While Henry Ford never used the word “sustainability,” the founder of Ford Motor Company believed in its ethos.
Abhorring waste of any kind, he strived to attain self-sufficiency in manufacturing. He even pioneered experimenting with renewable materials such as soybeans — which the company uses as foam in all of its North American vehicles.
“Throughout the years, Ford has adapted to incorporate sustainability across its business globally,” said Kim Pittel, vice president of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering at Ford, discussing a recent GreenBiz webinar sponsored by the American automaker.
This includes implementing processes that reduce carbon emissions, waste, water and energy use in facilities, incorporating recycled and renewable materials into its products and social responsibility in the supply chain.
The shift in corporate strategy is indicative of a much wider recalibration happening in the world of automotive manufacturing.
General Motors and Mercedes-Benz are both betting big on shared rides and shared cars, investing in or acquiring high profile startups in the space. Volkswagen, meanwhile, is still attempting to recover from its notorious emissions cheating scandal.
In response to evolving sustainbility challenges, Ford also recently decided change gears and redefine its focus, describing itself in marketing materials as an auto and mobility company.
“Ford is focused on using technology to find mobility solutions today to help make the world better for tomorrow,” said Pittel. “The company’s evolution is driving innovation in every part of its business as it focuses on how to best navigate global issues such as climate change, supply chain sustainability and human rights.”
A three-pronged approach to sustainability
Ford takes a three-pronged, integrated approach to sustainability, which spans social, environmental and economic components — an increasingly common corporate strategy as the disparate impacts of climate and environmental issues become more well established in the mainstream business world.
Dubbed “Going Further — The Right Way,” Ford’s sustainability strategy sets and works toward stretch targets to embrace opportunities that may arise from pressure to cut emissions or curb waste in the manufacturing process.
With vehicle manufacturing, for example, Ford has doubled down on ethical materials sourcing and sustainable materials development, along with zero-waste initiatives and closed-loop manufacturing. Likewise, the company recently announced a $4.5 billion investment in its electrification program, expected to result in 13 new electric vehicles to our lineup by 2020.
Auto sustainability beyond EVs
One result of Ford’s investment in corporate responsibility is Project Better World, a program that provides vehicles and services that meet the mobility needs of underserved communities. The initiative focuses on helping to bring access to medical care and supplies in rural Africa, as well as mapping remote areas and providing internet and connectivity in areas not currently covered.
“Project Better World is pilot program in South Africa and Nigeria, which unites multiple organizations to deliver goods and services to underserved communities using enhanced mobility and connectivity innovations,” said Pittel.
In South Africa, for example, specially equipped Ford Rangers will deliver health education, medicine and nutrition for 20,000 children and 10,000 adults.
Through its Nigerian partner, Riders for Health, donated funds and Ford Rangers will help train technicians to maintain vehicles to ensure medical professionals and supplies reach people in rural areas.
“Ensuring access to medical help is a key component of Ford’s vision for a sustainable future, moving beyond the environmental aspect of sustainability and fully incorporating social good as a pivotal value,” said Pittel.
Ford has installed a Ford OpenXC software analytics device in each Ford Ranger, which are referred to as flexible response vehicles, to collect location information, fuel economy, vehicle performance metrics and other important data that will be stored in Ford servers and shared with partners that leverage the vehicle’s services.
“We look forward to testing out new ways to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the vehicle and the services it provides through apps and algorithms currently in development,” said Pittel.
The key performance indicators for Project Better World differ for each pilot. Priorities for future project endeavors include monitoring and evaluation, bandwidth and connectivity, cold chains, reciprocal value and remote data collection.