Investor Advocates for Social Justice

Ford wins over critics with greenhouse pledge

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DETROIT, April 9 (Reuters) – A group of activist investors including the state of Connecticut on Wednesday dropped a campaign targeting Ford Motor Co (F.N) after the No. 2 U.S. automaker detailed plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years.

Ford’s action made it the first U.S. automaker to spell out how it intends to cut by 30 percent the greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles it sells by 2020, according to the activist investor groups that pushed it to make the pledge.

In response, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which represents over 300 religious groups and $100 billion in assets, and a network of other investors pressing U.S. companies to take action on global warming, dropped plans for a shareholder resolution at Ford.

The coalition, which includes the Connecticut State Treasurer’s office, plans to push ahead with a similar proposal at General Motors Corp (GM.N) at its annual meeting in June.

A GM representative was not immediately available for comment.

The endorsement represented a public relations win for Ford, which has been under fire by environmental critics in recent years for backing off earlier pledges for an aggressive roll-out of hybrid vehicles.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally, who was hired away from Boeing Co (BA.N) in 2006, made waves early in his tenure for saying he accepted the risks from global warming and the auto industry’s role in addressing the problem. At one point, he even offered qualified support for a “carbon tax” on gasoline.

In another departure, Mulally also named Sue Cischke to a newly created global position overseeing the automaker’s environmental initiatives.

Cischke spearheaded a meeting with the activist investor coalition last month and detailed Ford’s plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through emerging technology such as rechargeable electric cars.

“We are going to do our part to be a player in the stabilization (of emissions),” Cischke said, adding that almost all of Ford’s annual research and development spending of over $6 billion was targeted on technology that had the promise to improve fuel economy and reduce carbon emissions.

Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier called Ford’s action in detailing its carbon pledge “a defining moment in the automotive industry,” and took direct aim at Ford’s larger rival GM and other “industry procrastinators.”

“Others may say they’re focused on future business growth and success, but they need to step up to the plate and likewise take responsive action,” Nappier said in a statement.

Over 50 shareholder resolutions on global warming have been filed with U.S. companies in the 2008 proxy season, nearly double the number filed two years ago, according to the coalition that had targeted Ford.

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