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 Q&A with Robert Brown on Ford’s Sustainability Report

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DEARBORN - Ford has issued its 13th annual Sustainability Report – a comprehensive showcase of Ford’s efforts to tackle a myriad of sustainability challenges of a rapidly changing world. Robert Brown, vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering recently spoke with @Ford Online to discuss the report.

Q. Why is it important for employees to read the Sustainability Report and understand the information that is in it?
A. If you think about sustainable development and the role that transportation plays in that, our company as an OEM is essential to progressing social and environmental goals. And our Sustainability Report provides not only a framework but it defines what we stand for in this space.  So the more that we are aware as individual employees, the better we can communicate with people in our communities, amongst one another, with our partners and with governments in terms of what our sustainability objectives are and what progress we’re making against those objectives.  In that respect it’s extremely important that all employees not only read the report but actually embrace it.

Q. What are some of the highlights of this year’s report?
A. There are a couple of things.  This is the 13th year that we’ve been preparing this report.  And this is the first time that we will specifically showcase regional reports.  There will be a report that covers Ford of Europe.  One covers Ford South America Operations.  And one covers Asia-Pacific and Africa.  So it is configured in a way that makes it easier to use and more specific and personal to each member of our global team.  It also lists specific achievements as well as status against regional objectives.  And then the report itself contains our progress toward our global objectives from a sustainability perspective. 
What are some of the key things that we’ve accomplished?  Well first of all, we have made a commitment with respect to human rights. In fact we revised our policy letter this year to be more explicit in that regard and we have taken leadership – not only within our own company but in terms of reaching out to our suppliers and having discussions and dialogue – with respect to the need for them to consider a similar commitment.  The report also highlights significant energy, waste and water savings from global manufacturing and operations, calling out aggressive goals for further reduction in the coming years.

Q. How does sustainability play a role in advancing the business?
A. I think sustainability in its broadest sense encompasses environmental, societal and economic goals. In that regard, we are certainly an engine in terms of pursuing not only social aspirations but the environmental and economic goals as well.  For example, we talk about fuel economy improvements or CO2 emissions from not only vehicles but from facilities as well.  It’s very easy to understand how we are directly linked in that respect. 

Q. How important a role does the Power of Choice play in terms of Ford’s sustainability efforts?
A. When you think about affordability, the power of choice allows a very wide percentage of people to purchase a vehicle that they can feel good about. What do I mean by that?  The vehicle itself emits fewer emissions and gets good fuel economy. So they can feel very good about their purchase – whether it’s a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, whether it’s a hybrid vehicle, whether it’s a plug-in hybrid vehicle or whether it’s a full battery electric vehicle.  I think Ford is unique in that regard because we’ve made sure that we’ve looked across the value chain and the economic scale and we are appealing to everyone and trying to provide a product that again not only they can feel good about but provides real value for them personally and does minimum harm to the environment.

Q. Are there any other particular achievements that you would like to highlight?
A. We don’t often talk about our facilities.  We have established targets as they relate to water, waste and energy usage, and we were one of the few OEMS to do so. And this year we not only achieved our targets but in some cases surpassed them.  So what am I talking about?  When you think about the type of waste that we deploy to landfills, we exceeded our target in terms of minimizing the amount of waste that we actually distributed to landfills. When you think about the types of emissions that come from the production and manufacturing of our products – in other words the smoke stacks, the pollution that we emit into the environment – because of our commitment we have put in place the best available control technology to minimize those emissions.  When you think about the energy use it takes to run our facilities and labs, we have cut consumption globally in the last five years, with an aggressive goal to cut another 25% by 2016.  

Q. There is a section on Financial Health in the Sustainability Report?  Can you explain what that is? 
A. When you think about where we’re at today versus where we were at five years ago – and I mentioned earlier that wealth is important in order to achieve social and environmental aspirations – today Ford Motor Company is in a much better position financially than we were five years ago. And in fact, if you think about the mid-term guidance that we provided back in June of last year, we are well on track to deliver to our mid-term guides.  Last year our company made $8.8 billion which allows us to continue to invest, not only in products but in infrastructure meaning in computer systems and also more importantly in people. So in that respect I think the financial performance of our company leads to better health.  Also, despite harder economic times during the past five years, Ford continued to invest heavily in not only making our cars more fuel efficient, but also in making our global operations more environmentally responsible – an investment that has really paid off today in making Ford a more sustainable company.

Q. When many of us hear the word ‘sustainability’ we automatically think about the environment and vehicles that are better and safer for the environment.  What are some of the ways that all employees can contribute to sustainability?
A. It’s the simple things. At its lowest level, it’s eliminating waste.  In other words, if you can read a report from your computer or your laptop, then don’t print it.   In some cases where we don’t have automatic controls for lighting, remember to turn the lights off when you leave a room.  It reduces energy consumption.  But more importantly, let’s go beyond what we do at work. Let’s think about how we run our errands on the weekend.  If we plan appropriately, we can more than likely accomplish many things in one trip.  For instance, you can plan to go to the cleaners, stop off at the grocery store, visit family and friends and you can do that all in one trip as opposed to making multiple trips.  So there are many very basic common sense things that everyone can do to help reduce or eliminate waste. 

Q. Bill Ford was a champion of sustainability well before it was ‘cool.’  How significant is it to have someone like Bill Ford behind all of Ford’s sustainability efforts?
A. Let me tee it up this way.  If we go all the way back to Henry Ford in the early 1920s, there was a debate in terms of what sort of chemicals should be used to improve octane in gasoline.  And Henry Ford was promoting ethanol.  Others were promoting lead.  Well needless to say, the decision was not made in favor of ethanol.  And consequently this country, as well as other countries, spent 50 years cleaning up our environment from lead poisoning.  And Bill has not only been out front in terms of sustainability but in reality, he has been a promoter of minimizing and eliminating waste.  And then more importantly, when you think about what Bill has been doing and the Ford family in general, he’s been willing to share not only the family’s personal wealth but the company’s wealth in order to ensure that others have opportunities.  Those others include me by the way.  And I’m very thankful not only to Bill and the Ford family but to Ford Motor Company. 

Q. As employees review the Sustainability Report, what key concepts do you hope they will take away? 
A. Sustainability is a collective team effort and it takes all of us working together to achieve our goals in this space.  So if you go beyond eliminating waste and you think about just our own personal behavior, how do we approach personal transportation?  What decisions do we make?  Remember that other people are observing us – whether we realize it or not.  Our neighbors watch what we do and they observe our driving habits.  So when Ford Motor Company is quoted in an article in terms of promoting Eco-driving for instance, if we are not demonstrating those types of behaviors then it winds up being a contradiction.  So I think we have a commitment to ourselves and to one another to do all that we can to further promote and demonstrate our support for sustainability initiatives. 

Q. Anything else you would like to add? 
A. The full report is quite long – over 400 pages – so please read the executive summary, which sums everything up nicely.



6/15/2012 7:00 AM