The Sustainability Engine at Ford Motor Company


Susan Rokosz, Ford senior environmental engineer, on Ford’s ambitious plans to be both a green and sustainable automotive company.

At Boston Greenfest 2012, keynote speaker Eric Kuehn, chief engineer for Ford’s Global Electrified Programs, talked about Ford’s ambitious plans to be both a green and sustainable automotive company. To get under Ford’s hood, we spoke with Susan Rokosz, senior environmental engineer, about her role at the company.

“In the Environmental Quality Office, we are concerned with all facility environmental matters globally, including compliance with current and future regulations and corporate policies, and setting and working toward environmental targets (corporate and plant),” Rokosz told us. “One of the ways we accomplish this is by reporting progress against environmental targets each year. I am involved with that, and I interface with the group that develops Ford’s annual sustainability report, and with Ford’s supply chain. I might add that I interface at both the 50 foot (plant) and the 50,000 foot (corporate) levels.”

Who then within this group are among the key players pushing Ford’s sustainability efforts, and to whom do you report?

“We are part of a larger group, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering (SE&SE), led by Vice President Robert Brown,” Rockosz replied. “The Environmental Quality Office, my office, is led by Andy Hobbs, who reports to Robert Brown.”

Is a bonus or other reward tied to environmental performance?

“Both plant managers and senior management have their sustainability efforts and metrics tied to their compensation, so this is taken seriously by management,” Rokosz said.

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“If you look at what our CEO, Alan Mulally, has been saying, we have one plan, and environmental performance is an integral part of this plan. For Ford, environmental stewardship is part of our business processes, not an add-on,” Rokosz said. “Ford has an Environmental Operating System (EOS) which takes all of the environmental requirements, regulations, etc., and puts all those together in a single system that drives facility environmental performance throughout the plant. Now, while specific regulations may vary from one locality to the next, the basic underpinnings are the same. In addition to regulatory requirements, EOS also captures environmental metrics such as water usage, waste to landfill, CO2 emissions and other key environmental metrics.”

With electric and hybrid cars apparently leading the charge in product innovation, how large a factor is sustainability in product design/engineering processes?

“It’s huge – something that we look at early on, both in our product and in our manufacturing processes,” Rokosz said. “For example, we are using bio-based and recycled materials in both the interiors and exteriors of our vehicles. For another example, the  Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant installed a pervious pavement parking lot to control stormwater run-off. In addition, the Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant sends their waste paint solids for energy recovery instead of to a landfill. The idea is that if you look at environmental issues early on, whether in developing the plant or the vehicle, you can bring in innovative ideas to make a big impact – its part of the business process, and it can get you the most benefit.”

What is Ford’s corporate view of its environmental responsibilities, and how does this extend to its sustainable and socially responsible commitments?

“People talk about the triple bottom line (environmental, social, and economic), and that actually fits very well with how Ford looks at it,” Rockosz said. “If you look at our most recent sustainability report, for example, there is a section on water that examines not only the environmental aspects, but also the social and economic aspects of water use.”

Could you also describe how far these commitments extend to other areas, such as Ford’s supply chain?

“We have people in the Purchasing Office who deal with supply chain sustainability, including conflict minerals, CO2 reporting in the supply chain, etc. We participate in industry groups, such as the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and get together with our competitors to discuss common concerns and share lessons learned with each other and the supply chain,” Rokosz replied.

From a management system standpoint, as Ford has been ISO certified for some time, can you point to specific sustainability commitments the company achieved with certification?

“Ford has been ISO 14001 certified for about 15 years, and we have been cascading the lessons learned to our suppliers. ISO 14001 requires continuous improvement and, as you know, what gets measured gets managed. We also include many metrics in our sustainability report. Between 2000 and 2011, we reduced our global water use by 60 percent, or approximately 10 billion gallons. We also reduced our facilities-related CO2 emissions by approximately 48 percent, or 4.5 million metric tons, from 2000 to 2011,” Rokosz said. “You can actually find much of this, including our annual sustainability report, on Ford’s websites devoted to sustainability.”

Does Ford subscribe to any other voluntary reporting initiatives, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)?

“Yes, Ford’s most recent sustainability report is aligned with the GRI G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, at an application level of A,” Rokosz said. “We have been reporting to CDP for several years, and were a founding responder to CDP Water Disclosure.

“To facilitate performance tracking, we launched the Global Emissions Manager database (GEM) in 2007. This industry-leading database provides a globally consistent approach for measuring and monitoring environmental data, which helps us track and improve our efforts to reduce water consumption, energy use, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the amount of waste sent to landfill. GEM also provides a library of environmental regulations relevant to each plant, significantly increasing the efficiency of tracking and meeting those regulations.”

How is the company perceived by its customers?

“I think that our customers appreciate Ford’s ‘Power of Choice’ strategy, where we offer customers a variety of fuel-efficient vehicle options, from the EcoBoost engine to the electric Focus,” Rockosz said. “We realize that it’s not one size fits all, so we need to offer them a variety of solutions.”

With shareholder concerns gaining momentum, how do shareholders view your company, namely, how are any of their proxy season resolutions viewed by management? This is a key metric that Ceres is closely following and monitoring.

“Ford regularly engages with a variety of stakeholders, including investor groups and we have a good relationship and open dialogue with them. Ford holds itself accountable in these matters,” Rokosz said.

Internally, how is Ford viewed by its employees for its efforts?

“Ford employees are very proud and enormously engaged. You can find many examples of environmental projects at our plants in our sustainability report,” Rokosz said.
Does Ford have any continuing dialogue with any non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?
“Absolutely,” Rokosz replied. “We are working with WRI, Ceres, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) [], the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and The Ecology Center.

At the plant level, can you share Ford’s experiences with what has worked for reducing carbon footprint?

“There are many projects underway which reduce Ford’s carbon footprint,” Rokosz said. “Ford continues to use energy performance contracting as a financing tool to upgrade and replace infrastructure at its plants, commercial buildings and research facilities. Through these contracts, Ford partners with suppliers to replace inefficient equipment, funding the capital investment over time through energy savings. Projects have been implemented to upgrade lighting systems, paint-booth process equipment and compressed air systems, and to significantly reduce the use of steam in our manufacturing facilities.

“Since 2000, Ford has invested more than $226 million in plant and facility energy-efficiency upgrades. In addition, we are replicating Ford’s state-of-the-art paint process that eliminates the need for a standalone primer application and a curing oven system. This technology, called ‘Three-Wet,’ reduces CO2 emissions by up to 40 percent and volatile organic compound emissions by 10 percent compared to either conventional high-solids solvent-borne or waterborne systems.”

Does Ford subscribe to organizations that showcase its carbon reduction efforts, such as or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index?
“Yes, as a matter of fact we respond to the DJSI and FTSE for Good, and the Newsweek Green Ranking; and in each, we have come out very well,” Rokosz said.

What are among your short-term and long-term goals for your facility, and for the company as a whole?

“Our goals are highlighted in our sustainability report. Among them are to reduce global facility CO2 emissions per vehicle by 30 percent by 2025 compared to a 2010 baseline and to cut the amount of water used to make each vehicle by 30 percent globally by 2015, compared to 2009,” Rockosz said.

In closing, what does “sustainability” mean to you, and to Ford?
“At Ford, we aim to ‘Go Further,’” Rokosz concluded. “That’s our brand promise – and it describes how we go further to meet the many sustainability challenges of a rapidly changing world.”

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