As a car company, people naturally look to Ford Motor Company for what it is doing to help the environment. Make no mistake – we are doing a lot. From  increasing vehicle fuel efficiency to making sure our factories operate in an environmentally responsible manner, we are focused on doing our part.

I have learned two things as the head of sustainability and environmental matters for Ford. 1: We have to do more; and 2: We can’t be sustainable by ourselves.

If we are going to truly make a difference, we need the power of numbers. We need to reach beyond the four walls of Ford and find like-minded people in like-minded organizations to work with us.

The PlantBottle project we worked on with Coca-Cola is an example of marshaling the power of two global brands for good.

By working together, researchers at Ford and Coca-Cola were able to produce a fabric made using Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle™ packaging technology, which is derived partially from plants. The result is a car that has seat cushions, backs, headrests, door panel inserts and headliners made from 30 percent plant-based material.

That’s one car. Think of the possibilities if we are able to use that material in mass production. In fact, if Ford installed the same fabric in all of its vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, it would have displaced nearly four million pounds of petroleum-derived materials, as well as saved the equivalent of 295,000 gallons of gasoline and 6,000 barrels of oil. 

Now, expand that idea beyond the borders of the U.S. Ford sells products in more than 120 countries on six continents. Coca-Cola products can be found even more places. In fact, the company reaches consumers in more than 200 countries. Suddenly, combining the scale of global companies like Coca-Cola and Ford starts to make a real difference. That’s the true power of collaboration.

It wasn’t always this way. When I started at Ford 30 years ago, the company was very different We tended to work in vertical organizations, each assigned to our specific area. As a young mechanical engineer, my first job was helping design radiators. We did excellent work – but the environmental lifecycle of our engine part was not something we were concerned about. We also certainly never worked with a global consumer beverage company on a new type of car seat fabric.

John Viera

John Viera

Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Products being developed today are designed with a view of how they will affect the environment decades into the future. The same goes for our company’s organizational structure. The department I’m in charge of -- sustainability and vehicle environmental matters -- did not exist 30 years ago. Today, we are integrated into Ford’s global organization. We have a seat at the table when researchers, engineers and designers are talking about the types of materials that should be used, and how those materials are sourced.

Applying sustainable business practices is not the job of one person, one manager, one department – or one company. It’s all of our responsibility. And that’s why we will continue to look across industries for new areas of cooperation and collaboration with partners such as Coca-Cola.

John Viera is global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters at Ford Motor Company.