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Climate Change and the Environment

Sustainable Materials

Materials are an important element of a vehicle’s sustainability at all stages of its life cycle. Material selection can influence the safety, fuel economy and performance of the vehicle, as well as opportunities to recycle or reuse the vehicle’s components at the end of its life. The materials used in a vehicle can also have implications throughout our value chain. A material can be more or less sustainable based on a number of factors, including its origin (virgin, renewable or recycled), the resources and manufacturing methods used to process it, the emissions produced throughout its life cycle and its application.

Ford has been working for many years to increase the use of recycled and renewable materials and to reduce the use of undesirable materials. Vehicles in North America typically are composed of 20 percent to 25 percent post-consumer recycled material by weight, primarily due to the extensive use of metals with recycled content (see What is in a Vehicle? for detail). Therefore, we have concentrated our efforts on developing new uses for recycled materials in the nonmetallic portions of our vehicles, which are typically composed of virgin materials. While the amount of recycled content in each vehicle varies, we are continually increasing the amount of recycled material used in each vehicle line and have implemented a number of innovative uses of sustainable materials (see Choosing More Sustainable Materials). We use tools such as life cycle assessment and life cycle costing to help us make beneficial materials choices.

Since the early 1990s, Ford has had a Voluntary Recycled Content Usage Policy in North America, which sets targets for the use of nonmetallic recycled content in each vehicle and increases those targets year by year and model by model. Under this program, recycled materials are selected for all of our vehicles whenever technically and economically feasible. We are now developing sustainable materials requirements for new vehicle programs and significantly refreshed vehicle lines to increase the recycled and renewable content, and we are developing specific, numerical, model-over-model improvement targets. We pilot tested vehicle-level recycled content targets with the 2014 F-150. We plan to leverage learnings from that pilot to improve future target-setting processes and expand them across additional vehicle lines in the future.

We are also continuing to introduce successful applications of recycled and renewable content into more vehicles for increased environmental benefit. We are focusing on materials technologies that improve environmental and social performance, and reduce costs and weight. To facilitate this, we are working with our commodity business planners, materials purchasers and materials engineers to develop a comprehensive list of cost-effective sustainable materials that can be implemented across multiple parts and vehicle lines. All recycled and renewable materials on this list are compared with virgin grades to ensure appropriate physical properties and component performance. By combining goals for updated or redesigned vehicles with identification and testing processes, we are standardizing and expanding the use of sustainable materials in our vehicles.

As we introduce sustainable materials, we do not assume that recycled materials are always the best solution. For example, we take into consideration whether recycled materials may increase vehicle weight or have significant energy demand in collection or recycling. We also have to balance our global materials strategy, which has dramatically reduced the number of materials we specify and use in order to maintain consistent quality and enable cost reductions, with the challenges of finding globally common recycled materials and recycled material feedstock. In some cases, the introduction of recycled and renewable materials runs counter to that commonization progress, since the feedstock for these materials can vary by region. For example, it is often more efficient to use materials made from local sources that divert waste from local landfills than to ship recycled-material inputs across the globe. We are working to ensure that we use local materials as a feedstock for our recycled-content materials.

We are developing and implementing an integrated sustainable materials strategy that builds on our voluntary recycling standards and our work to develop and implement more recycled and renewable materials. This strategy includes:

  • Developing guiding principles for incorporating recycled and renewable materials in our vehicles: We have formed a cross-functional and globally integrated sustainable materials council to guide the sustainable materials strategy for the company. This informal team has developed a set of guiding principles to help us think through choices of materials. These principles, listed below, reflect our collective thinking on the most effective ways to increase the use of recycled and renewable materials in our vehicles:
    • Recycled and renewable materials will be selected whenever technically and economically feasible.
    • Recycled and renewable content will be increased year over year and model by model. Product quality, durability, weight, performance (material specification and/or part design verification) and economics will not be adversely impacted by the use of recycled and renewable content materials.
    • Tools and enablers will be provided to select, specify, track and validate the use of recycled and renewable materials.
    • Recycled and renewable materials will be used where there is evidence of reduced or improved life cycle impact.
    • Recycled materials will be used primarily in the market of origin, to minimize the carbon footprint.
    • Renewable content sourcing shall not compete with the food supply. Sustainable supply must be ensured (in terms of stable supply and sustainable growth).
  • Integrating recycled and renewable materials into the official strategies that govern materials and commodities purchasing: We are developing global materials specifications that include recycled material specifications to facilitate greater use of these materials. Many commodity-purchasing plans already list recycled-content materials as a preferred material option, including those for battery trays, battery shields and wheel-arch liners. In addition, we developed a comprehensive resin strategy that requires the use of recycled plastics for underbody and aerodynamic shields, fender liners, splash shields, stone-pecking cuffs and radiator air-deflector shields manufactured in North America.

In other cases, we are adding recycled-content materials into our material-specification documents where we have found the recycled materials meet our rigorous performance requirements. This makes it easier for component engineers and Tier 1 suppliers to choose sustainable materials by providing a direct comparison of their performance characteristics with an equivalent virgin material.

We have also developed a material specification that defines post-consumer, post-industrial and depolymerized recycled content and ensures that the use of in-house scrap is not counted toward recycling targets. We are also working on specifications for renewable materials to make it easier for product engineers to incorporate renewable materials where we have found that they meet our performance standards.