Quantifying Our Environmental Impacts

The first important step in improving the lifecycle impacts of our products is to understand the environmental aspects of our products and the potential environmental impacts associated with them.1 The stages of a vehicle’s lifecycle include materials production, parts fabrication, vehicle assembly, vehicle operation (including fuel production), maintenance and repair, and end-of-life disposal and recycling. While estimates vary depending upon the specifics of the vehicle analyzed, one cooperative, multi-industry analysis of a typical family sedan (a spark-ignited, gasoline-powered, Taurus-class family sedan weighing 1,532 kg) found that during its lifecycle:

  • 960 gigajoules of energy are consumed
  • 21,000 kg of hydrocarbon are consumed
  • 60,000 kg of carbon dioxide are emitted

In that study, it was assumed the vehicle was driven a total of 120,000 miles at an average metro/highway fuel efficiency of 22.8 mpg. The study also found:

  • Vehicle operation consumes 86 percent of the lifecycle energy
  • Vehicle operation generates 87 percent of the lifecycle carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Vehicle production generates 65 percent of the particulates and 34 percent of the lifecycle sulfur dioxide

This is consistent with a separate review of lifecycle studies, in which it was found that the operational stage generally accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the total energy consumption and CO2 emissions of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, depending on the vehicle’s material composition, average fuel efficiency and lifetime drive distance. An ISO 14040-reviewed lifecycle assessment study of the Ford Galaxy and S-MAX confirmed that the vehicle’s use phase consumes more energy and produces more CO2 emissions than the vehicle’s other lifecycle phases. Other impact categories are mainly dominated by the mining and materials production phases. These findings were confirmed in subsequent studies for all other models developed using our Product Sustainability Index.

  1. Environmental aspects is a term used in the ISO 14001 framework to denote elements of an organization’s activities, products and services that can interact with the environment. Potential environmental impacts include any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organization’s activities, products or services. Local Ford facilities use corporate lists of environmental aspects and potential impacts to identify and amplify those aspects that apply to their operations.