Ford expands renewable, environmental efforts

Ford is expanding its program to track suppliers' carbon footprints and, in a separate news item, researching use of coconut husks as plastic reinforcement.
By Ron Kotrba | October 13, 2011

Ford put out a couple of interesting press releases this week regarding its sustainability and environmental commitments. The first posted below is about the automaker teaming up with Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. to look into the use of coconut husks, a waste stream, as plastics reinforcement, while the second release posted below concerns its announcement about more than tripling the size of its program to understand its suppliers’ carbon footprints.

Coconuts are ingredients in plenty of items—pies, cakes and tropical drinks. Now, Ford is hoping to add cars to that list by working with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company to research how coconut coir, or husks, might be used as a plastic reinforcement.

"This is a win-win situation. We're taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles," said Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford. "We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy."

Coconut coir is a natural fiber from the husk of a coconut. ScottsMiracle-Gro uses the material as a carrier for its soils and grass seed products, including Scotts Turf Builder EZ Seed and Miracle-Gro Expand 'n Gro Concentrated Planting Mix. Both products use the coir's natural fibers to hold 50 percent more water than basic potting soil and release it as plants need it, helping homeowners save water.

"ScottsMiracle-Gro uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in our consumer products," said Dave Swihart, ScottsMiracle-Gro senior vice president of Global Supply Chain. "Teaming up with Ford to find a high-value use for our leftover coir material is very exciting for us as we continually work to make our products and operations more sustainable."

Once the coconut coir comes to Ford, researchers combine it with plastic to deliver additional reinforcement to the part while eliminating the need for some petroleum.

Along with making use of a renewable resource, the new part would be lighter in weight. The natural long fibers also are visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials.

In the interior, the material could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It could also potentially be used on underbody and exterior trim.

Ford is currently testing the material's properties to ensure it passes all of the company's durability tests. Coconut coir is very difficult to burn, and Ford is researching whether it has natural flame-retardant properties.

… (and the second)

Ford Motor Company, an industry leader in collecting and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, announced it has more than tripled the size of its program to understand and measure suppliers’ carbon footprint.

Ford is surveying the energy use and carbon emissions of 128 global suppliers, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the company’s $65 billion in annual purchases. The new group is an expansion of last year’s survey population, which included 35 top suppliers. It includes companies that supply vehicle production parts and components, information technology and logistics services.

“Understanding the carbon footprint of our supply chain is a fundamental part of learning how to reduce the total environmental impact of our industry,” said Tony Brown, group vice president, Ford Global Purchasing. “By expanding our program to a cross-section of suppliers, we will significantly increase our understanding of suppliers' ability to manage their carbon impacts and further inform the creation of a broad-based carbon management system.”

The suppliers in the 2010 request included companies that make commodities such as seats, steering systems, tires and metal components, which require more energy to produce and thus have a larger carbon footprint.  A key finding from the 2010 responses was variability in supplier readiness to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. The responses received provided valuable insight into the risk management opportunities for the broader automotive supply base. From these results, 80 percent of respondents indicated that they track their carbon emissions, and 50 percent of those companies indicated that they externally report their emissions.

“The results clearly demonstrated that those high-impact suppliers that we had hoped were paying attention to greenhouse gas emissions, in fact were doing so,” said Monique Oxender, global manager of Ford’s supply chain sustainability. “However, these results may not represent the broader global automotive supply base’s readiness to track, report and proactively manage carbon emissions.”

In addition to establishing a baseline for its own supply chain carbon footprint, Ford has led industry development of a guideline for estimating, collecting and reporting manufacturing facility-based greenhouse gas emission data. The company has helped to convene other automakers and Tier 1 suppliers at the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) to develop the guidelines and streamline information requests from automakers to suppliers.  This is similar to the work that the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is doing with their supply chain program across multiple industries. Ford is one of two automakers participating in the CDP Supply Chain Program for 2011. 

Ford was also the only automotive company to participate in the roadtest of the new corporate value chain (Scope 3) greenhouse gas reporting standard developed by the World Resources Institute/World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WRI/WBCSD). The Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Standard, will provide a standardized method to inventory the emissions associated with corporate value chains, taking into account impacts both upstream and downstream of a company’s operations. The final Scope 3 Standard will be published by WRI/WBCSD in October.