Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its new cars by 30 percent by 2020. The company is responding to pressures from social, political, and religious groups calling for U.S. corporations to address the problem of global warming through decisive action.

The Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which represents hundreds of religious shareholder groups and institutional investors, is playing a major role in coaxing environmental resolutions from companies in all sectors. Automotive manufacturers are at the forefront of this effort, and ICCR has made it clear that it will now push to get a similar resolution from GM at its next shareholder meeting.

Ford has a spotty track record in following through on its environmental promises. In 2003, the company threw out its five-year plan to increase fuel economy of its SUVs by 25 percent. In 2006, Ford reneged on an ambitious goal that it set in 2005, to produce 250,000 hybrids annually by the end of the decade.

2020 is a long way off, so it’s difficult to say whether the carmaker will meet its latest environmental goal. But it might not have a choice. New federal efficiency laws raise the gasoline mileage requirements of cars and trucks by 40 percent to an average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions have a direct relationship to the amount of petroleum burned. Therefore, meeting new mileage standards will essentially produce Ford’s desired greenhouse gas targets.

With the federal government on one side, and activist shareholders on the other, Ford—and all other carmakers—are coming under increased pressure to reduce the environmental impact from cars and trucks.