Green Production:
    The Clean Planet Issue

In many ways, Ford's understanding of "green" is not environmental in a Greenpeace, Sierra Club or Earth First! sense. Instead, it is rooted deep within an industrial ecology, which makes "being green" more comparable to machinic efficiency or personal frugality. Nonetheless, industrial ecology faces a major challenge at this juncture in global automobile manufacture, because it still takes an average 50,000 pounds of raw material and energy inputs to make a 3,000 pound car. Many might see a green society as something quite different that the automobile-enabled suburban sprawl that exists almost everywhere in the USA, but FoMoCo takes these prevailing built environmental forms as its most cherished ecosystem. What is now, for Ford, also is what should be. Within those parameters, it aims to attain tremendous new efficiencies in its own production processes as well as for its many automotive products. Government regulations provide a target on vehicle emissions and safety for it to meet and exceed in the program of "Cleaner, Safer, Sooner," and its entire supply change is being reengineered around logics of closed loops, as it was before World War II when Henry Ford still gave some guidance to the firm, with the motif of "reduce, reuse, and recycle."

Claiming that 80 percent of every Excursion is already recyclable, and 20 percent of it is built from recycled material, FoMoCo maintains that "Ford's mission is to reduce, reuse and recycle...after all, when you think about it, there is no such thing as throwing something away. Still FoMoCo knows that it has thrown a great deal away for decades by running open loop manufacturing cycles that created waste while building outrageously inefficient autos. To begin correcting this situation, the world famous River Rouge Industrial Complex in the Detroit area, which still contains assembly, engine, glass, tool and die, frame and stamping, and steel plants that supply Ford, is being redesigned by the environmental architect, William McDonough, "to create modern manufacturing systems" that "actually enhance the environment...in an effort to restore the Rouge waterfront and surrounding grounds"

This project follows its reconstruction of the Windsor Eugine Plant in Windsor, Ontario which was rebuilt and reengineered in 1993. FoMoCo tackled this task under some government pressure, first, to enhance industrial ecologies within the firm by recycling shipping containers, handling petroleum products in closed loops, saving most solid waste, and using new environment-friendly air handling systems. And, second, FoMoCo has worked to reduce the plant's environmental impact by controlling waste water runoff, reducing sound and sight pollution with green buffer zones, and recycling a 1920s-era factory with new technology. Also in Ontario, Ford's St. Thomas Assembly Plant pioneered a Total Waste Management (TWM) program to recycle useful materials back into industrial applications, and by 1997 it was returning 90 percent of more than 12,000 short tons of non-hazardous waste out of landfills into reuse .

Because of these successes, and given increasing regulatory pressures in North America that prompted these actions, Ford is also implementing ISO-14001 performance standards for environmental management. These criteria are now widely recognized as international benchmarks worldwide, and its own Ford Environmental System of international standards and work groups also is dedicated to finding new environmental protection solutions . The ISO-14001 review criteria were first put into place in the UK's Halewood plants, but Ford now has 140 of its own facilities certified to these standards. And, it is encouraging all of its outsource suppliers to conform as well. These industrial ecology norms enjoin manufacturers to reduce hazardous or wasteful outputs, while increasing production runs and lowering inputs. Consequently, Ford is aiming at reducing its electricity consumption by 1 percent per year along with reductions in water use, paint shop emissions, and boiler ash output. FoMoCo also hopes to phase out all PCB transformers by 2010 and attain a 90 percent level of use in returnable/reusable containers. These standards are verified by independent auditors, so Ford is quite proud of having the world's first four ISO 14001 certified plants.

While Ford also is experimenting with new fuel and power technologies, like ethanol, natural gas, fuel cells, and electricity, its present environmental program assumes that gasoline and diesel fueled cars will be what it produces for some time to come. Moreover, these artifacts will be given "e-labels" to disclose their environmental impact from making and driving them, and Ford will do everything it can to serve its customers by seeking to provide constant automobile service for each unit. A well-maintained car is an efficient car, so one of Ford's "better ideas" on the environment is its "Tips on How to Drive Green".

These rules about tire pressure, engine tune-up, fuel use, vehicle aerodynamics, air conditioning, and driving habits are straight out of the energy crisis days of 1973-1974 or 1979-1980 when they were presented as "driving efficiency" or "energy independence" tips. As rules for machinic efficiency or personal frugality, they are fair enough, but the best tips for driving green would go far beyond these hints about individual ownership and operation of an automobile to negotiate urban sprawl more efficiently at lower cost. Of course, Ford's green consumer lore should not be discouraged, but this program is the barest minimum expression of genuine environmental concern. Ford bolsters this turn toward green production with ties to green consumerism. A visit to Fordenvirodrive.com finds Ford connecting its buyers to "Earth 911" to dispose of old paint and waste chemicals. Also with urging its consumers to be "Heroes for the Planet", and funding zoo exhibits in Atlanta, Georgia and Kansas City, Missouri (where it has major assembly plants) to promote conservation programs. But these efforts are half a loaf at best, doing little more than fulfilling Ford's Environmental Pledge, namely, "to demonstrate care about preserving the environment" and "to provide ingenious solutions to position itself as a leader in the automotive industry" .

Care about the environment is mostly demonstrated in localities where Ford has major plants--Georgia, Missouri, Brazil, Mexico, Canada--for its positive community outreach benefits, and many of Ford's green engineering innovations are meant to beat GM, Diamler Chrysler, or Toyota in their global competitions for car buyers.

Footnotes



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