Effective action on climate change takes cooperation on all levels. From governments to the private sector to individuals, everyone must do their part to solve this collective problem, together. In the U.S., the biggest source of carbon emissions by sector is transportation, producing 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the EPA. As such, any pathway to reduced greenhouse gases and a comprehensive response to climate change must involve stakeholders from the transportation sector — thankfully America’s best-selling automotive brand is stepping up.

Ford Rouge Complex factory

As a major global and domestic player in the auto industry, Ford has the potential to make a major impact — and the company is aiming high. By 2050, Ford aims to achieve global carbon neutrality. How can one of America’s best-selling automakers in one of the most carbon-producing sectors go completely carbon neutral in less than 30 years? Ford developed an ambitious but actionable plan, starting with support at the top of the company and extending to every employee and vendor across its global supply chain.

“We were committed to setting aspirational goals to start moving the needle, to start having a positive impact,” says Director of Global Sustainability for Ford, Mary A. Wroten. “It’s like setting a New Year’s resolution. If you don’t have a goal, you’ll never steer yourself toward whatever that resolution is.” Though the 117-year-old company released its first sustainability report in 1999, Wroten suggests that founder Henry Ford laid down the roots for sustainability before the idea as we know it existed. A self-described environmentalist, he was famous for eliminating waste at Ford manufacturing facilities. “He used the wood from shipping crates for the floor pans of early vehicles,” explains Wroten. “Any wood that was leftover was turned into briquettes for barbecuing, and he eventually started a charcoal company called Kingsford Charcoal.”

Ford F-150s being made in a factory

Setting targets and sticking to them, no matter what

Even today, sustainability at Ford starts at the top. “These aspirational goals are a way to harness all the executives within the organization to tackle these issues, get buy-in and drive change throughout the company,” says Wroten. After the goals are set, executives then go to work developing metrics and tools to hit targets, according to Wroten. Meanwhile, the company is ensuring every employee gets sustainability integration training. At Ford, sustainability is key to every aspect of the business. Understanding that sustainability is part of their role helps ensure employee buy-in, according to Wroten.

The company’s long-term goals reflect a committed approach. When the Trump Administration announced the end of U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 and then announced a rollback of auto emissions standards in 2020, Ford didn’t waver on its sustainability targets — as of June 23 of this year, Ford is the only U.S. automaker committed to doing its part to reduce CO₂ emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and working with California for stronger vehicle greenhouse gas standards. “All of our decisions build upon each other,” Wroten says, noting that the Paris Climate Accords call for carbon neutrality by the second half of the century. “We continue to believe that this path is what’s best for our customers, our environment and both the short and long-term health of the auto industry,” she says.

So what’s inside the plan moving forward? Ford, along with third-party consultants, advisors and auditors, determined that three areas make up 95% of its carbon emissions: vehicle use, supply base and company facilities. First up, let’s look at how Ford is changing the way we drive.

white electric Ford Mustang

The electrification of Ford vehicles

Over the next year, Ford is rolling out two new fully electric vehicles in the US, the Mustang Mach-E and the E-Transit electric work van. And while the launch of new electric vehicles is exciting, it’s the launch of North America’s largest charging network that Ford hopes will truly shift the paradigm of driving to electric. “We can’t just release great products,” says Wroten, “we also need to provide a great charging experience so our customers don’t worry about range anxiety and other concerns consumers have about electric vehicles.” The FordPass Charging Network — the largest public charging network in North America* — will feature more than 13,500 charging stations with more than 40,000 charging plugs.

Ford electric vehicle plugged into charging station

However, simply switching to electricity doesn’t necessarily make for the greatest reductions of carbon emissions — that electricity must also come from a renewable source. Ford is taking a well-to-wheel approach, meaning that the company is working to ensure that the electricity originates from renewable sources. “The energy that’s used to propel our vehicles is very much part of our plan to reduce carbon emissions,” adds Wroten, noting that a green grid is essential to hitting carbon targets. It’s an initiative the brand is spearheading in its own facilities.

rendering of Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center

Manufacturing for today and the future

Within its own manufacturing facilities, Ford is working closely with local collaborators to ensure that they are running on 100% renewable, locally sourced energy by 2035. This will account for 80% of the carbon output of Ford facilities says Wroten. The company is releasing a plan for the remaining 20% of carbon emissions in the next year. Meanwhile, beyond carbon, Ford is making its facilities even more sustainable. Over the next 10 years, Ford is eliminating single-use plastics from all operations, with a long term goal of achieving zero landfill waste across the company. Longer-term aspirational goals include zero water withdrawals for manufacturing and zero air emissions. Based on third-party audits, the data suggests Ford is well on its way to meeting carbon targets. In 2019, all Ford facilities across the globe combined produced as much carbon as one coal-fired power plant.

person testing carbon-neutral foam

Building a more sustainable supply base

Cutting emissions from Ford facilities and vehicles isn’t enough, and the brand knows it. Ford works with a complex network of suppliers across the globe, which Wroten suggests accounts for some 15% to 17% of the company’s carbon emissions. For its domestic efforts to matter, their partners need to pull their weight, too. To reach carbon neutrality across the board, Ford is sharing its learnings and tools with certain suppliers in hopes of replicating sustainable practices. And over the next five years, Ford estimates saving over 680,000 metric tons of carbon — the equivalent of consuming about 1.57 million barrels of oil — thanks to the supply base approach.

The automaker’s desire to extend its carbon-neutral strategy to suppliers underscores a larger issue around climate change and any environmental initiative: collaboration is essential for success. “We know we can’t do this alone,” says Wroten, “reaching carbon neutrality is a team sport.” From innovative electric vehicles to a widening green grid to bringing all stakeholders in on the mission, the approach Ford is taking is nothing short of comprehensive.

* Based on original equipment manufacturers(OEM)/automotive manufacturers that sell all-electric vehicles and have publicly announced charging networks. Department of Energy data used. FordPass, compatible with select smartphone platforms, is available via a download. Message and data rates may apply.

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Images via Ford