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Ford Talks Up Sustainability at LOHAS 2006; Investigating Plug-In Hybrids

by Jack Rosebro

Escape Hybrid at LOHAS 10.

Yesterday, Ford Motor Company’s Niel Golightly, the automaker’s director of sustainable business strategies, presented some of Ford’s recent initiatives toward sustainability at the LOHAS 10 (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) conference in Santa Monica.

Ford is a major sponsor of the event, and several of Ford’s Escape hybrids were prominently displayed on the conference grounds.

Asserting his faith in the future, Golightly said, “Some people say that the auto industry will go the way of the fur coat or cigarette industries. I’m here to tell you that it won’t happen. People need cars. People need mobility.

He acknowledged, however, that automakers, including Ford, are starting to “feel the pull” toward sustainability from many sources, such as energy costs, customers, and institutional investors.

The day is coming when customers will no more accept a car that produces greenhouse gases, is made from nonrenewable resources, or is made by exploited workers than they would accept a car without seatbelts.

—Niel Golightly

Ford’s sustainability chief then introduced the audience to a pair of environmental initiatives: a partnership with TerraPass to market carbon offsets to owners and operators of Ford products (earlier post), and the introduction of renewable and recyclable seat fabrics to 80,000 as-yet unnamed Ford vehicles as of model-year 2007. Ford also plans to increase the recycled content of each vehicle’s interior to 25% whenever that vehicle is redesigned.

Terrapass offers Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury drivers the use of a carbon offset calculator to find out how much carbon dioxide their particular vehicle produces, as well as the effects of actions such as removing a roof rack or properly inflating the vehicle’s tires.

The energy sources for the carbon offsets are a wind farm in Nebraska and a methane digester at a dairy farm in Minnesota. Ford will promote the program with a point-of-purchase marketing campaign called Greener Miles.

The recyclable seat fabrics were developed by Interface, Inc., a major carpet and fabric manufacturer. According to a representative of Interface, the fabrics are made from “post-industrial waste”: fossil-fuel based plastics which do not meet top-tier quality guidelines for products such as soda bottles, and which are then sold to a secondary market.

Interface is reportedly investigating plant-based fibers from renewable sources; DaimlerChrysler and Honda have already begun to use such materials.

Interface began to focus on sustainability in 1994 after its chairman, Ray Anderson, read Paul Hawken’s seminal book, The Ecology of Commerce. Anderson later reflected, “For the first twenty-one years of Interface’s existence, I never gave one thought to what we took from or did to the Earth, except to be sure we obeyed all laws and regulations...Frankly, I didn’t have a vision, except ‘comply, comply, comply.’”

Interface is also one of the first US corporations to adopt The Natural Step, a science-and systems-based sustainability framework that is used by a growing collection of communities and corporations worldwide.

The Natural Step, or TNS, defines a sustainable world by the achievement of four system conditions, three of which are environmental and one that is socioeconomic. TNS uses techniques such as “backcasting” to envision a sustainable future, and then work backward toward the present from that future.

In a subsequent interview with Green Car Congress, Golightly acknowledged an awareness of The Natural Step, in part through his work with Interface. Golightly candidly stated that Ford’s definition of sustainability is very much a work in progress, and that in the future, new tools will be needed to address larger problems such as the predicted doubling of the world’s vehicle fleet within a generation, or the growth of a corporation’s total greenhouse gas production as a result of its economic expansion.

These are tough issues, and the wisdom of a constantly growing economy in a finite world has been questioned before, most notably in the 1970s. However, there is a renewed interest in limits to growth, and in the associated field of ecological economics.

Readers of our recent series on automakers’ sustainability reports here at Green Car Congress may also recall that Ford’s 2005 sustainability report defines sustainable development in economic, environmental, and social terms, and defined social capital as “the capacity of people in our communities to participate fully in both the production and consumption of our products and services.

When questioned about such a definition, Golightly explained that it is a working definition limited by the company’s ability to influence “what we [Ford] can put our hands on.”

Plug-ins. Golightly also touched on the prospect of Ford-built plug-in hybrids, saying that the company is investigating the technology, but that three “significant issues” remain as barriers to production: battery life, warranty coverage, and safety.

It is likely that the first production plug-in hybrids will use lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery packs. However, Li-ion batteries are generally considered to be less stable than nickel-metal hydride, the current hybrid battery of choice. Much of the development of Li-ion batteries is focused on addressing those concerns.

In a subsequent breakout session at the conference, another Ford representative assured attendees that “the message [about plug-in hybrids] is coming through loud and clear.

Addressing a question about Toronto-based HyMotion’s conversion of Ford’s Escape hybrids to plug-in hybrids (earlier post), the representative said that “we encourage our customers to be creative with our cars.

