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Is Ford Green? A Look at Fuel Economy, Renewable Materials and Climate Change Initiatives

CleanTechies sits down with John Viera, director of sustainable business strategies for Ford Motor Company, for three questions.
CleanTechies: What are your day to day duties and the big picture of your job?
John Viera: Basically, my responsibilities are two-fold. My organization is responsible for our sustainability strategies and also responsible for environmental policy for the company. So, when you think about those two pockets – the sustainability strategy, you can think about it in a couple of different buckets. Everything we do from a sustainability strategy standpoint has to have economic goodness to it. I say that because when we talk about doing things that are environmentally friendly and whatnot, we say that it does need to have a good business case. We’re not the philanthropic arm of Ford. There is a philanthropic arm. It’s called the Ford Fund. And what we do is we set up strategies that make business sense.

We’re not the philanthropic arm of Ford. We set up strategies that make business sense.

The two buckets in sustainability are the environmental bucket and the social bucket. The environmental bucket is probably the one that gets most of the attention when we talk about, “Is Ford green?  And what are the green actions?”  But we actually do a lot of work as well on the social side. And that gets into things like human rights and working conditions in our plants, in our suppliers’ plants. What kind of codes do we have that require our facilities and our suppliers facilities to insure that the workers have the right temperature, working the right hours, we’re not using child labor, those types of things.
But on the environmental side, and probably where I spend most of my time, it’s really two-fold. What are we doing with our products in terms of environmental friendliness and what are we doing with our facilities, our manufacturing plants. And when we talk about our products, probably the two areas are fuel economy, because as you improve fuel economy, you reduce the amount of CO2 you’re emitting. That’s the biggest area that we focus on because it has the biggest impact on the environment. But we also work on our sustainable materials strategy. First of all, we want our vehicles to be completely recyclable. You’re probably familiar with the fact that vehicles are highly recyclable. As a matter of fact, it is the number one large consumer product when it comes to recycling. About 95% of our vehicle can be recycled. About 85% of all vehicles actually do get recycled. Which is a high percentage compared to, like, 50% for newspapers and 30% for pop bottles. Obviously we want to drive that to 100%. But the other piece associated with sustainable materials is how do we drive toward more toward what we call renewable or reusable materials in our products. An example would be moving from petroleum-based plastics to more plant-based plastics or materials.  A good example is the foam that we have in our vehicle seats. It used to be made from petroleum-based products. We are now moving to soy-based foam seats.

We  look at our facilities to make them more sustainable. It also includes strategies to eliminate material going to landfill. And then another area is water use.

And then from a manufacturing standpoint, we also look at what are we doing with our facilities to make them more sustainable. And that goes anywhere from improving the energy efficiency of all of our facilities, because then we’re using less electricity, to minimizing the amount of emissions outside of CO2 emissions. It also includes strategies to eliminate material going to landfill. And then another area is water use. When we think about that next environmental element that we need to focus on more so than we’ve done so far, and that’s what are we doing in terms of water and reducing the amount we’re using. We think that’s going to be equally as important as the focus that we’ve all had on CO2 reductions.
CleanTechies: Does Ford have a position on climate change?
John Viera: Our position on climate change is that we absolutely acknowledge the science of climate change. We came out with a report in 2005 that said we believe climate change is real and that we need to do our part from a Ford Motor Co. and automaker standpoint to address the issue. We continue to make that statement publicly and basically we have set off what we called our product CO2 sustainability strategy around a CO2 reduction pass that basically allows us to do our share in terms of contributing to climate stabilization. So we’ve committed to a 30% reduction in CO2 from our vehicles by 2020 from the 2006 baseline point. So we’re basically putting ourselves on a 450 ppm glide path type of curse.
CleanTechies: Can you have influence on other corporations with your strategies?
John Viera: We are actually supportive of some of the cap and trade legislation. So when we talk about policy, we are all for what we call an economy-wide cap and trade legislation where we’re basically saying we do need to concentrate on reducing CO2 in all sectors and we’re going to do our part in our sector. So kind of the proof in the pudding is – we feel that before we can go out and strongly say hey, we’re very supportive of a cap and trade type of approach, are we really living with our strategy, doing our share in terms of contributing to that cap and trade approach?  And we are doing that with our strategy. So that’s why we go out and support that type of position.

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