12/02/2009 03:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At Ford, We Are Taking 'Going Green' Beyond Fuel Economy

Most of the discussion around the "greening" of the automotive industry over the last decade has focused primarily on making vehicles more fuel-efficient. It's not surprising because increasing fuel efficiency and decreasing CO2 emissions will ultimately represent our largest contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change and energy security. But no discussion about our sustainability strategy would be complete without taking note of the wide range of actions we are taking throughout our business.

We at Ford have been very clear about our product strategy to deliver improved fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through advanced technologies. We continue to make improvements in gasoline powered vehicles with the use of EcoBoost engines, six speed transmissions, electric power assisted steering and other technologies. We've doubled our hybrid vehicle production and we're on the way to delivering the first of our pure battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It is a practical, comprehensive approach designed to provide affordable fuel economy to millions of drivers around the world. (See Fuel-Efficient Driving for Not Thousands, but Millions of Drivers).

But there is more to being "green" than miles per gallon labels and grams per kilometer calculations. We are also continually looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of our business from manufacturing to materials. That drive to incorporate sustainability into all that we do has led to some innovative approaches.

One great example is the bio materials team in Ford's research and advanced engineering operation. Their work focuses on investigating and developing sustainable materials to be used in our products. They are the first to admit finding sustainable materials solutions that can meet the rigorous testing and durability standards for vehicles is not the easiest task to accomplish. They spent years developing soy-based foam for use in interior vehicles, even as others told them it simply could not be done. It was and today you can find soy-foam seats in more than one million Ford vehicles. That translates into using a million less "pounds" of petroleum a year, and decreasing the amount of CO2 by about 2,500 tons a year.

This year their work, in collaboration with universities and suppliers, led to the development of environmentally friendly wheat straw-reinforced plastic that will first be used in a storage bin inside the Ford Flex. It's a small first step, but we're already looking to see what other interior vehicle applications might be appropriate. Why is this important? Because excess wheat straw is usually considered to be a waste product, but when used to reinforce plastic, it has become another way to reduce the use of petroleum and cut back CO2 emissions. It's smart, it's sustainable and it represents the kind of creative approach that can make a real difference over time.

On the manufacturing front, we are working to both improve our processes and conserve resources. Earlier this year, Ford announced it was going global with its exclusive, sustainable 3-Wet paint technology process. That's a technology that cuts process time by 20 percent to 25 percent by allowing three layers of paint to be applied consecutively, while the vehicle is still wet. It's not something the average car buyer may think about, but the technology is cost efficient, environmentally sound and produces durable, high quality painted vehicles. As for the impact on the environment, this is a technique that saves 6,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year compared to waterborne systems and 8,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year compared to conventional high-solvent-borne paint systems.

Ford establishes annual environmental targets for all of our facilities for energy use, emissions, waste generation and water usage and we've made great progress with our efforts. In the U.S. for example, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have honored us with an Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for four consecutive years for our commitment and leadership in protecting the environment through energy efficiency.

In the arena of resource management, we're also showing strong results which add up to some significant environmental benefits. Since 2000, Ford has reduced its global energy consumption by more than 33 percent and its global water consumption by 56 percent. We're learning to use alternative energy for our facilities, using wind, solar and hydropower where it makes sense.

Many people are surprised by the number and variety of Ford initiatives related to our desire to reduce our environmental footprint around the globe. They shouldn't be. We're committed to strengthening our financial, environmental and social sustainability. What Ford does to develop vehicles that deliver ever increasing fuel economy and decreasing CO2 for our customers will continue to be the most visible and impactful piece of our sustainability strategy. But I think it's also important to understand our environmental commitment is broader than our vehicles.

When Ford first added sustainability to my job title, our CEO Alan Mulally noted with a company as large and diverse as ours, it made sense to have one person in place to provide global oversight to our business - through the lens of sustainability and with an eye toward the bottom line. It's a great way to look at our business and our vision for a greener future.