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Sunday, 06 July 2014 22:00

Q&A: John Viera, Ford Motor Co.

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John Viera, global director of sustainability, Ford Motor Co. John Viera, global director of sustainability, Ford Motor Co. MIBIZ FILE PHOTO: JEFF HAGE

For seven years, John Viera has worked to translate environmental and social sustainability practices into bottom line impacts at Ford Motor Co. As the automaker looks to spread its best sustainable business practices beyond its operations, companies in the automotive supply chain have been the beneficiary of Ford’s decades of research and institutional knowledge, he said. After a recent presentation to the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, Viera spoke with MiBiz about the impact of Ford’s sustainability practices across the supply chain and the future of sustainability in the automotive industry.

How did the lead engineer on the Expedition and Navigator SUVs land this job?

That’s always kind of ironic. When my boss asked me to come into this position, she said that the issue was that in the sustainability organization, there are a lot of good ideas, but the people that had those ideas didn’t have any operations experience. What I had was 23 years of operational experience in product development and manufacturing, so I knew how to get things done. The key was we needed an operations person in this role to take the sustainability ideas and then drive them back into the operations.

It seems much of the sustainability conversation in the automotive industry has focused on the supply chain. What is Ford doing to help domestic suppliers become more sustainable?

The biggest impact we have is through best practices. We talk about energy efficiencies throughout the plant whether it is reducing pneumatic air loss, improving the HVAC system or efficient ideas with lighting. A company as big as ours can devote a lot of resources to sustainability, and one of the advantages we have is that we can pass that along to our supply base without them having to figure it out on their own.

How is Ford’s use of alternative recycled material from outside the automotive industry affecting suppliers?

One example is denim. We’ve worked with our insulation suppliers to have the equivalent of two pairs of blue jeans in the carpets of certain vehicles. Since the denim was going to the landfill, they can almost get that material for nothing or even get paid to take it away, which reduces the cost of the insulation that comes to us. We are taking a waste and using that to produce parts for our vehicle, and that is ultimately what we want to do more of.

What trends are you watching in the supply chain?

You are hearing more and more about manufacturing either staying here in the U.S. or coming back. Some of the reasons for that are that we are finding that the U.S. is becoming more competitive. I’m really encouraged because the trend that I’m seeing is not this rush to go outside of the U.S. You are seeing that slow down and actually jobs coming back in. I think that’s going to grow.

Given your experience in the industry, what would you say are suppliers’ largest sustainability hurdles?

The big challenge that we’ve had over the last several years — particularly through the economic downturn — is the supply base had to get very lean. When we talk about these initiatives to become more sustainable, they just don’t have the staff to do that. So the challenge that we’ve had is how do we share the best practices and have suppliers take those on in their facilities. We do as much as possible to pre-package it so that they don’t have to have sustainability or energy experts because they can’t afford to hire those people. Accessibility has been huge.

What’s the future model of sustainability at Ford?

We are going to have a ton of future mobility needs as the (global) population grows to 9 billion, mostly in developing countries. The future is going to be all about what business model we’ll need in this world where people aren’t going to have the same disposable income to buy vehicles. If we are just going to be in the vehicle business in the traditional way, that’s probably not a very sustainable business model. That’s going to be a big part of it, but (we need to consider) what are some of the other areas that we can get into that will allow people to move around, particularly in these developing countries.

How do you think that will affect suppliers?

Looking forward, I’d say our domestic suppliers are going to expand beyond just parts and get into areas like IT. The supply base is really going to expand when you think about the smarts that are going to go into vehicles (and) how it’s going to communicate with other vehicles and the roads.

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand.  MiBiz file photo by Jeff Hage.

Read 3892 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 10:40

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