Principles of Ford Ecology

This political, economic, and technical incitement to talk about ecology, environments, and nature, first surfaced as the social project of "environmentalism" during the 1960s in the United States, but plainly it has become far more pronounced in the 1990s as this renaissance of Ford Motor Company suggests. The project of "sustainability," whether one speaks of sustainable development, growth or use in relation to Earth's ecologies, embodies this new responsibility for the life processes in the rationalized harmonization of political economy. Yet, as FoMoCo's rhetoric above indicates, whose responsibility, where, when, and why?

These corporate connections to sustainability ideologies become even more intriguing in the aftermath of the Cold War. Having won the long twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism, the United States is governed by leaders who now see "Earth in the balance," arguing that global ecologies incarnate what is best and worst in the human spirit. Economists, industrialists, and political leaders increasingly represent the strategic terrain of the post-1991 world system as one on which all nations must compete ruthlessly to control the future development of the world economy by developing new technologies, dominating more markets, and exploiting every national economic asset. Consequently, environmental protection issues--ranging from resource conservation to sustainable development to ecosystem restoration--are getting greater consideration in the name of creating jobs, maintaining growth, or advancing technological development.1

Taking "ecology" into account, then, creates discourses on "the environment" that derive not only from morality, but from rationality as well. Since the 1960s, ecology has evolved into "a public potential, because its importance to the public "called for management procedures; it had to be taken charge of by analytical discourses," as many experts recognized that nature in these environmentalized manifestations could be approached as another "police matter", or, in other words, "not the repression of disorder, but an ordered maximization of collective and individual forces."2

Mobilizing environmental knowledge, then, accelerates exponentially after 1989 along with the spread of global fast capitalism. Ecology becomes one more formalized disciplinary mode of giving systematic "attention to the processes of invest life through and through"3 in order to transform all living things into biological populations to develop transnational commerce. The tremendous explosion of global economic prosperity, albeit in highly skewed spatial distributions, after 1989 would not have been possible without ecology to guide "the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic processes."4 Indeed, sustainability now gives corporate managers "the methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes, and life in general without at the same time making them more difficult to govern."5

Today's approach to industrial ecology is totally invested in new forms of corporate rationalization that aim to manage production and consumption by becoming more mindful of "the e-factor," or "ecology," as efficiency and economy.6 Making the ecological sustainability of production and consumption more possible ironically becomes the latest economic growth ideology. To guide the world's leading capitalist economy, Vice President Al Gore believes new departures must be made: "the United States has a special obligation to discover effective ways of using the power of market forces to help save the global environment."7 Using sustainable development as an ecological mentality to guide corporate rationality leads to industrial ecology. As Makower observes, sustainability essentially boils down to another expression of economic rationality. "A search for the lowest-cost method of reducing the greatest amount of pollution" creates more profits and cleaner ecosystems in the continued turnover of consumer-centered production processes.8 Almost magically, the initiatives taken by businesses to prevent pollution, reduce waste, and maximize energy efficiencies are adopted because they are ecological and economical. Ecology can win, but only if it reaffirms most of fast capitalism's existing forms of technology utilization, managerial centralization, and profit generation.

These maneuvers are not made simply to preserve Nature, mollify green consumers, or respect Mother Earth; they enhance corporate profits, national productivity, and technical power. "The e-factor" is not only ecology--it also is efficiency, excellence, education, empowerment, enforcement, and economics. As long as realizing ecological changes in business means implementing an alternative array of instrumentally rational policies, such as finding lower-cost methods of energy use, supply management, labor utilization, corporate communication, product generation or pollution abatement, sustainable development could also sustain the economy. FoMoCo's new corporate interest in "connecting with customers" for sustainable development may not be strictly ecological, but this green corporate culture cultivates an image, at least, of being environmentally responsible.9

When Bill Ford, Jr. joined Ford's board in 1988, his fellow board members told him to suspend his numerous contacts with environmentalists. As Ford recalls, 'They looked at me as if I were a Bolshevik. I was told stop messing around with those "crazies"... I said I had no intention of withdrawing from any of these groups. In fact, the whole problem was that no bridges had been built.'

Building bridges between big business and environmental activists has let Ford concoct a new corporate rationality out of an ecological mentality. Such ideological compromises in the board rooms of big business permit managers, like Bill Ford or Jacques Nasser, to work "deliberately and carefully, with an aim toward long-term cultural change, always with an eye toward the bottom line," so that "environmentally responsible businesses can be both possible and profitable."10


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