Thinking Outside the Box on Vehicular Safety with Ford’s Carrie Majeske

Long an automotive innovator, Ford continues to test many great ways to reuse items one might not typically see in a vehicle.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re going to Detroit, USA, right now. We’re bringing on Carrie Majeske from the great and worldwide iconic brand, Ford. Welcome to Green is Good, Carrie. CARRIE MAJESKE: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s great to have you. You’re the Manager of Sustainable and Safety Engineering, Carrie. How did you ever become the Manager of Sustainable and Safety Engineering at this amazing brand, Ford? Tell us a little bit about the journey. Did you grow up from a little girl dreaming to become a sustainability and safety manager? CARRIE MAJESKE: I wish I could say that I did. I don’t think I could’ve plotted this path if I had to and I’m very old so I told you this is a pretty long story. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let me hear it. I want to hear it and I want our listeners to hear it because there’s so many other young ladies across the world that listen to this show and truly, this is about inspiration and education so I want them to hear your journey. CARRIE MAJESKE: Great. Well, I started as an engineering student. I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1984. That’ll give you an idea of my age and at that point, I don’t honestly know if we had defined the term sustainability and I came into the company knowing that I wasn’t going to do nuts and bolts engineering forever but I knew I needed that experience so I went into suspension design. I did my early engineering work in trucks, products development, working on suspensions for trucks and that sort of segued into I went from very specific to pretty much more general as I went over time so I moved into more program management, business strategy, regulatory plans. At one point, I had a really cool job. It was The Women’s Marketing and Product Office where we were trying to figure out tools and processes for people to think about the vehicle from a woman’s perspective. Can you get in and out of a car without chipping your nails? Can you get in and out of a truck with a tighter skirt on? We were basically trying to help the product involved and engineer designer vehicles so that women would want to buy them because we knew at that point and we still know that women influence about 80% of the vehicle purchasing so anyway, that was a really cool job. I also spent some time in Battery Electric Vehicle as a Chief Engineer and that was in the ’90s, when it wasn’t quite ready, ’80s and ’90s, and a little bit of work in fuel cell engineering and those programs and the segue into this position was from a planning job where I was looking at future fuel economy, safety, and emissions regulations, and making sure that our incoming products had all the phases and all the very complex regulations so getting the right content into future programs and from there, I started working on what’s now our Global CO2 Glide Pass and it aligned with stabilization at 450 bpm in the atmosphere, which is what climate scientist think is a reasonable level of CO2 in the atmosphere to mitigate climate change and I was working with a group of people much smarter than I who had power train experience and fuels experience and modeling tools and we came up with what’s now our blueprint for sustainability and that’s when my boss said, ‘Okay, now you’ve been in the product development world. We’re trying to take sustainability to the next level and we want to integrate it into the company. It’s going from a public affairs thing and a reputational thing to driving the business,’ so he asked me to join this team and I have been working on product sustainability initiatives ever since. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is awesome, and so that was back around 2007 where that all happened? CARRIE MAJESKE: Yeah, it was really kind of a critical turning point for the company and I was happy to be maintained as part of it so we’ve come a long way from there and at that point, not only did our product portfolio take hold but the business piece was given the right attention too and that’s, I think, why I’m here to talk to you today. We’ve hit our stride and all is going well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah, and for our listeners out there that want to follow along more than just listening to Carrie and what she’s doing over at Ford, you can go to two great websites. First, you can go to the core website, www.ford.com, but of course, on this issue and to learn more about sustainability and the sustainability journey that Ford is on, you can go to Media.Ford.com and there’s a great section on innovation and sustainability and all the great things that Carrie and her team are doing at the wonderful brand, Ford. Carrie, let’s get into it a little bit now and I’m on the website so I have the fun of being on the website and talking with you at the same time. Talk a little bit about one of your most iconic brands, the Ford F150 and what’s going on innovative right now with the F150 that you want to share with our listeners out there. CARRIE MAJESKE: That F150 has been a great product for many years, hundred of thousands of vehicles a year we sell, and what we’re talking about today is just the one small innovation that can have a much bigger difference in the long run, which is a wiring harness bracket that is rice held instead of petroleum in the plastic so we’ve taken something that was 100% petroleum-based and now infused a renewable resource that displaces some of that petroleum and so 10% of the material is rice hall, 25% is recycled polypropylene, and 65% is still virgin polypropylene but what this does when we do these kinds of things is just sort of pilot a new material, something that’s grown, not a scarce natural resource. Sometimes it can be cost effective. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t cost parity with the outgoing material. Sometimes these kinds of materials can offer weight safe so it’s a small part, little bit of renewable material, but when you multiply that by hundreds of thousands of vehicles, it makes a difference. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It does. When we start thinking about, I had never heard of that part before you ever brought that up but when you talk about little steps in the right direction that lead up to big changes, how many parts go into a car and how do you deconstruct a car from where you stand as the Manager of Sustainability and Safety Engineering and then decide which parts you think you have opportunities to change like you’ve changed this part? CARRIE MAJESKE: It’s kind of bottom up, top down. We don’t say, ‘I want to change that wiring harness bracket.’ Pretty much, from a sustainable materials side but we set aside the metals. Metals are recycling. We need them. We’re light weighting with different metals but we set aside the metals. We look mostly at the plastics and the non-metallic stuff and then our wonderful partners in the supply base are also important to this journey. They are the ones that bring these initiatives forward. By the time they bring them to us, they’ve done some of the early screening work and then we find the right application with the research folks, do the diligence with the research development because we’re not going to do anything that compromises the performance of these products and then once we know we have a product that performs in the business case, we go forward and generally if it’s something a little bit more innovative, we’ll start small and then migrate over time to more applications as we know we’ve got a good deal all the way around. JOHN SHEGERIAN: On the metals side, traditionally what metals go into a car? Because I’m a layman. I really don’t know this stuff. I just know my car key starts a car and I go but help me with what metals are traditionally the metals and how you evolve that to be lighter and stronger and create a more sustainable car or truck. CARRIE MAJESKE: It’s basically steel, cast iron, high-strength steel, aluminum, as we get more aggressive with weight, some magnesium, so a lot of different kinds of metals and we have big weight challenges because weight is really how you get to fuel efficiency and fuel efficiency is really the biggest environmental impact we can make so that’s our number one priority. Where light weighting is concerned, we’ve done some things that are really innovative in terms of downsizing and boosting our engines so you lightweight the vehicle so you can use a smaller engine so you can lightweight other parts of the vehicles so there’s sort of an iterative impact there and with the metals, we are obviously looking from a system and figuring out how can we use high strength steel aluminum more strategically to take big chunks of weight out of the vehicle that ‘ll then allow us to use smaller engines and get better fuel economy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners that just joined us, we’ve got Carrie Majeske on. She’s the Manage of Sustainable and Safety Engineering at the great brand, Ford, and to follow along online like I am, you can go to Media.Ford.com. Carrie, what other environmental friendly materials are you developing and going to be featuring on Ford cars and trucks now and in the future that will make your vehicles more sustainable? CARRIE MAJESKE: One of our biggest successes, and a lot of people aren’t aware of , is soy-based seat foams. We were approached by the Soybean Board, which had an excess of soy, and they came to our research team and they said, ‘We really want to do something with soy.’ They found a way to displace petroleum in our seat foams and it took a lot of development, a lot of work to get it to perform right, to not have any odor, to not degrade over time and we now have about 10% soy-based foams in all of our cars and trucks we produce in North America. We also have 75% of our headrests have the same soy foam and then we’ve got a headliner, which is sort of the inside of the roof material, that also, on our Ford Escape that is featuring the soy foam so right now, from that applications of soy foam, we’re diverting about 5 million pounds of petroleum a year from the application of that foam and that reduces CO2 emissions by about 20 million pounds annually so improving fuel economy reduces tailpipe emissions and the use of our vehicles but this is a way we can also have an impact on CO2 emissions in the materials phase of the life cycle. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How long did it take for you to develop that and then after you’d proven success and this year you’re at 5 million pounds displacement, how does that grow over time in terms of the use of the product after you find success? CARRIE MAJESKE: Yeah well, I think that the plan is to continue to see how much more soy we can use and go from 10% to maybe 15, 20%, 25, I don’t know how far they’ll be able to push the limit but the idea is not really great how it passed the product lines and gotten all the volume we can and go higher in terms of% of the foam so there’s possibilities, nothing I really know of that’s specific right now to announce along those lines but the other thing, there’s more materials. We’re also experimenting with things like wheat straw, we’ve used as a plastic reinforcement in the cargo bin in the rear of the Flex vehicle and that one good news; it was a good application , performed well, couldn’t get quite to the cost that we needed so that one didn’t go forward so we’re not going to go ahead and do this sort of volume if it’s really not a good business case. We’re also using cellulose, which is sort of wood pulp, as a plastics reinforcer that’s about to be in a few of our products. There’s a couple different applications of coconut, grounding up the shell and using that as a plastic reinforcer. The hairy stuff on the outside of the coconut, for lack of a better word, has been used in a trunk liner application behind the carpet so a lot of these things aren’t visible because customers wouldn’t necessarily like the way they looked. They’re behind the scenes right now but there’s a lot of things in them and then there’s some other applications that we’re just kind of toying with right now. There’s some sustainable rubber from dandelions that’s potentially could be used if we get to the point where it’s ready. A fun one, we’re doing a lot of different recycled content to get us above the renewables and things you grow. We also have a recycled applications where they take retired U.S. currency, so you get stacks of dollar bills or $100 bills and otherwise, they would be incinerated or put into a landfill but linen has really good material properties so as a reinforcement in plastic, it has a potential and they’re looking for the first application of a coin tray, which would be kind of cute. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. I want to step back here. This is one of the greatest brands in the world, Ford is, that you get to work with and so as opposed to some of the coolest brands that were developed in America of recent times or in the United States out of Silicon Valley, like a Apple iPhone, you’re really doing some really cool things at an industrial level behind the scenes there and, like you said, some of them are very invisible. Explain to our audience the cool things you’re doing that many of them never get to see both in finished product or even in process but how does that work? How do you inspire innovation at Ford internally but also externally with your vendors? CARRIE MAJESKE: Well, the internal answer, there’s a very talented team of research scientists in our labs who just their whole mission in life is to take stuff that would otherwise be wasted or grown and find applications that make sense in our products. That’s what they do and the love it and they’re very good at it and they’re very bright engineers and researchers but they also have an eye to the sustainability piece of it. As far as the supply base goes, everybody is looking for an edge and a hook. It’s a competitive industry, competitive to be in our supply chain, and we need innovators and so two suppliers come to us with the same part. One has renewable content and the other doesn’t and they’re the same performance, same class. You’ve got an edge if you’re the guy who brings us an innovative part and they want to do good too. I think people want to do good. That’s unique about Ford is I know the practitioners all over the company who are just out there doing their otherwise mundane jobs but also trying to do them to make the world a better place and that makes it exciting and it gives us so many innovations that have just happen with obviously, the support of the bigger company structure around it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your site and I’m looking at this beautiful rectangle with one of your vehicles in it and it’s Blueprint for Sustainability 2012 and ’13 and around this vehicle, you have a lot of different arrows and it goes to vehicle safety, supply chain, people, water, climate change, and financial health. Why don’t you do an overview if you can, Carrie, and it’s on some of your favorite topics, as to what is Ford doing in some of these other areas? Because sustainability truly is holistic and it’s a journey. It’s not an all or nothing and it’s not a kill shot. We all know that so if you could just share some of the sustainability journey on some of those other topics, it would be wonderful for our listeners to hear some of the inspirational things you’re doing there in those areas. CARRIE MAJESKE: Okay. Well, and I’m looking at the same page so this is the electronic, if you will, cover of our latest sustainability report and I will do a plug. This is the 14th report that we’ve issued. The first ones we much different, very toe in the water, but over time, we’ve done a better job of being transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and where our challenges are and where our successes are and having some measurable accountability for what we’re doing so this is the summary. The reporting process starts with a materiality assessment, which basically says what’s the most important and what’s the biggest challenge and we need to be working on the most important that are the biggest challenges. The biggest challenges that don’t have any impact, that’ll take care of itself, so that’s what ends up in the report and climate change in the environment is probably the biggest thing here but everything on this page represents one of the materiality issues for us so just to give you the highlights, the climate change I mentioned. We have a Glide Pass around 450 ppm, which is the climate scientists accepted level of concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to limit the rise in temperature to two degrees so that Glide Pass is our fleet average CO2 emissions of the tailpipe that we need to hit over the long haul. This number will go out to the year 2200 if we’re all around that long and we know kind of where we need to be and we are regularly calibrating our product plans to know that we have our fleet average declining at the rate that it needs to contribute to that climate strategy. Now, that’s our product. Obviously, we have operations that have energy and CO2 emissions. We also are working on substantial improvements in emissions from our facilities and our operations, which by the way, generally when you reduce energy, that’s also a good business case, so a lot of the things that we’re doing tie into the business and the environment. Moving around the circle here, financial health is clear. If we’re not in business to do any good, we won’t do any good. We have to look at our financial health and profitably and we do report on that and I won’t bore you with the details because you’ll find them all over the Web. Vehicle safety is something we will never compromise. We are always pushing forward, not just meeting the regulations but looking at the customer safety features, things like inflatable rear seatbelts that were a recent innovation that nobody mandated that. It’s