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Driving Change

Can Polestar pull off a fully climate neutral car by 2030?

From cradle to grave, the Polestar 0 project has the potential to offer a transformational shift in the race toward climate neutrality.

Polestar logo displayed on a wall

The Polestar 0 project aims to create the first truly climate neutral car by 2030. Image via Shutterstock/Jeppe Gustafsson

In the early days of working in sustainability, the slightest news of progress caught headlines as company leaders, advocates and climate enthusiasts extrapolated the potential of a positive impact in a world just beginning to face the impacts of climate change. Now in 2022, we are in a much different place regarding the sustainability industry and the climate. 

Concepts such as climate neutral, net zero and all the other orbiting threads around sustainability have matured to a point where measurable impact, tangible year-over-year progress, traceability and transparency are the floor for making headlines and catching industry attention — and rightly so. 

So what has caught my attention this round? Well, it is from Sweden, it is exciting and no, it is not a new sustainable way of producing delicious Swedish cheese — I will leave that for Theresa Lieb, senior analyst, food systems at GreenBiz. 

Instead, Polestar, the Swedish electric automotive company established by Volvo cars, has caught my attention, as the company is focused on taking its place as a leading automotive brand fit for the electric transport future. 

[Continue the dialogue about accelerating electric, clean and equitable transportation and logistics that reduce emissions at the VERGE 22 Transport Program, taking place in San Jose, CA, Oct. 25-27.]

Recently, Polestar has had some exciting developments, including reporting a nearly 125 percent increase in sales during the first half of 2022, delivering 21,200 units compared to 9,510 in the same period in 2021. The company has also partnered with Hertz to deliver 65,000 vehicles over the next five years, along with receiving increasingly positive reviews on the Polestar 2, its newest all-electric sedan. However, questions about the company’s profitability remain as it expands into new markets and vehicle segments. According to Bloomberg, the company has faced criticism that it doesn’t have sufficient funds to cover cash requirements for 2022. 

But for an industry in which governments and advocates are pushing for more to accelerate meaningful progress on climate, I found myself feeling inspired when I stumbled upon a video from Polestar on its Polestar 0 project. Announced in April 2021, Polestar 0 is the company’s moon-shot goal of creating the first truly climate neutral car by 2030. Before we go any further, I feel obliged to share this video to spread my feelings of inspiration. 

 

Now that you are inspired or critically questioning everything shared in this video, we can move on. 

Polestar 0's scope is to identify and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, from the extraction of raw materials to when the car is delivered to the customer, including end-of-life handling. And to top this off, Polestar will do this without using offsets or credits. That is an incredible scope to accomplish, especially by 2030. A McKinsey report showcases that material production accounts for 18 percent of a vehicle’s lifecycle emissions, rising to upward of 60 percent by 2040 as automotive companies reduce emissions in other areas of their operations. 

Polestar is not the only automotive brand to set such a goal — General Motors and Mercedes, among others, have committed to climate neutrality in their own way and on ranging deadlines. But what stands out to me with the Polestar 0 project is the level of transparency and the company’s ambitious 2030 timeline. 

Last week, the company announced that it quadrupled the number of partners working on the project. The full list of new partners showcases a focus on companies in the plastics, composites, chemicals and metals space. Alongside the new partner announcement, Polestar opened its second open call for partners (more on that below), with a targeted focus on companies operating in minerals and metals, bio-based chemicals, plastics and other base materials. 

Polestar 0's scope is to identify and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, from the extraction of raw materials to when the car is delivered to the customer, including end-of-life handling.

To learn more, I sat down with Hans Pehrson, the man who left me feeling inspired after watching the video above. Our conversation is edited for length and clarity. 

Vartan Badalian: What is the theory behind the Polestar 0 project? 

Hans Pehrson: Polestar 2 is our highly produced car right now. When we launched the full-electric Polestar 2, we launched our LCA report [Life Cycle Assessment] to really show that we are transparent about how much CO2 emissions are released by producing Polestar 2 and [charging if all our customers would charge using renewables over the life cycle of the vehicle]. …Thus, buying an EV, especially if you sign up for green electricity, is an extremely good choice. So that is the starting point, that is where we are and that is the first step we should all take. But there are big emissions related to producing EVs, along with the total life cycle that we need to bring down, and that is Polestar 0’s ambition: to produce a truly climate neutral car and to do it by 2030, no offsetting, just full-scale production. 

Badalian: The concept of carbon neutrality is thrown around a lot and means many different things to different companies. What does carbon neutral mean to Polestar? 

Pehrson: When we say zero, we mean zero. But of course, there is a definition for everything. We go as far upstream as what is needed to make a car, and we will include every single step from the mining field until the port is on the car and delivered to the customer. To achieve this with no offsetting, we have to have partnerships with all kinds of businesses and researchers in different fields. 

Badalian: Talk to me about your partnership model and the implications of Polestar 0 going beyond the automotive industry in terms of its impact potential. 

Pehrson: It is a really important moment when a company realizes they would like to change [their ways]. We have what is called open calls, and we had our first one in February, where we asked companies — if they are a startup or a multinational company, research institution or investor — after reading about Polestar 0, to consider and reflect on if they really believe [they could have a positive impact in the project], we wanted them to contact us, and that is what they did. [The decision to join such a project] has to come inside. If you are going to do this for the next eight years, you have to believe, have to put money in R&D, the best people on the task and therefore it has to come from inside [a company]. 

On the topic of spinoff effects [implications of Polestar 0 going beyond the automotive industry], if you want to have an impact, you have to start from the ground up. If we can make a product [to be used in the vehicle] before 2030, maybe 2025 or 2027, depending on the complexity to get to that point, then it could be used as a spinoff effect immediately — not only in the automotive space but for any other application beyond automotive. And that is valuable for so many areas. 

Badalian: So the credibility of this is obviously a big piece. How can you ensure credibility and traceability in terms of what you are claiming if you achieve your goal by 2030? 

Pehrson: Since we know where the minerals started, in a field somewhere, we only have to follow that to see how it became a fender or a piece of glass, for example. We know where the sand was picked up, and we need to know how it made it to our windshield. So that is a different way of looking at it. It is not really asking the supplier, "Where did you get the sand from?" because we will know that. We have the mineral; we just have to make sure we follow it without losing it on the road to us. We do not ask where they [suppliers] get the source of materials from since we are starting from the first step. [Author’s note: Polestar is building a new supply chain for the Polestar 0 project, unique to that specific vehicle].

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