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The greening of Ford Motor Co.

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When Bill Ford joined Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors in 1988, he was told to leave his concerns over the environment behind.

But Ford felt that sustainability—the responsible use of natural resources—would be key to the survival of the company his great-grandfather founded.

Some 20 years later, Ford has come through the recession as perhaps the only healthy U.S. automaker, posting a $1.1 billion profit in the third quarter of 2009. Much of the credit goes to a line of fuel-efficient vehicles that are reliable and fun … something Bill Ford’s contemporaries seriously doubted in 1988.

To be fair, gasoline was cheap two decades ago and most Americans thought fuel efficiency guaranteed underpowered, clunky cars. But Ford kept his eye on Europe, where people bought tiny fuel-sippers without having to give up style or power. Slowly, he began to persuade others at Ford to see things his way.

By the mid-2000s, when gasoline topped $4 a gallon, Ford pulled ahead of its U.S. competitors in developing fuel-efficient vehicles. And, by the time the recession hit, Ford had a product line to weather the crisis.

All because Bill Ford believed in sustainability.

— Adapted from Building a Sustainable Ford Motor Company: An Interview With Bill Ford, McKinsey Quarterly.

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