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Ford re-examining its carbon footprint

U.S. automaker plans to research its top 35 suppliers, create cleaner global supply chain.

Shown is the interior of the 2009 Ford Mustang. The automaker is surveying suppliers, including those making seats and steering systems, on their sustainability practices.
Ford Motor

Ford Motor announced Thursday it will use its influence to reduce the carbon footprints of its suppliers.

In partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project , the World Resources Institute, and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Ford plans to survey 35 of its top suppliers worldwide with regard to their sustainability practices. Ford said this is just the initial phase of a long-term plan to eventually have all suppliers institute better sustainability practices. The suppliers chosen for this round include those who make tires, metal components, seats, and steering systems. 

Based on the collected data and using modeling software from PTC InSight , Ford will then make recommendations as to how each supplier might make changes to reduce its carbon footprint.

It may sound heavy-handed, but the company certainly has the power to force its suppliers to comply. Ford estimates it spends $65 billion in annual procurement, and that 30 percent of that money goes to these 35 top suppliers alone. 

The U.S. automaker also noted in Thursday's announcement that the move is not a cop-out to reducing its own carbon footprint.

"Any reductions by suppliers would be in addition to Ford's own goal of reducing greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2020 from the company's 2006 model year baseline," Ford said in a statement.

Ford's move raises the bar for other automakers, and even other industries, in the ongoing discussion about where corporate responsibility ends with regard to carbon emissions.

As corporate sustainability expert Kevin Wilhelm explained to Green Tech in an interview, attempting to calculate a company's carbon footprint is a very complex process. It's not simply a matter of companies trying to shirk environmental responsibility. Comparing companies one-to-one is also futile, as standards are still being developed with regard to who and what a company needs to include when calculating its carbon footprint for a sustainability report.

Some U.S. companies choose to only include their U.S. operations, and exclude outsourced manufacturing such as goods made in China. Other companies may have a seemingly large carbon footprint, but it's because they're including both supply chain and carbon-contributing transportation factors, while others don't, according to Wilhelm.

Ford, in conjunction with the carbon disclosure organizations it's partnered with, is obviously trying to set a precedent for companies taking responsibility for their supply chains' carbon footprints.