Why Ford’s Futurist Says Water Management Will Be a Top Trend in 2017

Ford two wet paint process

by | Dec 29, 2016

Ford two wet paint processConsumers are increasingly concerned about water — and companies should take note of this because consumers want to support companies that are mindful of their water footprint.

Ford calls this “sustainability blues,” and it’s one of the automaker’s 2017 trends it highlights in its annual trends report.

For the past five years Ford has published a trend report, which draws upon the societal shifts taking place beyond the auto industry. Ford says is uses these insights — from technological, economic, environmental and political arenas — to “create meaningful vehicles and services.” In other words, these trends highlight what is top of mind for consumers, and incorporating them into products and services can help drive business.

In its 2017 report, Ford is “revisiting” sustainability blues as a trend. It also predicted this as a 2014 trend. At the time, it said forward-looking brands are investing time and money into better water management practices. The report cited Levi’s WaterLess jeans, which use a technique that reduces water use in the finishing process by up to 96 percent. In 2012, Levi’s 29 million WaterLess jeans saved more than 360 liters of water.

“We are celebrating our fifth anniversary of this publication,” Sheryl Connelly, Ford global trend and futuring manager said in an interview. “That means in the last four years we’ve published over 40 trends. We wanted to test ourselves and say, ‘How did we do?’ There were three trends that stood out and were as compelling today as when they first appeared.”

Water, and a company’s overall environmental footprint, was one of these trends.

This year’s report highlights beer company SABMiller as a leader in water management and conservation. After calculating its water footprint eight years ago, it learned that 90 percent of its water use went toward growing ingredients such as barley and hops. It pledged to cut its water use and now uses 3.5 liters of water on average to produce 1 liter of beer, with the goal of dropping down to 3 liters by 2020. SABMiller also works with its vendors to reduce water pollution and minimize runoff.

“Since we first published [water as a trend in 2014] there is increased awareness,” Connelly said. “Ford is headquartered in Dearborn, about an hour and 15 minutes from the city of Flint, which really captured the word’s attention with the water crisis they experienced. We’re reminded of our neighbors [experiencing drought] in California and New Mexico, and now Flint. These are things that people experience on a day-to-day basis.”

In the three years since Ford originally predicted “sustainability blues” as a future trend, Ford has developed a global water strategy. Earlier this year, the automaker said that by 2020, it plans to have reduced its water usage per vehicle by 72 percent. This means that for every 1 gallon of water Ford used in manufacturing in 2000, it aims to use about 1 liter by 2020.

Th company saved 10 billion gallons of water from 2000 to 2015, a decrease of 61 percent — by implementing technologies such as its 3-wet paint process (pictured) and minimum quantity lubrication or “near dry machining,” which save hundreds of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year.

Ford also uses tools such as the Global Water Tool and Aqueduct to determine which facilities are located in water-scarce regions.

Last month CDP gave Ford an A rating — Ford was one of only two US companies to achieve this — for its best practices in sustainable water management.

Manufacturers across industries can follow Ford’s lead and achieve water and cost savings, along with other business benefits from improved water management, Connelly said.

“In very practical terms, the water scarcity is a very tangible threat to the supply chain and logistics,” Connelly said. “We are working with our suppliers and our goal is to share the water saving initiatives and encourage them to implement them within their own facilities.”

Considering water-related impacts cost companies $14 billion in 2015, or more than five times more than they did the previous year ($2.6 billion), it’s not surprising that Ford predicts water conservation will continue to be a trend in 2017. Leading companies are already onto this trend, and developing business plans to better manage and conserve this resource in their operations.

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