Rouge goes green: Ford plant creates sustainable solutions

When Ford Motor Company’s Rouge plant manager Rob Webber looks out his office window at the Dearborn, Mich., facility’s “living” roof, he sees a field of green where Canadian geese, mallard ducks and killdeer nest and raise offspring. Seeing wildlife flourish at the Rouge Center would have seemed farfetched five years ago.

“You wouldn’t have seen this when the Rouge was just blacktop, concrete and steel,” Webber said. “The greening has transformed it.”

In June, Ford Motor Company celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Ford Rouge Center’s “green” makeover and the construction of its environmentally friendly Dearborn Truck Plant.

In 2003, Ford worked with consultants and universities to transform the Rouge, an icon of the 20th-century’s Industrial Revolution, into a 21st-century symbol of responsible manufacturing. Through comprehensive redevelopment, the historic brownfield site became a lean, flexible manufacturing facility – an example of large-scale sustainability that has been benchmarked by companies, educators and organizations around the world.

“Five years after its revitalization, the Ford Rouge Center continues to be a hallmark of sustainable manufacturing,” said Susan Cischke, Ford’s group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering. “The green technologies utilized in its redevelopment and operation inspires others to adopt similar solutions.”

Sustainable Solutions
Among Ford Rouge Center’s sustainability solutions are the pollution-reducing, energy-generating “fumes-to-fuel” system in its paint shop; natural lighting and efficient artificial lighting systems in its assembly areas; an energy-efficient heating, ventilation and cooling system; as well as the creation of a wildlife habitat.

The facility is best known for its innovative storm-water management system that includes the largest “living” roof in the automotive industry and one of the largest in the world. Sedum, a drought-resistant perennial groundcover, covers 10.4 acres of roof at the Rouge’s Dearborn Truck Plant. Not only does the plant life help diminish storm-water runoff, it doubles the life of the roof, provides insulation, reduces cooling and heating demands by 5 percent, and absorbs carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse gases. Additionally, a porous pavement parking lot, storm-water swales and retention ponds are used to regulate water flow, evaporation and improve storm water management.

“The transformation of the Rouge Center placed Ford Motor Company at the forefront of the sustainability movement,” said Roger Gaudette, director of asset management for Ford Land, and formerly engineering construction manager at Ford Rouge Center.

Linda Velazquez, publisher of, concurred: “The Ford Rouge project has helped popularize vegetated roofs within the U.S. Having held the title of ‘the world’s largest green roof’ helped propel the Rouge project into the minds of designers, business and government leaders, researchers, students and the media. The visionary leadership of Ford executives and the plant’s site-sensitive design clearly demonstrated that green roofs are economically feasible and possible at many scales, on different types of buildings.”

Leading by Example
William McDonough, whose Charlottesville, Va.-based architectural firm William McDonough and Partners worked on the Rouge revitalization, added that the Rouge Plant blazed a trail for others to follow.

“Before Ford did it, if someone said they could do a 10.5-acre living roof they would have been looked at as if they were speaking in tongues,” McDonough said. “Now, they can say ‘if Ford can do it, we can do it, too.’”
Many who worked on the Rouge revitalization acknowledge it helped legitimize environmental improvements as worthwhile investments. Since the new Rouge was unveiled in 2004, other corporations began looking at ‘green’ innovations as cost-effective solutions to environmental issues such as storm-water runoff.

According to surveys conducted by the non-profit association, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the number of green roofs in America grew 80 percent between 2004 and 2005, increased again by 25 percent in 2006 and by 30 percent in 2007.’s Velazquez, a member of the association, said the estimates offer a good, albeit incomplete, picture of the actual number of green roof projects completed or under way since data is only collected from corporate members.

Some of the best-known green roof projects of the past five years include California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark., The Bank of America Tower in New York City, Millennium Park and McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, and Howard Hughes Medical Center in Dulles, Va.

The Rouge project provided a tremendous example at the forefront of the trend, said Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, because it demonstrated that an economic case can be made for large-scale sustainability projects.

“Ford’s commitment to sustainability was really big early on,” Peck said. “More importantly, the company invested its time and money to transform its sustainability leadership into an ongoing educational program, which really adds to the Rouge project’s value.”

A Living Laboratory
More than 500,000 people, including school groups, have toured the Rouge since its transformation in 2003. For most public visitors, a tour of the environmentally friendly facility begins at the Rouge Factory Tour Visitor Center, which earned Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council based on its Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) rating system. The visitor center features energy-generating solar cells, a grey-water recycling system and insulating vertical landscaping on its exterior walls.

The Rouge, however, is not a museum – it is a living laboratory. The Rouge team continues to build on sustainability commitments. The old Dearborn Assembly Plant is being torn down to make way for more green space and a batch-and-hold parking lot to support upcoming launches.

A weather station has been added to Dearborn Truck Plant to capture weather information, as well as temperature and moisture levels of its living roof. The data will be used to monitor the health of the sedum and its effectiveness for water retention and storm-water management.

In addition, the Rouge team has been aggressive in its recycling efforts. In 2007, the plant’s recycled paper, pallets, cardboard, concrete and scrap metal equaled the landfill disposal needs of a community of 159,580 Americans or the annual electricity needs of 21,427 homes, or enough gasoline for 426,799 miles of driving.

During the assembly process at Rouge’s Dearborn Truck Plant, recyclable packing materials for parts, including cardboard, plastic caps or clips, paper and metal pins and screws, are collected in designated containers. The plant is recycling more than five pounds of packing materials per vehicle, and has improved its recycling by 37 percent since 2004.

The truck plant also aims to reduce its energy usage by 6 percent in 2008 through basic conservation measures such as turning off unnecessary equipment.

“Recycling awareness is very high at Dearborn Truck and the Rouge,” said Mike Longfellow-Jones, Rouge planning, facility and central maintenance manager. “We know how important it is to walk the talk, and we’re doing that more and more each day.”

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