The Greening of Ford Motor Company
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FORD PLANS $2 BILLION GREENING OF OLD ROUGE COMPLEX
By Michael Ellis
November 2, 2000
DEARBORN, Mich. - Ford Motor Co. is spending $2 billion to transform its
83-year old Rouge manufacturing complex, a sprawling, concrete-covered icon
of the industrial age, into a new symbol of environmental responsibility,
the automaker said on Tuesday.
At the centre of the revitalised Rouge, a marshland outside Detroit which
Henry Ford converted to a 1,100 acre industrial site in 1917, will be a new
assembly plant, topped with nearly half a million square feet of foliage and
located next to an open meadow of berry bushes to attract migratory
Behind the greening of the Rouge is Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.,
grandson of founder Henry Ford, who is quickly changing the automaker's
image from a traditional smokestack industry by addressing groups such as
Greenpeace and promoting environmental initiatives within the company.
"This is not tokenism," James Padilla, Ford group vice president of global
manufacturing, told reporters in the "Rouge Room", where plans are
formulated for the new complex. "This is about merging the values of the
economic system, which pretty much we've been dedicated to in our hundred
years of existence, and bringing in the environmental side of that."
The Rouge was once the largest private manufacturing complex in the world,
employing more than 100,000 people at its peak in the 1930s, where literally
iron shipped up the Rouge River went in one end, and cars came out the
The Rouge has been at the centre of many key events in the automotive
industry, including the bloody 1937 confrontation between Ford security and
United Auto Workers officials trying to organise the company. And in 1964,
it was also the birthplace of the popular Mustang sports car.
In the 1990s, Ford began examining the future of the ageing complex, now 500
acres. Padilla said Ford could have closed the Rouge and built a new vehicle
assembly plant on a "greenfield" site for less money, but the company
decided against abandoning its home base and its history.
Ford signed the revolutionary architect William McDonough to rejuvenate the
Rouge. McDonough's projects have included redesigning the Environmental
Defence Fund headquarters in New York with a tree-lined interior and
daylight illuminating interior offices.
"Ford is declaring itself native to Dearborn," McDonough said. "They're not
getting up and abandoning Flint like General Motors did."
The sad demise of Flint, Mich., the birthplace of General Motors Corp. , was
documented by Flint native Michael Moore in the off-beat film "Roger & Me."
Last year, GM closed the historic Buick City Assembly Centre, 95 years after
the first Buick was manufactured in the city.
Ford plans to spend $1 billion on the environmental initiatives and the new
750,000-square-foot assembly plant, where the automaker eventually plans to
build up to nine vehicle models on three different platforms.
To manage stormwater and keep pollutants from washing into the Rouge River,
McDonough came up with the idea of the assembly plant roof covered with a
groundcover plant rooted in a naturally-absorbant material able to soak up
one hour worth of rainwater. The green roof will also save energy by
regulating the factory's temperature.
Other initiatives include swales, or shallow ditches, with native plants to
regulate water flow, and the nearly 1 million square foot meadow, which will
help decontaminate the soil from decades of abuse.
Roadways and parking lots will be covered with a three-to-five-foot thick
porous pavement, which allows rainwater to naturally filter into the earth.
Ford is also spending $400 million to upgrade its Engine and Fuel Tank Plant
at the Rouge, and its new Paint Shop on the site opened in September.
Padilla said the environmental initiatives make sense both from an economic
and environmental perspective. Traditional methods to meet future U.S.
government stormwater regulations would cost $50 million, but McDonough's
initiatives cost a third of that.
Initiatives which prove to be successful at the Rouge will be used at other
Ford plants, Padilla said.
"We're just taking the first steps," McDonough said. "But the compass needle
has swung around to a new strategy."
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