Ford Ecological Re-engineering

Ford's environmental renaissance began in 1989-the year of the Exxon Valdez, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the activities leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. The health and environmental policy then state that "sustainable economic development is important to the future welfare of the company, as well as to that of society in general. To be sustainable, economic development must provide for the protection of human health and the world's environmental base." Helen Petrauskas, Ford's Vice President for Environment and Society, records that FoMoCo's interests in the environment actually are longstanding commitments, which can be traced back to Henry Ford himself. Even though it seems somewhat contradictory, given how Ford's founder put America on wheels, she notes a less well-known fact, namely, "Mr. Ford's passion for agriculture, nature and conservation--the Earth." At the same time, Henry Ford's legendary River Rouge Plant in Detroit Michigan was a total integrated point of production that turned raw coal, iron, sand, rubber, and wood by 1928 into finished cars in four days. On their best days, Ford's assembly lines turned out a new car every ten seconds.

Many environmentalists would argue that putting "the world on wheels" has done more to destroy the environment than almost any other single act in the twentieth century, but this interpretation flies in the face of the peculiar ecological mentality anchoring FoMoCo's corporate culture, namely, "We [Ford] believe we can have a better environment driven by you." In keeping with this environmental protection program that presumes automotive transport. With Bill Ford's elevation to the Chair of the Board in 1998, FoMoCo established an Environmental Strategy Review Committee co-chaired by Jacques Nasser and Peter Pestillo, Executive Vice President for Corporate Relations. This group works with the Board's Environmental and Public Policy Committee, chaired by Bill Ford, and it seeks to impart "an environmental perspective to Ford's product development and manufacturing operations." On one hand, much of this change constitutes a very effective public relations program, but, on the other, it also is an outstanding example of how placing a particular spin on an ecological mentality can be employed to refocus the instrumental ends of corporate rationality. As Petrauskas indicates, Ford's environmental policy touches every aspect of its business: "It is giving shape to our company, our business strategies and practices. We believe our environmental performance ultimately contributes to the well-being of the company and to shareholder value."

These initiatives by FoMoCo move in tandem with recognitions made elsewhere in academe, government, and the private sector. Professor David Skelly of Yale University's Department of Ecology and Evolution Biology, for example, has been a guiding force in new initiatives to revamp that University's Environmental Studies program. He observes, "This generation has grown up watching nature programs on the Discovery Channel, and it is engrained with a conservation ethic."1 So Yale University is also recognizing that environmental outlooks are now a core set of principles in most individuals' and families' ethical values. Even so, Yale University students must continue to have from advanced ecology courses "that meet the contemporary need to understand the way the natural world works and help preserve what they value."2 Always attentive to the voting public's opinions and attitudes, President Clinton has repeatedly appealed to these same audiences throughout the 1990s when he claimed, "we know that abroad we have the responsibility to advance freedom and democracy -- to advance prosperity and the preservation of our planet... a world where the dividing line between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly blurred....Our personal, family and national future is affected by our policies on the environment at home and abroad. The common good at home is simply not separate from the efforts to advance the common good around the world they must be one in the same if we are to be truly secure in the world of the 21st century."3


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