Contradictions in
    Ford's Ecological Mentality

The "greening" of Ford appears to roll along the same ideological tracks as the federal government and ivy league academe. Still, Ford's initiatives are not entirely unambiguous. After all, this is the same company that has ridden the popularity of SUVs in the 1990s to new heights of profitability, and it also now produces several classes of big, heavy, and fuel thirsty SUVs that only get somewhere between eight and twenty miles to the gallon.

Moreover, SUVs frequently are driven off-road by their owners in very destructive irresponsible ways that damage fragile environments for decades. And, with FoMoCo's global reach, these gas guzzling, habitat marring behemoths are spreading beyond suburban neighborhoods in the USA to similar markets all over the world. It would appear that "greening" for Ford actually implies something more like the Eddie Bauer lifestyle, than it does a truly ecological way of life. Eddie Bauer-oriented consumers may go outdoors to consume, but one should not mistake this energy-intensive sporting outdoorsmanism for environmentalism.1 For Ford's ecological mentality, the essence of 1960s Cold War American suburbia--the automobile, freeway, and gas station--will endure. Ford, however, pledges itself to lessen their environmental impact on the Great Outdoors. This policy will profit the environment, preserve human health, and most importantly guard the camping sites where the SUVs made for Ford buyers will carry well-equipped Ford owners for recreation. Indeed, many FoMoCo dealers now are working to revamp themselves as "Ford Outfitters" to supply a superb car camping outdoors experience.

This outdoormanistic twist in the SUV market is exactly what Ford expects from its Excursion owners. Speaking of the FoMoCo's Excursion, J.C. Collins, Ford's Multipurpose Vehicle Brand Manager, said "as baby boomers age, they are adopting more of a recreational lifestyle, which this vehicle suits."2 Oddly though, their psychodemography also closely parallels a typical Nature Conservancy or Wildlife Fund member. As a Dallas Morning News profile of the new Excursion recorded:

Ford expects 78 percent of Excursion buyers to be men. The typical buyer will be 35 to 50 years old with a household income of $100,000. As many as 50 percent will be part of a two-income families, and an estimated 70 percent will be college graduates with managerial positions. Ford expects almost half of Excursion buyers to be suburbanites. An estimated 10 to 15 percent will live in urban areas. The rest will be from rural areas.3

With only 35 percent of its buyers in rougher rural regions, the Excursion is obviously the relatively affluent suburbanite's passport to Eddie Bauer-like outdoors treks coupled with a gas guzzling heavy duty commuter car and cul-de-sac status symbol. In other words, the ideal Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex statement of Western ruggedness, Texan oil prices, and suburban privilege.

This incredible attempt to couple SUVs like the Excursion to environmental values at FoMoCo is very problematic. Ford essentially accepts the givenness of existing transportation technologies as a set of legacy systems that would be too expensive and/or disruptive to abandon. Moving beyond the automobile to some sort of mass transportation, different urban design, or more concentrated settlement pattern is not open to discussion at Ford, even though these alternatives might do more to protect the environment. Instead Ford wants to work toward "A Better Environment: Driven by You, Driven by Us" that presumes consumers want automobiles.

So Ford will build automobiles, even ones like the Excursion, and those automotive artifacts will be made "environmental" by creating an almost totally recyclable product, near zero emissions, and far greater durability. As the member of the Big Three that touts its specialization in "Better Ideas," this vision of corporate environmentalism embodies an articulate ecological mentality, albeit of an essentially conservationist type, and a decisive corporate rationality, which poses as being consumer-oriented, anchored in social responsibility, and profit-minded all at the same time. As Jacques Nasser, Ford's former President and CEO, explains it, "what is good for the world is good for Ford Motor Company," and this kind of ecological thinking, Ford believes, is good for the world and its business.

For those who would have the good of the world served by eliminating automobiles, FoMoCo under Bill Ford and Jacques Nasser want to inoculate themselves, their firm, and their buyers by making Ford "customer-driven." Bill Ford claims FoMoCo's three obligations are "to provide superior returns to our shareholders; to give customers exactly what they are working for; and to do it in a way that has the least impact--or the most benefit--for the environment and for society in general". Nasser, in turn, believes his executive leadership at Ford should focus on "connection." To him, this is essentially a neo-biological vision of quasi-ecological symbiosis between producers and consumers, because "It is a bond characterized by respect and reciprocity. Connecting with our customers means acknowledging our interdependence. We fill an important need in our customers lives--the need for mobility. By buying our products and services, our customers help us remain a profitable and successful enterprise."

These rhetorical practices are aimed at integrating Ford and its products so deeply into the lives of its customers and national markets that calls to abolish automobiles as sound environmental policy would be ignored or even ridiculed. Clearly, this new corporate strategy at Ford, as Nasser boasts, represents "a subtle but very significant change from our past aspiration of being the world's leading automotive company."

Here is where a green habitus emerges from the systems of objects compounded out of transnational markets by constituting a new objective for the system's reproduction. Bourdieu asserts habitus emerges out of "the capacity to produce classifiable practices and works, and the capacity to differentiate and appreciate these practices and products (taste), that the represented social world, i.e., the space of life-styles, is constituted."4 Yet, the twin dimensionality of habitus as a structured and a structuring structure for creating lifestyles also parallels the properties of a habitat. When the habitus is taken in environmental terms, it provides a scheme for systems, like big business, to produce classifiable practices and products as well as a scheme of systems to appreciate and comprehend those practices and products specific settings. Consequently, as Ford Motor Company knows all to well, the habitats of our built environments are formed in accord with habitus, or the system of distinctive signs embedded in practices and ideas that come to be articulated in cars, driving, and highways as a system of objects.5

Some might dismiss these environmental efforts by Ford as mere greenwashing, but FoMoCo clearly takes an ecological mentality as one of the key principles of its corporate rationality. Partly green consumerism, partly green producerism, Ford invites visitors to its corporate web site for instructions on how to advance FoMoCo's many new environmental alliances. From buying recycled greeting cards, drinking rain forest preserving coffee or driving an electric car to buying cleaner gasoline, watching Nature TV programs, or changing your driving habits, Ford presents all of these buying decisions as paths to glory for ordinary consumers to become "a hero for the planet."

Ford's commitment to environmental protection ironically is also presented as a moral imperative: "We don't do it because we have to. We don't do it because it looks good. We don't do it for the publicity. At Ford Motor Company, we work to help protect the environment everyday because it is the right thing to do". In fact, of course, Ford does do a lot of environmental work because government regulations require it, such activities do look good, and it usually triggers a fair amount of positive publicity. Yet, each of these outcomes for FoMoCo also make environmental action seem quite right at Ford's Dearborn headquarters. Therefore, its top management continues to profess how much ecological protection is just "the right thing to do."

Footnotes



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