Novi, Mich. — Sustainability is a hot-button issue for a lot of automakers and suppliers today, but for Ford Motor Co.'s Debbie Mielewski, it's a topic that is deep-rooted in her livelihood and entrenched in her everyday habits.
As the senior technical leader of materials sustainability for the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker, Mielewski continues to pioneer the development of sustainable plastics and composites for automotive applications, boosting Ford's use of soy-based polyurethane foam and other unconventional filler materials such as coffee chaff and rice hulls.
But it was during the Society of Plastics Engineers' 18th annual Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition that she expressed to attendees just how deeply affected she is by sustainability goals, or the lack thereof, set not only by the automotive industry but also by government leaders around the world.
"Our group had a giant party the day the Paris climate agreement was signed, and I felt like that was a giant step forward," Mielewski said during a Sept. 7 panel discussion. "When [the United States] pulled out of the Paris agreement, I could barely get out of bed to go to work."
For Mielewski, as an employee of a global automaker and a human being trying to survive another day on planet Earth, it was a reminder for her that corporations — both on their own and together as part of an influential industry — need to focus on sustainability efforts without necessarily relying on government regulation for a nudge in the right direction.
"Some days, it's hard to get out of bed and look 'that green thing' in the face because people are so distracted with other things, but let me tell you, investing 20 years in this, it is going to be a big part of our future," she said. "Big corporations have to take some responsibility."
Mielewski, who has grown tired of the "if it's cheaper and it's environmental, we'll do it" triple-bottom-line response, asked bluntly, "What's your corporate commitment to sustainability?"