Thinking Forward

Ford’s commitment to the future of sustainability is a key part of our DNA.

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To the untrained eye, soybean oil, tomato skins, vegetable stems and seeds, agave fiber, resin, wheat straw and out-of-circulation money seem to have nothing in common. Most would say that this eclectic mix of items would be more fit for the trash heap than for some component in a new car.

But to Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader of materials sustainability, one person’s trash is another’s treasure – especially when their sights are set on a greener future. So back in 2000 Mielewski and her team – primarily composed of female scientists – began a sustainability charge. The result: the development of the first bio-based foam to be used in car seats.

The new seats debuted in the Ford Mustang, and since then every car we’ve manufactured in North America has come equipped with some form of bio-based product. In addition to foam, we’ve developed a variety of sustainable products, including dashboards padded with scrap cotton from blue jeans in our Ford Escapes, and storage bins made from wheat straw in the Ford Flex.

This dedication to innovation had multiple industries clamoring for a piece of Mielewski’s technology and turned her and her team into – as she lovingly puts it – “nerd rock stars.” And thanks to the efforts of Mielewski and countless other Ford innovators who put eco-consciousness first, we’ve become a leader in sustainable materials research, and we have no intention of slowing down.

Ford’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the parts we use and into the natural resources consumed while manufacturing. Since 2000, we have reduced our water usage by 61 percent and are working to virtually eliminate water usage in our manufacturing efforts in the near future. Our commitment to thinking forward has contributed in large part to Ford being the only auto company named a Most Ethical Company by the Ethisphere Institute.

“As the world’s population continues to swell and resources become scarce, my gut is telling me that providing sustainable options to petroleum-based plastics is heading in the right direction,” Mielewski said. “We can make cars that are better for the planet and we can change the way the world moves.”