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Phil Covington headshot

Ford's Corporate Responsibility Continues Under New Leadership


There's apparently a saying at Ford Motor Co. that empowers development: "Great products, strong business, better world," so says Thomas Niemann, Ford's new social sustainability manager. Niemann recently took over for David Berdish, who was appointed to the role by Bill Ford Jr. in 1999. Back in those days, the term -- and the role, for that matter -- of corporate social responsibility (CSR) was not really mainstream.

The "better world" part is a key element of Berdish's legacy and is in many ways a reflection of Bill Ford Jr.'s values as well. Since 1999, the company has spent considerable effort promoting better working conditions and human rights around the world where Ford does business.

One of Berdish's signature projects was a program for healthy mothers and babies in rural India, where Ford used their off-road vehicles in order to allow medical professionals to reach pregnant women in remote locations. The project, known as Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach or SUMURR, allowed Ford to deliver healthcare, in conjunction with the local Public Health Service, to prevent unnecessary maternal and infant deaths; an innovative use of company products, but at the same time, an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to those in need.

Another of Berdish's key achievements was being the author of a code of working conditions for Ford employees, which he encouraged other businesses to adopt as well.

Berdish retired earlier this year and Thomas Niemann is now filling his shoes. Niemann told me that he will continue Berdish's legacy as Ford moves into the future. The new social sustainability manager also placed a point of emphasis on the company's strong product line, which reflects its commitment to sustainability. Niemann highlighted three significant developments from Ford this year that illustrate his point.

Firstly, Ford's F150 pickup truck, the company's largest selling vehicle has been redesigned for 2015 around an aluminum platform that will save 700 pounds of weight from the vehicle -- leading to significantly better fuel economy.

Secondly, at this year's CES consumer electronics show, Ford revealed its plug-in EV concept C-max Energi vehicle, which uses a self-charging solar roof to replenish the vehicle's batteries -- demonstrating the type of innovations Ford is looking at for possible future vehicles.

Thirdly, Neimann added that during this year's Super Bowl, Ford used its advertising time slots to promote its line of hybrid vehicles, emphasizing the importance the company is placing on fuel efficiency technologies. As such, Niemann said, "Ford is putting our business where our mouth is," and went on to point out that at Ford, having strong products and a strong business is essential for the company to undertake social programs around the world.

Neimann, a former soldier of 20 years in the U.S. Army, joined Ford in 1999 and already has considerable experience in corporate social responsibility, having been responsible for six of the company's CSR reports. As he says, in that role he was able to be, "the chief storyteller" for Ford Motor Co., and we look forward to seeing many more stories as Ford continues on its path of sustainability.

Here's a link to a short video from Ford highlighting David Berdish's career with the company and how Ford has promoted human rights issues around the world.

Image courtesy of Ford

Phil Covington headshotPhil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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