Ford Leads the Way In Reducing Water Use

Reducing water use has become popular among companies. Most sustainability reports include at least a small section about water reduction. One company made reducing its water use important when it was not on the radar of other companies.

That company is the iconic American auto manufacturer, Ford Motor Company. As Andy Hobbs, Director Environmental Quality Office for Ford, told Justmeans, “Back in 2000, we as a company decided that water was something that needed to be taken very seriously. Back then, water was relatively inexpensive, and a lot of folks kind of looked at us and said, 'Why are we focusing on reducing water?' So, we went through the hoops and explained that we really felt it was going to be strategically important to not only companies but countries, specifically, water stressed regions. We went down a path of convincing people it was going to be important.”

Ford aspires to use zero potable drinking water in the manufacturing processes. Or as Hobbs said, “Ultimately, we want to be zero potable water for manufacturing.” The reason why is simple, he explained. “We believe water is a right to our employees, a right to our communities where we operate. We want to reduce our footprint on water. We want to make sure that any potable water in the region is for employees and communities, and that we don't use that for manufacturing.”

Ford has saved 10 billion gallons of water from 2000 to 2013, a 61 percent reduction, and aims to achieve a further 30 percent reduction from 2015 to 2020. The company achieved its water reduction goals two years ahead of its 2015 timeline. The amount of water Ford has already saved is enough to fill over 15,000 competition-sized swimming pools. By 2020, Ford aims to have reduced water usage per vehicle by 72 percent from 2000, which will save over 10 billion gallons of water. For every one gallon of water the vehicle manufacturer used in 2000, it aims to use about one liter by 2020. 

Ford achieved water use reductions through new technologies. One of the new technologies is a three-wet paint process. Ford was the first auto manufacturer to use the three-wet high-solids solvent-borne technology in 2007. High-solids solvent borne technology is a paint formulated to minimize solvents, which results in a concentrated pigment and resin mixture that releases fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The process involves three layers of paint that are applied one after the other and eliminates a stand-alone application of primer and a dedicated oven that was used in the conventional process. By consolidating painting activities, there is a potential to eliminate the one-booth water wash section, depending on a plant’s design, and that reduces water use. 

Ford uses a “dry-machining” process to lubricate cutting tools with just a small amount of oil, instead of using a conventional “wet-machining” process that needs large amounts of metal-working fluids and water to cool and lubricate the tools. Called minimum quantity lubrication (MQL), it can save over 280,000 gallons of water a year, which is enough water to fill 5,600 average-sized bathtubs.

Ford’s water reduction efforts have earned the company accolades. Ford is one of eight companies that earned an “A” rating by CDP for its water conservation measures. It is the only North American company to earn the highest rating, and one of only two U.S. companies to show up on CDP’s Water A List. 

Photo: Ford