The Importance of Being Regular

Ford’s Rouge Complex is not only an efficient manufacturing site, but an environmentally sensitive manufacturing site.

One of the things that gets lost in the discussion of the auto industry is that there are plenty of “regular” women and men who are part of it who are doing their very best for their families, their communities, their companies and their planet.

And know that by using the word “regular” I am in no way trying to diminish these people.  Rather, it is to put them in the context of not being a Mary Barra or an Elon Musk but someone who is your next door neighbor.  (Of course, I suspect that if you live in the “right” neighborhoods, Barra and Musk could be your next door neighbor.)

This struck me when I read about Mary Mason, a Ford safety investigation engineer.

Ms. Mason, in addition to her “day job,” works to take care of honeybees at the Ford Rouge Complex.  Some 80,000 honeybees.

As you may recall, when Ford reopened the Rouge Complex, it made a concerted effort to make it not only an efficient manufacturing site—they build F-150s there, clearly the most important vehicle in the Ford lineup—but an environmentally sensitive manufacturing site.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of this is the 10.4-acre living roof, a roof that’s planted so that not only does it insulate the building space below to cut down on HVAC requirements, helps deal with drainage (consider the amount of runoff that exists when you have a heavy rain and a roof the size of an assembly plant’s), and, through the foliage, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It just isn’t the roof that was addressed in the company’s “Heritage 2000” program.  Other parts of the property were addressed with things like plantings.

For example, crabapple trees were brought to the site.

Crabapple trees flower.  And flowers are pollinated by bees.  So some people at Ford thought that it might be a good idea to install beehives at the complex.  They did back in 2003.

For the past three years Mason has volunteered to take care of the bees.  And she even brought some of her own bees to the Rouge.

Right now bees are facing a real challenge in terms of their very survival.

Mason says, “We have about a 60 percent to 70 percent die-off rate in Michigan, primarily due to pesticides and pollutants. Unfortunately, when you spray for pests, the chemicals can’t distinguish between nuisance pests, like mosquitos, and beneficial honeybees.”

(And elsewhere challenges to bees also include pests, parasites and pathogens.)

Bees aren’t just about flowers.  Their pollination is essential for fruits and vegetables, too.  And the bee population has been declining for the past 30 years.

This is not to say that Ford is going to save the honeybee.

It is to say that there are good people like Mary Mason, and good people like those at Ford who have decided that it is better to have crabapple trees and beehives for 80,000 bees and a roof with plants instead of asphalt that are making a difference.

A small difference, perhaps, but an important one nonetheless.

Regular people doing really great things.