E: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current role within the company?
I’ve been working at Ford for 26 years, so I’ve been here a long time. I’ve been in my current position, the strategy and policy position, for three years. My previous 23 years were all on the operations side. I’ve spent most of my career in product development and manufacturing, so I know the operation business very well and I think part of the reason why they put me in this position was to ensure that the strategies that are developed really could be incorporated back into our operations.
Just as my title would suggest, our group focuses on two main areas: the first is Ford’s sustainability directive, and the second is environmental policy.
The first area, the sustainability portion, boils down to the ways that Ford implements environmental, social and strategic goals into our products and manufacturing facilities. We work with the various operations to drive those strategic goals into their near, mid and long term plans.
On the product end, our group will look toward the future to determine the type of transportation that we’re going to see 5 years out, 10 years out, or 50 years out. We determine what plans we need to put in place in the near term, the mid term and the long term in order to deliver on that type of transportation. So, for example this would be things like the types of fuels our vehicles will run on. Since our group also has the environmental slant, obviously we want to consider more environmentally friendly options in this case.
Then we do something similar on our manufacturing side. We work with our manufacturing facilities to use less energy, to reduce the amount of waste that we’re sending to landfills, and also to reduce the amount of water that we use. So here again we lay out the long term objectives of our manufacturing facilities so that they can then begin planning on delivering to those objectives in the near, mid and long terms.
We do the same thing when it comes to the social angle, which we don’t talk a lot about because it’s something that is just the right thing to do. The social side really gets into things like human rights and working conditions, making sure workers are fairly compensated, are working in conditions that are appropriate via temperature, safety and those other areas. To help accomplish this, we work very hard on developing a Code of Working Conditions for all of our facilities globally, and we have really driven that into all of our facilities globally. The good news now is that we’re really driving that into our supply base as well. We’re doing this by asking our suppliers to incorporate the same Code of Working Conditions. So that’s the other element of sustainability, the social side, that we’re responsible for and that we drive globally.
Finally, the second area we operate in is environmental policy. This comes into play after we have developed our sustainability and environmental strategic goals. On the environmental policy side, we take our strategies and use them to determine the types of policies that we want to develop when we interface with our government affairs offices in D.C. or Brussels or Beijing. We work with those offices to hopefully get legislation passed that helps promote the execution of the strategies that we’ve laid out. So those are the two pieces that our organization does.
E: How do you encourage a wide range of suppliers (from large to small – which may not have someone dedicated to compliance or CSR) to get involved and really embrace CSR and sustainability initiatives?
We actually approached a lot of our larger suppliers first mainly because they did have levels of expertise and resources to apply to sustainability and environmental initiatives. We also began with them because they have a lot of suppliers too, and therefore they can go ahead and cascade this information down that chain.
Then, as we began to move away from our larger suppliers, we found out that our smaller suppliers didn’t necessarily have the resources to put these types of program in place. We have really been able to have a direct impact on this group by sharing our Code of Working Conditions and encouraging them to adopt that Code, or develop a similar Code of their own. We actually lay out for them how to do it and they are able to take that and run with it quickly. The bottom line is now that they have a roadmap to put their own Code together, and now that they are able to implement the Code in their plans, we go out and are able to do a lot of benchmarking to determine which approach and programs are the most successful among our supply base.
E: Are your suppliers generally supportive of those programs? Has there been any pushback?
We’ve found our suppliers are very supportive of these types of programs. With that said, there is always a lot of skepticism around wondering whether implementing these types of programs is going to cost a lot of money. We also get questions from suppliers around how to change behavior when working in a country with some local governments that aren’t always ethical. But I think overall our suppliers have realized that these aren’t money spending programs. In many cases when we talk about working conditions and doing things the right way, it’s just about doing things differently.
When we lay out examples of how the suppliers can just do things differently without spending more money, they’re absolutely on board, because then they have the added benefit of being able to talk about all the good things that they’re doing in their local communities and how they’re treating workers and that brings on a lot of positive buzz for them.
E: Do you ever receive any pushback from the Board, senior leadership, shareholders, etc, who argue that CSR and sustainability programs are just a waste of money and hinder short term profits? If so, how do you convince them that this is in the long term interest of the company?
Cost can come in two forms, either as a money cost or a time cost. We haven’t come across any action that was prohibitively expensive. But our challenge isn’t the cost we take on, it’s the time commitments. I think one has to be a little bit naïve to think we should just be able to implement actions that achieve 100 percent of our goals right away. Often times we have a time cost issue where there is a particular approach or avenue that we want to take that we would like to have implemented tomorrow, but the reality of the matter is that the amount of time it takes to train and change procedures can’t happen right away. So that really is our bigger challenge. Not the financial cost side, it’s really more of the time challenge and how do we get some of these programs implemented faster.
E: How has senior leadership played a role in what you do?
We have this mantra here where we talk about “strong men, great products and better world.” Everything we do is kind of around those three elements. When you talk about the better world piece, it’s something that Mr. Mulally and Mr. Ford continue to reiterate. That mentality and value system is really permeated throughout the entire organization.