Santa Monica’s LOHAS event was the tenth such conference presented in the US. Originally focused on personal care and health products, it is beginning to broaden its focus to sustainability in general. Although the popularity of the LOHAS acronym is growing in the US, it is by far more widely used and recognized in Japan than in other parts of the world.



gerald earl

Tell people you know about this site.The larger the audience the more likely big business will be listening.The recent survey in gcc as well as ones in places like cal cars and plug in partners show people like golightly that there is a market demand out here.Greens and security wonks have found a common goal .We dont always agree on the exact path there but if we can work together it is more likely they will "feel the pull".Politicians are feeling the pull also.Lets give them a nudge.The vehicle and fuel choices for american security act is bipartisan and as comprehensive as your going to get. Especially in an election year.E-mail Joe Lieberman and ask him to promote it and help to get it reported out of commitee{where most legislation dies}.Joe is a co sponsor with Brownback.It is very friendly to hybrids and plug ins.look it up,get involved,the people that make the decisions are hearing the message"loud and clear and are "feeling the pull".

Adrian Akau

I am not sure if Niel Golightly is more concerned about the sustainablility of the auto or of Ford Motor company. He touched on PHEV's so lightly as not to appear that it is much an object of concern. I believe that the future survival of Ford will be integrally linked to the development of the PHEV.

Niel's comments on Lithium ion batteres do not seem up to date. He makes no positive statements on the manganese based ones as compared to the older cobalt type and does not seem to realize that the present level of battery technology is presently limited to manufacturing capabilities. He makes no comments on the roll of ultra-capacitors to the preservation of electric car batteries.

If Ford Motor company was able to come up with the assembly line process a hundred years ago, surely there must be at least an ounce or two of vision left to plan and develop vehiches for the second century. Concern over seat cover recycling is not going to be enough to keep the company alive.


Jack Rosebro

Just to clarify, Niel Golightly did not make any specific comments regarding lithium-ion batteries during the interview - only about batteries in general. While many promising Li-ion developments have been reported, the technology is still young. As for ultracaps, they generally take up more room than equivalent batteries, and that's a design concern with the large amount of stored energy needed for PHEVs.

gerald earl

Well,Niel works for Ford so his job will be a balancing act.They are in a difficult position.The day of tinkering with the existing platform is gone.There are game changing designs and technologies here and on the horizon.Pick well and you do the right thing and continue your existence.Pick wrong and that could be the last nail in your coffin.Even Toyota needed strong prodding to embrace phev.They are talking of a nine mile electric range which dissapointed many.auto makes have to make it so we will buy it marketwide.it then does have to meet its warranties,safety etc.The first incarnation of the ev has caused the american public to be even more skeptical than the automaker.We are just getting to the point where people are willing to listen to a new idea again.If there is a rollout and there is a large recall,batteries cant last to warranty etc. it could set acceptance back for years.Lets continue to encourage the process but have patience enough to wait for a good result.

Rafael Seidl

It's good that Ford is listening to customers and others and getting the message that sustainability matters. However, increased use of recycled materials is mandatory in Europe but makes economic sense for carmakers elsewhere, too. The TerraPass is just a modern-day indulgency (pay-as-you-sin). In other words, this announcement is mostly marketing spin without much engineering substance.

To its credit, Ford has delivered a full hybrid Escape, albeit in small quantities. The trouble is, the company is also touting E85 (because it uses a CAFE loophole to avoid paying gas guzzler taxes) and fuel cell research (a white elephant if ever there was one) etc etc. It all adds up to a low-confidence scattershot approach, hoping against hope that something will eventually pan out.

The market rewards innovation a.k.a. technology leadership. Toyota was considered a dowdy brand before it came up with the Prius. Citroen PSA got kudos for delivering the PM filter for diesels. Etc. Ford is not perceived as being at the forefront of any single technology.

gerald earl

Kinda funny that Ford aknowledges their arrival to sustainability is a "work in progress" and their spokes mans name is golightly.Sales of the escape have been picking up.This is their, toe in the water,and if successful will be expanded to other models{mariner}.
The E85 train has left the station so they have to board and hope the tracks dont end at a cliffs edge.This has been propelled by the security crowd and corn state senators.Many beneficial offshoots are coming from alt fuel.Cattle dung is being used to fuel the ethanol production process,waste to energy,biomass are creating a wave of researchers studying the processes of just about everything to energy,{bri energy,star tech,etc.}.
Fuel cell research is paying off but not necessarily in the automotive sector yet.The honda energy station is rolling out this fall,they are making their way into inustrial back up power and beginning to penetrate as primary power.They have attracted a disproportionate level of funding,which again demonstrates the peril of betting on future horses.
I think you will see that the restructuring of gm and ford is a realization that they have been tinkering around the edges of the obsolete. Subsidies on suv sales protected them from the need to engage in forward thinking.Hopefully susequent legislation {alternative vehicle and fuels choice for American security act}will encourage forward thinking.such legislation would then need to be revisited year by year to see if is still relevant or needs to be overhauled.


Well the big issue with plug ins is battery life as it tends to strain the battery more.

And of course they can only even think of going plug in when they manage to get a steady supply of QUALITY STABLE RELIABLE batteries.

But the process to going mass produced on batteries goes against this at least in the short run.

nadar  hopkins

i have been an enthusiist of yout company \since child birth and I have owned a new 1995 thunder bird I wish that type of car to come back redesied and able to run with the bu\ig dawgs

i have made some of my own desins but I wan them to be made to life and bring me revenu to become s signature builder like carol shelby

@Writ n\me doo tan ttell me what you think


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