A second industrial revolution may be under way in Dearborn, Mich., where the Ford Motor Co. is implementing an ambitious plan to transform its 85-year-old River Rouge manufacturing complex into what CEO William Clay Ford Jr. calls a "model of 21st Century sustainable manufacturing."

Plans for the $2-billion metamorphosis include a new 600,000-sq ft truck assembly plant that will accommodate flexible manufacturing techniques and several site initiatives aimed at managing stormwater and cleaning soil of pollutants. But the project's best illustration of sustainable principles is the decision to invest in the existing facility rather than abandon the contaminated Rouge Complex and rebuild on a greenfield site, says Tim O'Brien, Ford's vice president of real estate.

The assembly plant is under construction and is slated to start limited production in late 2003. It will use daylighting and will have a ductless mechanical system that relies on air rotation and pressurization and utilizes rejected energy from machinery and lighting for heating in winter and cooling in summer.

INDUSTRIAL IDYLL Vegetation will control runoff and detoxify soil. (Photo courtesy of William McDonough & Partners)

The plant will have a 10-acre "habitat" roof that Ford officials say will be the largest planted roof in the world. The plantings, which will include several species of sedum, will act as insulation.

The roof, along with a system of porous paving, planted swales and constructed wetlands, will make up a stormwater management system that will prevent runoff from flowing directly into the River Rouge. The plantings are expected to provide a habitat for songbirds and other wildlife.

Ford also plans to use vegetation to treat areas of the site contaminated by coke manufacturing. In off-site plots filled with Rouge Complex soil, the company is testing 22 different plant species for their ability to degrade and detoxify complex hydrocarbons, says Clayton Rugh, the project's phytoremediation specialist and assistant professor at Michigan State University, East Lansing. So far, between 15 and 18 species appear to be accelerating the breakdown of contaminants, he says.

Ford has a system to implement the best practices identified at Rouge at its other plants, adds the projects' lead architect, William McDonough, Charlottesville, Va. To illustrate the huge potential for these ideas at Ford alone, he points to the 200 million sq ft of roof that the automaker owns worldwide.

The measures under way at the Rouge Complex are not a form of environmental philanthropy, Ford officials insist. Complying with anticipated run-off control regulations by building a conventional treatment plant and associated infrastructure could cost as much as $50 million. But O'Brien says that the stormwater management measures are expected to cost $15 million, saving Ford $35 million. "It is important that the sustainable features make for a viable business," he says.