Ford Motor Company River Rouge production plant (Michigan, USA)

August 20, 2010

MBDC (McDonough & Braungart Design Chemistry, creators of the Cradle to Cradle certification) have worked as consultants to the Ford Motor Company since the late 1990s, both on the products themselves and on the production plants.

River Rouge Complex (Michigan): once the largest integrated factory in the world... today a C2C flagship

William McDonough, through his architecture company, signed a contract in 1999 with the automaker to re-design the River Rouge complex in Michigan, covering 16 millions of square feet of factory floor space. His proposal included a green roof for the whole plant, which was met by some reluctance at first, and dismissed as merely decorative.

Yet he pressed on and finally made his point heard, as he recalls:

“After lots of discussion and several visits to buildings with green roofs, (Ford’s) Jay Richardson’s skepticism began to give way. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing new storm water regulations and Ford had estimated that the conventional technical controls required to comply with the new rules could cost almost $50 million. The natural storm water management system was estimated to cost only $15 million. The math was simple and compelling: the living roof offered millions of dollars in savings, with the landscape thrown in for free. Kind of gets your attention.”


Bringing nature back on a site that once was the world’s biggest industrial complex. ©

Tangible results

McDonough’s recommendations were adopted, and the key facts and figures resulting from his C2C approach are as follows:

  • A saving of approximately $30 million, compared to the cost of conventional storm water management systems, in a context of law-enforced regulation.
  • A zero-energy natural solution, in place of what would have been a heavy system requiring its own power supply.
  • 100 000 square metres of roof covered with sedum (a low growing plant) capable of cleansing20 billion US gallons of rainwater annually – for FREE.
  • Improved biodiversity and landscape in a heavily degraded industrial environment.
  • A closed loop at work: the green roof feeds back to the soil, in the most natural way possible, a healthy nutrient (clean water) whilst preventing floodings by performing a retention role.
“This is not environmental philanthropy, it is sound business, which for the first time, balances the business needs of auto manufacturing with ecological and social concerns in the redesign of a brownfield site”
Bill Ford, Ford MC Chairman

Towards a harmless car?

Four years after that initial contract, C2C and Ford were back under the spotlight once more as the company unveiled its “Model U” concept car, having carried out an extensive research and development campaign with the help of MBDC. Sourcing existing materials to prove the feasibility of the idea, the team came up with a vehicle powered by a hydrogen engine and including Milliken & Co. polyester upholstery fabric, a “technical nutrient” made from chemicals chosen for their human and environmental health qualities, and capable of perpetual recycling. The car top is made from a potential “biological nutrient,” a corn-based biopolymer from Cargill Dow that can be composted after use.


The Ford Model U and its compostable body parts. © Ford

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