Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ford's Driving Green Technology Event - Day 3

Tuesday was the third and final day of the Ford Drive Green Event. We got an early start by heading out to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. This plant is currently producing Ford F-150 trucks. Volker Eis, from Ford of Europe, kicked off the day by filling us in on Ford’s model of sustainable manufacturing both here in the US and around the world. This model has helped Ford reduce their global energy use by 30% since 2000 and reduce CO2 emissions by 39%.

We then proceeded on to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.  This tour is actually open to the public and if you’re ever in Detroit, it’s worth taking a trip to Dearborn to see it for yourself. If my description below encourages you to experience it yourself, you can find all the details you need at  NOTE: Pictures are not allowed during tours, the pictures I have included here were taken with special press permission.

(Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.)

We began our tour by viewing a film about the history of Henry Ford, what he created, and the legacy that has followed. If you’re interested in American history, then this film is a “must see”.  We then experienced a multisensory film presentation of how vehicles are made while seated in chairs that swiveled 360 degrees to face any of 7 giant screens with special effects like blasts of heat from the furnace and the vibration of heavy equipment. It gives you a sense of being an actual vehicle moving through the assembly process and the special effects are just plain fun!

After the films, we were able to check out Ford’s Green Roof - the largest living roof in the world. It covers 454,000 square feet – which is the size of almost 100 regulation basketball courts. It is planted with sedum, a perennial ground cover.  This living roof provides many benefits, including:
  • Lowering temperatures inside the plant by up to 10 degrees.
  • Absorbing up to 4 million gallons of rainwater.
  • Converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, thus improving air quality.

The green roof also saves Ford money in several ways:
  • Natural Rainwater Management – The roof can absorb up to 4 million gallons of water, which results in significant storm water management savings.
  • Natural Insulation – The roof saves millions of dollars in energy cost.
  • UV Protection – The green roof absorbs sunlight preventing many roof leaks and cracks.
  • Longer Roof Life; Although a green roof is much more expensive to install than a traditional roof, it is expected to last twice as long - up to 50 years.

We then moved on to the observation level of the factory floor.   I have to say that this was waaaaay more cool than I expected it to be. From an elevated walkway we viewed the trim line for final assembly of F-150 trucks. We were able to see both the mechanical and human aspects of a vehicle moving through the factory and the assembly process. It was interesting to see that most of the assembly was actually a very hands-on process. Sure, tools were used, but the actual work and placement is done by people and not machines. The factory was extremely clean and organized and it seemed like a good work environment.

After our factory tour, we headed for the Ford Test Track. Before hitting the track itself, we heard from Sue Cischke, Ford’s Global Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. She offered us an overview of Ford’s strategy focusing on social, economic and environmental sustainability. There were two things that most struck me from this presentation. The first was Ford’s efforts to ensure not only their workers, but the workers employed by their suppliers and even their suppliers’ suppliers are treated humanely and have fair working conditions. The second is that Ford realizes the challenge that they must make “green” vehicles that are affordable to the average consumer. High-tech, forward-thinking development is wonderful, but if people can’t actually buy these vehicles and put them in to use, it is all for naught.

Next, it was time to get some hands-on experience on the Ford Test Track. The facility has both a High Speed track and a Steering and Handling Course. A number of vehicles were available for us to test including the Explorer with EcoBoost, Flex with EcoBoost, Fusion Hybrid, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and others. I got to drive the Explorer myself. My husband and I have had several Explorers in the past and it was fun to get behind the wheel of one again. Unfortunately, due to snow coming down fast and furious our test drive time had to be cut short.


After lunch, we visited the Product Development Center where we saw up-close demonstrations of Ford SYNC® and SYNC® with MyFord Touch™ Techologies.   We also met members of Ford's sustainable materials team, who told us about Ford's efforts to "green" their vehicles by incorporating parts made from sustainable materials such as soy foam, wheatgrass, recycled plastics and recycled blue jeans (like I mentioned in my Day 1 post).  I found this fascinating and will bring you further detail about these revolutionary steps in the near future.

That brought our time with Ford to a close as we were all whisked off to the airport for our flights home.

I want to express my thanks to Ford and the entire team there, as well as Ogilvy PR and Clever Girls Collective for this awesome opportunity.  I learned so much in a short period of time and have gained much respect for Ford.  Whenever I hear about "green" efforts from a company I am always the skeptic and my first thoughts are that the company is just doing enough to make them look environmentally responsible from a public relations perspective.  After meeting with so many committed people at Ford and seeing the lengths to which they are studying, researching and developing both business practices and new technologies, I really do get the feeling that they actually care and want to do good.  I applaud that.

Disclosure: I was invited to participate in this program by Clever Girls Collective, Inc. in partnership with Ford and Ogilvy PR. Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the 2-day Driving Green Technology event, I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. My opinions posted here are my own.  

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