened awareness of environmental impacts, advancements in reporting and measurements, developments in policy, business innovation and stakeholder activism – we see that sustainability in business has deep roots that will allow continued expansion and integration into standard practices.

Sustainability is now a strategic imperative for any business seeking long-term growth, as its relevance will continue to grow for people, profits, and the planet. As evidenced by Ford and countless other companies, sustainability is here to stay.

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