Sustainability 2011/12

Climate Change and the Environment

Quantifying Our Environmental Impacts

The first 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 We use lifecycle assessment to understand the impacts of our vehicles. Lifecycle assessment tracks emissions generated and materials and energy consumed for a product system over its entire lifecycle, from cradle to grave, including raw material acquisition, material production, product manufacture, product use, product maintenance and disposal at end of life. For vehicles, this includes the environmental burdens associated with mining ores, making materials (e.g., steel, aluminum, brass, copper, plastics, etc.), fabricating them into parts, assembling the parts into a vehicle, operating the vehicle over its entire lifetime, producing fuel for the vehicle, maintaining the vehicle and finally dismantling the vehicle at the end of its life, recycling and reusing materials as possible and disposing of materials as necessary. Lifecycle assessment is an essential tool when thinking about the environmental impacts of complex systems.

Estimates of vehicles’ total lifecycle impacts vary depending upon the specifics of the vehicle analyzed and the vehicle’s powertrain and fuel type. For example, assessments of the Ford Fiesta, Focus, and Mondeo – conducted using our Product Sustainability Index (PSI) tool – found significant differences in lifecycle CO2 emissions between the three vehicle models and between different engine and fuel types within a vehicle model. In all cases the vehicle use phase produces the largest portion of lifecycle CO2 emissions (for example, 77 percent of total for the Focus diesel and 83 percent for the Mondeo gasoline). Vehicles with better fuel economy do reduce the use phase’s contribution to lifecycle CO2 emissions, however, the use phase remains the dominant phase for most environmental impacts. See the table below for comparisons of lifecycle CO2 emissions across these three vehicles.

Lifecycle CO2 Emissions Comparison across Vehicle Models, Engines, and Fuel Types

Vehicle Model Engine Fuel Type Lifecycle CO2 emissions
2011 Ford Fiesta 1.25 L Gasoline 30 metric tons *
2011 Ford Fiesta 1.6 L Diesel 21 metric tons
2011 Ford Focus 1.6 L Gasoline 32 metric tons
2011 Ford Focus 1.6 L Diesel 27 metric tons
2011 Ford Kuga 2.0 L Diesel 36 metric tons
2011 Ford Mondeo 2.0 L Gasoline 42 metric tons
2011 Ford Mondeo 2.0 L Diesel 37 metric tons

* 1 metric ton = 1,000 kg = 0.98 U.K. tons = 1.1 U.S. tons

The PSI results also show that these vehicles made progress on multiple aspects of sustainability compared to the previous models. For more information on PSI please see the PSI section

Assessing the Lifecycle Emissions of Electrified Vehicles

Assessing vehicles’ lifecycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is becoming a more complicated task as we add alternative fuels and powertrains into our vehicle lineup. For conventional gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, most of the energy is consumed and most of the lifecycle CO2 emissions are released when the vehicles are driven, rather than when they are manufactured, maintained or recycled at end of life. As vehicle fuel efficiency improves and lower-carbon fuels are made available, we expect that the relative contribution of CO2 emissions from the in-use phase will decrease. For plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), most of the lifecycle CO2 emissions are released during the production of the electricity or the hydrogen that provides the energy for the vehicle. A systems perspective is thus required when considering the CO2 emissions and energy use associated with vehicle technologies. Considering either the vehicle technology or the fuel technology in isolation is not sufficient. BEVs and FCVs are capable of achieving very low CO2 emissions, but only when powered by low-CO2 electricity or low-CO2 hydrogen. In short, the use of energy-efficient vehicles such as BEVs and FCVs does not in itself lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions; those vehicles need to be combined with low-CO2 electricity or fuels to achieve low total CO2 emissions.

In 2012, we launched our carbon emissions and fuel cost calculator to help our fleet customers assess the emissions benefits of alternative fuel vehicles. This calculator allows fleet customers to input factors such as vehicle type (e.g., hybrid, battery electric, diesel), electricity source by region (e.g., coal, nuclear, renewables, natural gas) and likely driving patterns (e.g. stop-and-go city traffic, highway driving or a mix). These key factors help determine the environmental benefits the customer might expect to achieve with each type of vehicle. For a customer deciding where to place an electric vehicle in her fleet, the calculator shows that the Focus Electric emits about 70 g CO2/km using electricity from the low-carbon California grid but more than twice as much, about 150 g CO2/km, in the more coal intensive Southeast U.S. We hope to expand this calculator to Europe and China at a later date, as the U.S., Europe and China are expected to account for the majority of hybrid and electric vehicles through 2020. The calculator enables our fleet customers to both save money and protect the environment.

  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.