The Heat Is Online

Ford Calls Climate Change Biggest Corporate Challenge

Ford seeks environmental leadership role

Reuters News Service, May 4, 2001

DETROIT - Ford Motor Co., which has vowed to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from its popular but gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, sought to burnish its environmental image again yesterday, saying the fight against global warming is its single biggest corporate challenge.

"There will be many ways to judge Ford in this first decade of the 21st century, many measures of success," Ford said in its second annual so-called "corporate citizenship" report. "None will be greater than our response to the issue of climate change."

But Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, declined to address President Bush's decision to withdraw the United States from the 1997 Kyoto treaty aimed at fighting global warming, a move that upset environmentalists and the European Union. In a conference call, Ford executives expressed doubts about the effectiveness of Kyoto, a position similar to those held by Bush and shared with General Motors Corp.

While saying there was sufficient scientific evidence that global warming is a problem, the company also said it thought the Kyoto treaty and current U.S. fuel economy regulations were flawed ways of addressing the problem.

A leading environmental group welcomed the report as a sign that Ford was taking its role in global warming seriously. Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming project, said cars and light trucks account for about one-fifth of the greenhouse gases generated in the United States every year.

"The single biggest step to curbing global warming is making cars go further on a gallon of gas," Becker said. "Ford is a big part of the problem. They're trying to become part of the solution, and they deserve credit for that."

In its report, Ford estimated that yearly greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicles and manufacturing plants totaled the equivalent of 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which scientists have identified as one of the leading man-made causes of global climate change.

Becker said if Ford were a country it would rank as the 10th largest source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

THE "GREEN" CHAIRMAN

Ford Chairman Bill Ford, great-grandson of the Detroit automaker's founder, is a lifelong environmentalist, and efforts to portray Ford Motor Co. as an environmentally aware "green" company have been made ever since he took over in January 1999.

In a letter included as part of Yesterday's 88-page report on the environment and other issues, Chairman Ford said global warming "stands out from other environmental issues because of its potentially serious consequences and its direct relationship to our industry."

He said nothing specific about ways of fighting emissions of carbon dioxide from polluting internal combustion engines. But in a speech to a Greenpeace Business Conference in London last October, Ford said the days of such engines were numbered, after a 100-year reign, and that they will be replaced by clean fuel cell technology.

A fuel cell creates energy through an electrochemical process, similar to that in a battery.

Martin Zimmerman, vice president of governmental affairs for Ford, said in a conference call Yesterday that the Kyoto agreement sets an unrealistic timetable for reducing emissions of gases linked to global warming, and excludes developing nations where such emissions are likely to increase.

The Bush administration cited similar reasons when it announced in March it would not support Kyoto. GM has also expressed doubts about the Kyoto targets.

In its first corporate citizenship report, issued in May last year, Ford conceded that its SUVs created a "dilemma" for the company and stated a goal of being at the cutting edge of efforts to improve fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions

Ford later committed itself to improving the fuel economy of its SUVs by 25 percent over five years, and has repeatedly said that it plans to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from its cars and trucks.

In Yesterday's report, the company admitted, however, that its 2001 model-year cars and trucks would post a poorer performance in terms of overall fuel economy than its model year 2000 vehicles, due to the addition of the Land Rover SUV business.

GM and DaimlerChrysler AG have also committed to increasing the fuel economy of their vehicles, but have not given specific targets.

Story by Tom Brown
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE