A green roof is not at its most photogenic in a Michigan winter. In fact, it's hardly green at all--more like gray and brown--though it still insulates the building below just as well.
But while some of the green aspects of Ford's showcase Rouge assembly plant have succumbed to the January weather, others operate year-round. A recent tour highlighted aspects of one of the greener car factories in the U.S., whose green features are nearing a decade old and functioning just as planned.
Vines, lightboxes, asphalt
The vines that insulate the metal sides of the assembly hall are no more than withered stalks, and they'll have to be replanted this spring. But the 10.4 acres of green roof above still absorb melting snow and keep the factory underneath at a constant temperature.
The lightboxes that stand proud of the roof continue providing daylight to the workers below, reducing energy costs and also modulating the artificial light of fluorescent tubes with natural light.
2011 Ford F-150Enlarge Photo
What looks like a standard-issue parking lot is actually paved in porous asphalt, which lets rainwater pass through holes into the ground beneath rather than draining into sewers or running off into the river. It's not durable enough for continuous traffic, but maintenance is limited to vacuuming dust out of the holes twice a year.
(One oddity of Detroit auto culture remains entrenched, though. Drivers of Ford products can park near the plant entrances; all others are segregated and required to park at the most distant end of the lot, behind a green line drawn to separate Ford vehicles from the infidels.)
Birds, bees, and rabbits
There's even a small green park-like space planted with trees on the Rouge grounds. It houses birds, rabbits, squirrels, and hives containing 50,000 bees. A plant worker who's also a beekeeper oversees the hives, in exchange for which he gets to keep all the honey the produce.
Birds also alight and feed on the green roofs, which are covered with a tough, durable, low-to-the-ground plant called sedum.
The green roof, parking lot, and even reused water in the bathrooms together let Ford avoid building a separate wastewater treatment plant. The total cost was less than 40 percent of the price that would have been needed to build the treatment facility.
2011 Ford F-150Enlarge Photo
At the behest of then-chairman of the board Bill Ford, the Dearborn Assembly plant at the company's historic Rouge facility was rebuilt in 2000 as a green showpiece under the direction of architect William McDonough.
The goal was to demonstrate that even the most industrial of facilities, covering 1.1 million square feet, could embody environmentally thoughtful design and conserve energy. A commitment to global sustainability and best practices in its factories is a part of the company's One Ford management practice.
Overall, Ford has reduced its global energy use 30 percent since 2000, and cut its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 39 percent, said Volker Eis, the company's manager of sustainability communications for Ford of Europe.
Beyond the Rouge, many of Ford's green facilities are located in Europe, where the public and elected officials are far more focused on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and the cost of energy is higher.
Its Dagenham diesel plant in the U.K., for instance, generates all its own power via onsite wind turbines. Its plant in Genk, Belgium, uses wind turbines to generate some of its power, and the Bridgend, U.K., engine plant uses solar panels for the same purpose.
Solar panels are also used to generate a small percentage of the power at Ford's Wayne Assembly facility, now building the 2012 Ford Focus compact. The Ford Focus Electric version will also be built there, as will C-Max gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid models as well.