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Taking a Life Cycle Approach

We want to understand all the impacts our products and services have, so that we can manage them more effectively. To do this, we need to look at them holistically, over their entire life cycle. This wider view means we are better able to reduce our environmental footprint, through the materials and energy we use to make our vehicles, and the emissions generated by using them.

Assessing Total Life Cycle Impacts

We use a growing range of analytical tools to identify and measure the potential environmental impacts of our products or services over the entire lifetime of our vehicles. This spans the mining of the ores and metals used in their manufacture, through production, distribution and use, to their end-of-life disposal.

Our Product Life Cycle

  • Mining Ores or Raw Energy Carriers
  • Producing Materials and Fuels
  • Fabricating Parts
  • Vehicle Assembly
  • Vehicle Use and Maintenance
  • End of Life

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Vehicle Life Cycle

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by our vehicles during use are largely determined by factors such as the number of vehicles on the road to the way they are driven. Unlike facility GHG emissions, where we can track energy and other data accurately, we estimate emissions from the use phase by utilizing both sophisticated modeling and actual vehicle testing.

2017 GHG Emissions From Ford Operations and Use of Sold Products

Million metric tons

Ford Facilities3.1
Per Vehicle0.47
Use of Sold Products161

To date, much of our work to improve the life cycle performance of our products has focused on their tailpipe – or tank-to-wheels (TTW) – emissions. However, we continue to study the well-to-wheels (WTW) impacts, which account for the effects of both the production and consumption of the fuels our products use. Estimates of WTW emissions vary with the specifics of the vehicle, engine and fuel type.

When comparing vehicles, diesels generally have lower lifetime GHG emissions than their gasoline-powered equivalents. In vehicles with alternative powertrains (i.e., electrified), overall CO2 emissions are dependent on the carbon intensity of the fuel production process. The emission benefits of lower-carbon options such as BEVs and PHEVs are maximized when the electricity used is generated from renewable sources such as wind or solar power.

While the GHG impacts from fuel production are part of the total vehicle life cycle, they are not within our control and need to be addressed separately. To find ways to reduce GHG emissions during this stage of the life cycle, collaboration with other stakeholders such as fuel producers, infrastructure developers and government is essential.

Water Use in the Vehicle Life Cycle

To assess the water footprint of our vehicles, we have estimated whole life cycle use for a model year 2012 Ford Focus: the internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) and the battery electric vehicle (BEV).

Ford Focus 2012 – Estimated Life Cycle Water Use

 Life Cycle Water Withdrawal (Water Withdrawn From a Source) – Estimated U.S. Average (m3)Life Cycle Water Consumption (Water Permanently Lost From a Source) – Estimated U.S. Average (m3)
Ford Focus 2012 ICEV530130
Ford Focus 2012 BEV3,770170

There is a notable increase in the water withdrawal associated with the use phase of the BEV; this reflects the amount of water needed for electricity generation and, in particular, the cooling in coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants. In comparison, much less water is needed to produce petroleum fuels.

This highlights the importance of reducing the water consumption associated with fuel production, as well as increasing vehicle energy efficiency.

As well as assessing the water footprint of our vehicles, we’re working on a change in how we use and recycle water.

Applying Our Findings

We use our life cycle assessment (LCA) knowledge in research and development using, for example, our Product Sustainability Index (PSI) in Europe. This tool assesses various factors, from global-warming and air-quality potential to the use of sustainable materials, external noise, safety and ownership costs. Through the PSI, we have been able to demonstrate improved environmental, social and/or economic performance over the life cycle of several European models.

We also use LCA when assessing the environmental and cost impacts of different materials. We are currently studying the energy and GHG emissions associated with the production of carbon fiber automotive parts, and comparing these impacts to any fuel savings they can provide.

Driving the Science of Sustainability

We believe that addressing climate change requires a multi-sector approach, in which the cost-effectiveness of approaches to reduce CO2 will be critical.

We are conducting research that compares the cost-effectiveness of actions to achieve emission reduction targets in sectors facing high abatement costs (such as transport) with those in other sectors (such as the energy sector, with respect to fuel production). Our researchers have also contributed to a cradle-to-grave LCA that explores the costs and GHG emissions of current and future technology for light-duty vehicles.