just a way to keep someone safe. Supply chain, we clearly can have impact in our own space but by virtue of the massive supply chain that we work with, we are trying to share the learnings on human rights, on energy and environment with our supply chain so that not only are we doing good things, but we are helping them to have the same standards and the same practices and we’re learning from them and they’re learning from us and we work very carefully with our supply chain to do that. People is obviously where this all starts and so we do have some reporting on who are people are and where they are and what we’re up to. I think we’ve got a pretty happy workforce. Probably there’s always room to improve there and I think you’ll see some more diligence and reporting on the people’s side in the report and then water is not new but clearly water scarcity and water quality are becoming more and more at the forefront and people around here have been saying we’ve been worried about climate change but that’ll take hundreds of years to get to us. Water won’t take that long if we really aren’t careful with it so we’re embarking on a corporate global water strategy that starts to look at how do we reduce water usage in our facilities and how do we consider it when we do things like alternative fuels and even in the manufacturing, what are we doing about water quality and water scarcity in the places where we operate? So, those are the highlights of the report. Like I said, you can mill around online forever and not read everything. It’s more than 500 pages of information and we use this as our inventory within the company as well as how we communicate all the good stuff to all our employees so we can be the ambassadors for all the good stuff, too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, like you said, when it comes to water just as a highlight, I was just reading another fact online. You cut global water use 8.5% per vehicle. That adds up. CARRIE MAJESKE: It does. When you’re milling millions of vehicles a year, that can be a lot of water. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That adds up. We’re down to the last couple of minutes or so, and I want to sort of switch topics, Carrie. Of course, Ford is doing amazing things but I want to also talk about leadership and leadership as you and I are of the same generation and when we graduating college, it was a much different world as we know, not only with regards to sustainability, but for also leadership opportunities and here you are in 2013, a leader of a very important issue at a very big and important brand. When Ford makes a move in sustainability, the needle truly moves and here you are as a Manager of Sustainable and Safety Engineering and recently, we see this whole movement led by some of the new leaders on the west coast of the dotcom era, the Shaul Sambergs of the world and those folks of this whole lean in in women’s leadership. In the last couple minutes, can you share some thoughts? Because we have young people in the United States and actually also around the world because after we air on Sirius, we actually are uploaded on the iTunes network and we track our thousands and thousands of downloads around the world. There’s a lot of young women out there that want to become the next Carrie Majeske. CARRIE MAJESKE: That’s scary. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Seriously, but you broke through before it was okay or cool to break through. What pearls of wisdom can you now share backwards with the next generation on how to be a leader and how to effectuate change in whatever they want to do? CARRIE MAJESKE: Wow, you know, I’m a very simple person. I don’t consider myself overly bright. I’m bright but I like to keep things simple. I came into the company, as I mentioned, and I got a good solid academic background. Also, I didn’t mention it but I have an M.B.A. out of the University of Michigan as well, so education is important. You don’t have to know coming out of the chute what you want to do. I have kind of let it happen and I’ve never managed my career, I’ve always tried to do my job and wherever in the job I was, I’ve tried to understand how it fits into the bigger picture and maybe where it would take me but like I said, you do your job. I’ve always wanted to do things that I felt were important. I’ve always wanted to work for people that had integrity and cared about people so I keep it very simple. Do what you like to do. Ultimately, I believe everybody that will do what they like to do, it doesn’t matter where they are, they’re going to do what they like to do so find that place. Get a good education. Take care of the people around you, people that work for you, the people that you work for, and set your sights on just taking the next step. You don’t have to fix everything today. Just take the next step in the right direction. As far as sustainability goes, I’m just joining the Herb Advisory Board and the Herb is a program at the University of Michigan between the School of Natural Resources and the Ross Business School and that program is just amazing and it’s attracting people who have already done way more in their lives than I ever will and they’re young people who now want the education around it so there are some really cool programs like that in sustainability that can kickstart you but frankly, I’m not sure how we’re going to harness those people within a corporate framework as they come into our space and we do have some students coming in that are just amazing and they have the better education than I had and a head start but they also then have to be grounded in the business. If you work for a company or even a nonprofit, know your business and do the right thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Awesome, and thank you for your time today. Carrie Majeske, you are just really wonderful and thanks for spending time with us. For our listeners out there, go to media.ford.com. Carrie Majeske, you’re an inspiring sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good. CARRIE MAJESKE: Thank you so much.