COLOGNE - Environmentalists and automakers have long wrestled for the moral high ground in the debate over cleanliness vs. practicality. But even Henry Ford believed you could be a green and an industrialist at the same time.
Ford set aside land for the study of birds. He experimented with using alcohol as a fuel to reduce emissions and used soybeans in his paint. He replaced wood with steel in his cars, saving 10 million meters of wood a year in the process.
Now, in a return to those precepts, Ford Motor Co. executives say that 'green-ness' may be the high road to profitability in the next century.
'We realize that preserving the environment is not only the right thing to do, it is the best thing to do from a long-term business perspective,' Ford of Europe President Jim Donaldson said here at a ceremony to mark the accreditation of Ford-Cologne as an ISO 14001 plant.
The ISO accreditation certifies that a plant complies with international standards for environmental practices and has adopted a process of continuous improvement.
'It is an investment, not an expense. We plan to lead in this area every bit as much as we plan to lead in products with our next generation of cars and trucks,' Donaldson said.
All of Ford's 142 production plants worldwide - including Jaguar, Aston Martin and components division Visteon - are now ISO 14001 accredited. Ford says it is the first automaker in the world to meet the standard companywide.
Helen Petrauskas, Ford's vice president for environmental and safety engineering, said here that it cost an average of $200,000 per plant to comply with the ISO standard, an indicated total of about $28.5 million worldwide.
'But that investment resulted in savings in electricity, heating and water usage,' she said.
For example, Ford's plant in Halewood, England, has cut water consumption by some 15.8 million U.S. gallons a year, she said. That is the equivalent of 60 million liters.
But Ford believes the real payoff will come down the road in the form of higher sales, Petrauskas said.
'We are looking at the car buyers of the future with our environmental policy,' she said.
'Talk to 10-, 12- or 15-year-olds today, and they have been taught to think about the environmental impact of everything they do. They are very aware of the dangers of emissions. ... It will not be very long before we will want to start selling cars to these young people.'