So that’s what they’re able to deliver on. I can go to the various operations within the company and find great examples left and right of doing things ethically because the right atmosphere has been established at the top.
E: It sounds like you’ve been successful in a variety of areas. You’ve been awarded for your efforts in diversity, environmental, human rights and of course WME. Can you talk about what these types of recognition mean to all your stakeholders? Customers, suppliers, shareholders, etc.?
We receive a lot of positive impact from receiving third party recognition, both from outside sources and our employees. It’s really good for morale because this recognition is much more meaningful than if we go out from a public affairs stand point and just say on our own, “Hey we’re doing all this great stuff for human rights and this and that.” Getting the third party validation is really everything. It’s just great for the employees and others on the outside. Oftentimes we’ll get comments that say, “We know you’re doing cool things with your products, but we didn’t realize you’re doing all of these things the right way.” That gives us more consideration than the products themselves in some cases.
It’s interesting because we’ll have a lot of people that come to our office and just ask for direct jobs in our office because they believe so strongly in this topic. What’s even more encouraging is when individuals do great sustainability work in their current function without working out of our office.
A real good example of that comes from an employee who is actually part of the public affairs/marketing organization. She deals with all of the print publications, including everything from the sales brochures that you get in dealerships to the owners manuals that are in your cars to the employee magazines that we send out. She recognized the fact that not all of our print material was using recycled paper. She made it her own personal mission to actually go to all of the various sources (brochures, owners guides, employee publications or newsletters) and personally drive the use of recycled paper in all of those publications. One shining example of her work is that 2.2 million owner manuals are now being printed on recycled paper which weren’t in the past. So one individual had this profound impact driving that sustainable mindset in her own job and it’s just really good to see.
E: You are involved in some unique programs, such as the Zoo Atlanta Rain Forest, that are obviously completely independent of the auto industry. How do you decide which programs you become involved with? What role does getting involved in programs like that play within the company?
One of the things that we don’t have is a lack of programs that we can participate in. Our challenge is deciding which programs to become involved in. One of the organizations that we work closely with is what we call the Ford Fund. The Ford Fund is the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company and they focus on working within communities. They are the organization that actually has charitable money that they give to various organizations. Because our group has so many strong ties to them we will often do a lot of joint evaluations with the types of projects they participate in.
The Atlanta project that you mention was one such project. The Ford Fund also works with a lot of universities. One example is a sustainable community project that we sent out to most of the major universities throughout the U.S. Students from those universities came up with projects that would help improve the environment within certain communities. I think five projects were chosen and given $50,000 to complete their task. One of the selected student projects we worked on was with Florida A&M University, where we worked on urban parking projects to create urban gardens that produced fuel crops used to run diesel vehicles.
That’s an example on the environmental side. Another example on the social side is the contributions that we provide to social programs for at risk teens. Not only do we provide contributions from a money standpoint, but also in-kind contributions that involve Ford employees working with those organizations within their communities.
E: What’s next for Ford in terms of sustainability and ethics?
We appreciate being recognized as a World’s Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere, but also sitting from where I’m at right now there is so much more that needs to be done. I think one huge area is tapping into our employees even more. I gave the example of the print literature which is great, but I just think there’s a huge opportunity to get our employees involved more in terms of accelerating sustainable actions within the company, and I think we just barely scratched the surface of that. So I think that’s the next area within the four walls of Ford that we want to focus on. I mention the four walls of Ford because I think the other opportunity is going outside of the four walls of Ford.
Being an ethical company or being a company leader in sustainability includes how you as an organization are impacting those around you, such as the communities around you and the companies that support you that aren’t necessarily part of your company. For example, how are we taking all the good things that we’re doing from a sustainability and ethics standpoint within our company and sharing it with our supply base? Or, on the other end, how are we sharing those things with our dealerships which are not part of Ford Motor Company? That’s the other side that I think has huge opportunity for us. How do we go outside the walls that we control and have the largest impact on the surrounding areas that interface with our company?
E: What advice can you give to others responsible for environmental and sustainability programs within their organizations?
The one piece of advice I’d like to pass along is that doing the right thing doesn’t have to cost money. Even I had the impression coming into my current job that if we wanted to do all of the programs we had in mind, and taking on approaches in the right manner, that it’s going to cost money. That’s simply not the case. Sustainability doesn’t necessarily have to cost money, and I think that’s something that was a mental constraint for me initially. I thought we were not going to be able to take on a lot of actions because it’s going to take money and I didn’t know how to get that approved. We found out at the end of the day that it doesn’t have to cost money, it just takes a different type of approach. When you have that mindset it’s amazing the type of opportunities that are out there that you are able to implement because they don’t cost money. After all, these types of programs are the right thing to do, they make employees feel good, and they are self reinforcing. What you find is as you are able to demonstrate victories in terms of being able to implement actions, more and more opportunities come out of the woodwork. So don’t be afraid that it’s going to cost money to do things ethically. That’s just not the case.