Climate Change FORD DITCHES ALEC with LEGO angle

Published on February 20th, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Ford & LEGO Gang Up On Climate-Denying ALEC

February 20th, 2016 by  

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, 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:

Ford lightweight concept

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.

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Photos: top by Tina Casey at NAIAS Detroit 2016; bottom (cropped) courtesy of Ford via US Department of Energy.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • ROBwithaB

    Now if only they could invent something that allows Legos to pack themselves away once the kids are done playing with them.
    Or put rounded corners on the things so they don’t savage your bare feet on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

    • Jens Stubbe

      Not to worry Lego invented a smart system to scoop up Lego decades ago. And kids love to scoop Lego up because it makes a pleasant noise.

    • neroden

      Lego caltrops. As a kid I left them out as defense against any burglars or home invaders. 🙂

  • craig hutcheson

    Henry would have flushed the Koch brothers long ago, He also developed soy based plastics, and is that funky Ford pickup motorized with recharge Li-ion batteries?

    • Jens Stubbe

      Henry was actually building a hemp fiber reinforced Ford before Hoover (needed new enemy for FBI after prohibition ended), Dupont (needed hemp out of the way for their new low quality wood based paper) and government (wanted virgin forrest down to get more land under ploughs) decided to go at war against hemp. The weight save and the tremendous strength would have made motoring far safer. If the virgin forrest of USA had not been destroyed and if hemp had kept is position as the most widespread crop then the climate would had been in a lot better condition today.

      • halslater

        Not to mention the curative and pain killing properties of CBD.

        • ByronBradley

          Not to mention the creative and pleasure-inducing properties of THC, successfully outlawed for 80 years as a ruse covering the undermining of hemp as noted above.

          • halslater

            We can talk about that amongst these pilgrims?

          • Calamity_Jean

            Why not? Most people recognize that both renewable energy and marijuana legalization are ideas whose time has come.

  • Freddy D

    The automakers have been shockingly slow to realize the huge opportunity for them with EVs. Think about this about the corporate revenue from a car over its life (pick a Camry, CRV, F150, whatever car you like and adjust accordingly – the story is the same): Car costs say $30,000, goes 200,000 miles at 25mpg, therefore burning 8,000 gallons of fuel at say $3.00/gallon. The revenue from the fuel nearly matches the revenue from the car itself. Now if I’m Ford, do I want that extra revenue on MY top line or do I want to hand it over to Saudi Aramco as a juicy annuity for 20 years? Hello! And the automakers have been fighting this transition? at their own peril. Maybe they’re coming around?

    • halslater

      I so love my Chevy EV. I cannot understand why Ford is putting out such lame ones. Very few EV miles on the PHEV models and no “go fast” mode like the Volt’s “Sport” or Tesla’s “Ludicrous”. Smoking Beemers and Porsches from the stop light is one of the best parts of owning one. That and forgetting what gas stations are like, they stink.

    • Richard Poore

      Im not seeing how the automaker would receive any extra revenue from an EV. If anything an EV should have lower maintenance costs vs an oil burner, requiring fewer trips to the dealership for service. This would lead to lower profits for the dealership from their service department.

      Thats one of the selling points for the consumer, EV should cost less to maintain over time. Granted, there will be a major cost with replacing batteries at some point. But the revenue that would have gone to gasoline is not going to be flowing to the car manufacturers.

      Are you suggesting that the EV will cost twice as much as a gas burner initially?

      • Freddy D

        If an automaker sells a car that tops Edmunds Total Cost of Ownership list (for low cost, including everything), the automakers market share rises. They will be able to charge more for the car to the extent that the TCO remains best in class. To your point, the consumer certainly won’t pay the full cost of the would-have-been fuel up front but the car is definitely worth more than one with fuel and maintenance costs

    • J.H.

      May be the auto industry will can learn from the Chinese. They project 5 million EV’s (cheap) by 2020.

  • Jfake Hname

    wow legos what a great toy and cooler company.

  • halslater

    The most disgusting thing about this is the Kochs are both MIT graduates and they give enough money to that institution to make it compromise itself on the issue. There is absolutely NO WAY an MIT graduate could not know that climate change is real. I guess that just proves the superiority of the California institutions like UC, CalTech and Stanford. You don’t hear climate denial from their esteemed graduates.

    F**king idiots!

    • Bob_Wallace

      The Kochs are first and foremost right wingers. Their father was a founder of the John Birch Society.

      I don’t believe for a minute that they don’t understand climate change and absolutely know that it is happening. But their political stance and greed turns them into liars.

      I think that’s true for most climate change deniers. They know, they just deny.

    • Ross

      The MIT technology review does seem behind the curve on clean tech coverage.

      • Oraliabwindham

        ::f124Work At Home….Special Report….Earn 18k+ per monthfew days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here::f124➤➤➤➤➤­nu .❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:::::::f124…….

      • Kristendkeefe2

        ::c755Work At Home….Special Report….Earn 18k+ per monthfew days ago new McLaren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Here::c755➤➤➤➤➤­nu .❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:❦2:::::::c755.

      • craig hutcheson

        I’ve never been to MIT, but I do follow it on my LinkedIn profile, maybe I should change that detail.

    • craig hutcheson

      I developed a new term last year, f**king idiot becomes fidiot, although not yet in the Merriam Webster.

      • halslater

        Good one. I am sure it is only a matter of time before M-W recognizes it.

    • J.H.

      May be its time for MIT to follow the ranks behind Ford and “just say NO” and refuse their donations.

  • Martin

    Perhaps in some short time the deniers will be, like somebody on an island with rising water and when the water is up to their necks, they will still state: No the water is not rising!

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