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Ford is collaborating with two universities on separate sustainability projects, seeking to increase the company’s knowledge on water consumption and human rights, two key issues in its global operations.
Working with Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Ford is continuing to develop innovative processes that will enable the company to maintain its commitment to reducing global water usage. From 2000 to 2008, Ford reduced its global water use by 56 percent – or 9.5 billion gallons – as part of its goal to minimize the environmental impact of its facilities around the world. Economic development experts have stressed that water scarcity is quickly becoming a high-priority global issue and Ford is addressing the issue as part of its broad global sustainability program to reduce its environmental footprint.
Ford also is working with George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on human rights issues in markets where the company is looking to expand its global operations. George Washington is helping Ford determine the best business strategies for working with governments and other businesses in developing countries where raw materials are being collected for use in vehicle technology components.
“Sustainability isn’t just about the environment,” said David Berdish, manager of social sustainability for Ford. “A company that is truly concerned about sustainability is concerned about its entire global impact – environmental, social and economic. Working with academics helps us broaden our perspective and move forward as responsible corporate citizens.”
About the water project
The collaboration with Georgia Tech’s Sustainable Design and Manufacturing program will help Ford determine the right manufacturing processes as its base expands into water-scarce areas like China, South Africa and Mexico, Berdish said.
“We have a lot of good processes – some of them best in class – on how we manage our facilities for water usage and water quality,” he said. “Ford’s long-term success is dependent on thriving communities and ecosystems, both of which require water. So Georgia Tech is helping us research the environmental issues surrounding the life cycle of our vehicles, including the use of water in the manufacturing process.”
It’s an exercise steeped not only in academics but in real-world benefits, said Tina Guldberg, associate director of corporate programs for Georgia Tech’s Sustainable Design and Manufacturing program. “This is a project that transfers knowledge and works on delivering long-term sustainability for the real world,” she said.
The work to reduce water usage builds on the university’s existing relationship with Ford, adds Burt Bras, professor of mechanical engineering. “We’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with Ford,” he said. “Projects like this provide great opportunities for students and faculty to be involved in multidisciplinary research and learn firsthand how such industry-academia collaborations are crucial in advancing sustainable development.”
About the human rights project
Ford has long worked to be a responsible corporate citizen around the globe. Building on those efforts, Ford is now collaborating with George Washington’s Institute for Corporate Responsibility on human rights.
“We’re the only company in our industry that publicly reports a human rights code,” said Berdish. “We’ve established a leadership position, and external stakeholders are looking to Ford as a role model.”
Emerging human rights issues can pose new challenges. For example, raw materials used in new automotive technologies are found in unstable countries, and these “conflict minerals” may create unexamined human rights issues. George Washington, Berdish said, is helping Ford develop a corporate ethics strategy that will allow the company to maintain its high standards for upholding human rights within its supply chain.
“As strategic sourcing has become a priority issue for corporations, concerns over fresh water and also raw materials from conflict regions should be addressed collaboratively by governments, corporations, international organizations and society,” said John Forrer, associate director of the university’s Institute for Corporate Responsibility.
“The concept of a ‘trusted partner’ puts companies in a proactive position, addressing issues and concerns alongside these external stakeholders and making decisions that take into account the interests of the communities in which they operate,” Forrer said. “Our research will help Ford understand the strategies, policies and practices it takes to be a trusted corporate partner operating in a complex global market.”
Both projects will increase in importance as Ford continues its worldwide expansion.
“These are big-picture projects,” Berdish said. “It’s important we all work together to identify emerging trends around science, technology and policy. We need to understand where we fit in to understand the impact of our global presence.”