The Intertubes have been buzzing with news that the iconic US auto manufacturer Ford has bailed out of ALEC, the super powerful, fossil-friendly, climate-denying lobbying organization. That should come as no surprise. The writing was on the wall back in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, when Ford announced that it would partner with the iconic toy company LEGO for a series of kits featuring the top-selling Ford-150 pickup.
Why LEGO Matters
How does that add up? We’re not saying that The LEGO Group ran over to Ford and gave it a poke, but the company is a strong, vociferous supporter of climate action. As one tiny example, back in 2014, LEGO announced that it would not renew a long-running relationship with Royal Dutch Shell for teeny little Shell-branded gas station kits (Greenpeace cited public pressure but LEGO apparently had its own explanation).
Among other more far-reaching actions, LEGO recently launched a line of kits pivoting on environmental themes in Asia, backing it up with a corporate culture that invests heavily in clean energy and supply chain responsibility.
As for those little plastic bricks, just last summer, the LEGO group announced that it would invest 1 billion DKK to establish the new LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre, with the aim of finding alternative materials for petroleum-based plastic. That could take some time, but the company has rounded up a crew of more than 100 to work on the task, and it expects the new research effort to be up and running sometime this year.
That’s a stark contrast to the Koch brothers, who are major funders behind ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). With Charles and David as the public face, the second-generation industrialist brothers have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying organizations like ALEC and the political campaigns of fossil-friendly legislators in support of the family business Koch Industries, which Rolling Stone has called a “toxic empire.”
LEGO is a household name globally with a stellar reputation among parents and toy lovers of all ages. Let’s face it, if you were Ford, who would you rather hang with — the fun, planet-saving LEGO family or the sourpuss Koch family.
Why Ford Matters
Along with our sister site Gas2.org, CleanTechnica has been following closely as Ford has transitioned from a fossil-dependent 20th century company to a 21st century enterprise revolving around hybrid and EV technology, sustainable materials, and new forms of mobility.
We have also been tracking the growing number of major US corporations bailing out of ALEC over climate change in recent years, and last month we did happen to notice that Ford still had a place in the organization’s membership rolls.
That also struck a funny chord with the Center for Media and Democracy/PR Watch. In November 2015, the organization reported on the oddness of Ford’s relationship with ALEC, receiving this response from the company:
“Ford participates in a broad range of organizations that support our business needs, but no organization speaks for Ford on every issue. We do not engage with ALEC on climate change.”
True enough, but Ford was beginning to stick out like a sore thumb. Scores of other iconic US companies have cut ties with ALEC, including some that have important supply chain relationships with Ford.
Coca-Cola, for example, was among the first wave to ditch ALEC. The company has been working closely with Ford to develop its bio-based plastic for use in car seat materials. Coca-Cola, in turn, has partnered with its arch rival and fellow ALEC defector Pepsi on vehicle emissions initiatives.
Also not helping ALEC much in the membership retention department has been President Obama’s series of initiatives enlisting the business community in clean energy and sustainability initiatives. The most recent one, the somewhat clumsily titled American Business Act On Climate Change, launched last summer with an initial short list of 13 companies in support of a strong outcome at the COP21 Paris climate talks, with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi among the baker’s dozen.
The list ballooned to 81 by the eve of the talks. Ford missed that boat (General Motors represented the auto industry), but the company has been closely engaged with the Obama Administration on a number of other initiatives, including a $5.9 billion loan back in 2009 enabling the company to adapt 13 of its facilities for next-generation automotive technology.
A more recent example is a 2014 Energy Department–supported partnership between Ford and Magna International that leveraged new materials to shave 800 pounds off a concept mid-sized sedan, making it equivalent to a subcompact:
Why Malheur Matters
As for the timing of Ford’s defection from ALEC, that decision was just made public last week. It may have been decided weeks ago, but if it was a more recent development, we’re guessing that the whole mess over at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
For those of you new to the Malheur mess, on January 2, a gang of armed thugs broke into the headquarters of the federal preserve and barricaded themselves inside, daring law enforcement to take them out with guns blazing. After a six-week standoff the last of the gang gave up last week, and most have been jailed with bail denied.
From the beginning, multiple observers (including me) tied the gang to ALEC’s promotion of “states right” land privatization in the western US, because the gang leader was Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy, son of the notorious Nevada rancher and criminal mastermind Cliven Bundy, who has parroted ALEC talking points and acted as the organization’s voice of grassroots authenticity.
Now Cliven is stewing in jail, too, having been arrested in Portland on his way from Nevada to show support for the Malheur gang.
Just last week, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada released an indictment charging the elder Bundy with serious felonies related to a 2014 standoff on federal land, in which he called upon his own armed gang to keep federal agents from chasing his cows off public property.
We figured the whole mess would touch off another round of defections from ALEC, so while Ford’s move could be entirely coincidental, the timing does help make the case that ALEC has become a toxic relationship for corporate America.
Last week, the Center for Media and Democracy received an email from Ford confirming that it “will not be participating in ALEC in 2016” as part of an annual budget review. Ford did not elaborate, but CMD took the liberty of reading between the lines:
…in making the decision to stop funding ALEC, Ford executives are responding to consumer concern over its membership in the controversial, Koch-funded ALEC, which has both an extreme anti-worker agenda as well as an anti-environmental agenda.
Ford now joins CMD’s list of almost 110 companies that have dumped ALEC in recent years. If you have an idea what company could be next, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Photos: top by Tina Casey at NAIAS Detroit 2016; bottom (cropped) courtesy of Ford via US Department of Energy.