News Deeply, in partnership with Sustainable Brands*, has produced a series of profiles looking at how brands are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. The goal is to examine trends and gather insights from a new wave of corporate citizenship – in an era when the private sector is increasingly expected to play a positive role in improving our lives and societies. This is the 8th article in* the series.
Mary Wroten is global senior purchasing manager for supply chain sustainability at Ford Motor Company. In this role, she drives forward Ford’s $100 billion efforts to address critical challenges, including human rights and working conditions, water scarcity mitigation and the reduction of carbon emissions among suppliers worldwide.
“I always chuckle and say I'm an engineer,” Wroten says, having begun her career at Ford in 1996 as a mechanical engineer. “I'm always thinking about improving processes, sharing leading practices and finding out larger, holistic solutions.”
This approach is achieving Ford’s goal to minimize its environmental footprint. Since 2009, Ford has reduced the amount of water used to produce each vehicle by 30 percent, and more than 60 of its manufacturing and non-manufacturing facilities worldwide now send zero waste to landfills.
We caught a few minutes with her at SB’16 San Diego in June to learn more about how her company develops and implements sustainability initiatives that create engagement among suppliers worldwide.
In 2014, you launched the Partnership for a Cleaner Environment (PACE) to engage suppliers in achieving Ford’s ambitious environmental goals. Why is supply chain sustainability so high on your company's agenda?
Mary Wroten: We’re a company that was founded by an environmentalist. I find Henry Ford, our founder, to be very inspirational. One of my favorite quotes from him is: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”
We’ve implemented this program because we believe in sharing best practices and toolkits with our suppliers so that together, we can all reduce our overall environmental footprint.
If a region runs out of water in the next five years, the cost of water in that area will skyrocket. If one of our suppliers located there has high water-usage operations and doesn’t have the means or the knowledge to reduce their water footprint, they'll just pass on the cost to the customer – which will be Ford.
How do you expand environmental sustainability across your supply chain and create buy-in with suppliers?
Wroten: Ford has 1,200 production suppliers – the companies that make the parts that go in all of our cars – with 400 manufacturing sites in more than 60 countries all over the world. We also have more than 11,000 indirect suppliers from whom we buy things like janitorial services, computers and construction. So it’s a very, very large supply base.
To drive change across this global network, we developed the PACE program to share Ford’s best practices in energy and water savings and waste reduction. This empowers suppliers who don’t have technical expertise in these areas, or who just don’t know where to start, to reduce their environmental footprint.
When we launched PACE, we targeted 25 suppliers that reported a high environmental footprint at 800 manufacturing sites all over the world – especially in water-scarce regions. Through PACE, we shared with them our technological expertise about the actions that are easiest to implement with the quickest return on investment, as well as the actions that take a little bit longer with more capital but produce an ROI over a longer period of time.
Suppliers select the best practices they want to implement in their facilities, and they're required to report their intensity to us year over year so we can measure improvement. They're very excited to be part of this program. The number one thing these suppliers said to us is, “We've been thinking about this for a long time – thinking about reducing our energy use, our greenhouse gas footprint, our water footprint – but we just didn't know where to start.”
What’s a key challenge that any supply chain sustainability initiative has to address?
Wroten: Working together. I think in a lot of ways we as an automotive industry overburden our suppliers. I remember talking with one supplier who said they devoted one full-time person just to fill out questionnaires they receive from their customers. I said, “Wow. That's one head that's fully working on documentation and paperwork.” What if we were to standardize all of the processes and tools throughout the industry, so that we free up that person to spend only 20 percent of their time filling out documentation and the rest of the time taking action in their facilities in order to reduce their environmental footprint? That's when you start driving change, because one company can't do this alone.
Ford is the first automaker to join the join the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, a nonprofit organization of electronics companies committed to improving social, environmental and ethical conditions in their global supply chains. Why is cross-sector collaboration so powerful?
Wroten: The electronics industry has really taken a proactive approach to addressing issues such as human trafficking, forced labor and child labor within the supply chain. If I quickly scan the EICC member company list, between 15 to 20 percent are already Ford suppliers. It makes sense for us to scale up our collaboration with these leaders and figure out collective ways we can all work on these complicated topics together.
What results have you seen so far, and what’s next for Ford?
Wroten: It’s still early in the PACE program, but our suppliers have been excited to know where to start – and knowing where to start is half the battle. Later this year, we’ll be expanding the program’s focus from energy and water to also work on air and waste issues. This December, we’ll have our first round of hard data from our suppliers’ reports that shows how this effort is really paying off.