Reinventing the car industry: Transparency as a driver for change

All electric vehicle manufacturers should disclose their production-related impact, argues Polestar’s Fredrika Klarén

The UK is the latest example of governments around the world taking measures to speed up the shift to electric vehicles as a large-scale, sustainable solution. That’s great, but if we are looking to create truly sustainable use of cars, the industry has to reinvent the way it operates.

The key to this is transparency. Everyone wins on being more transparent. By taking inspiration from other industries – such as fashion – and sharing information, we can learn from each other while building consumer trust.

Consumers hold the keys to drive forward the shift to sustainable mobility. But as an industry we need to help consumers make the right choice. Car manufacturers have not been clear in the past on the environmental impact of their products – and that needs to change.

Companies must realise that transparency will play in their favour. It can be used to educate consumers about the environmental benefits of their products. Unfortunately, I don’t see many examples of that in the industry today.

It’s been over five years since the ‘deiselgate’ car emissions scandal. While the abuse of public trust in order to maximise profitability must be ranked as one of the most immoral actions ever committed by the automotive industry, the event still didn’t have any significant impact in terms of transparency.

If we look at other industries under close scrutiny, such as food or retail, companies operating in these sectors are not only asked but required to disclose their production-related impact. This is something the car industry has largely managed to avoid doing.

Many car makers measure the climate impact of their products in Life Cycle Assessments, or LCAs. However, the results from these LCAs are often hidden away in annual reports and brands don’t share the underlying methodology – especially not with consumers. Can you imagine a scientist who cannot answer to how he or she reached a conclusion? It’s an absurd and irrational thought, and equally absurd is the idea that the automotive industry can continue this way.

We must cultivate trust with our consumers and one simple tool will be to enable them to compare the CO2 impact between different cars. To achieve this, we must push for a harmonised methodology for LCAs across the industry. At present, there is no universal way of measuring environmental impacts of vehicles.

That’s why we have published an LCA for Polestar 2 and its full underlying methodology. It shows the car’s full carbon footprint from cradle to grave and details how this was calculated. Once we know exactly which parts of the manufacturing process emit the most CO2,we can focus our efforts on reducing that number.

The heart of our climate strategy will be reduction measures that take us to net zero emissions. Transitioning to renewable energy throughout the supply chain and using circular and innovative materials will be key. And we will not wait for customers to demand solutions – but instead take a proactive approach to educate and deliver attractive, sustainable offers to them.

Secondly, traceability will also be an essential part of our transparency work, and a way for us to ensure that we have a truly sustainable impact throughout our supply chain. Blockchain technology, as we use in Polestar 2 for cobalt, is an immutable and efficient way of going about this.

Finally, we must move away from greenwashing and empty promises. We must walk the talk and dare to make bold choices. In our case, last year we announced that we are putting our commitment car Precept into production. As opposed to a concept car that usually aims to be as fancy as possible, Precept will be the most sustainable car we’ve ever made.

I’ve worked within sustainability in different industries – furniture, fashion and now cars. Regardless of the industry, there are some things that we all need to start doing in order to accelerate the change towards climate neutrality. Becoming more transparent is one of those.

By no means do we, at Polestar, have all the answers. But what we do have is a clear vision. We know that trust must be earned – and we aim towards becoming the most transparent car company in the world in order to earn it. But we are only one company in a large industry. That is why we call on other car makers to join us in sharing LCA data, methodologies and the challenges we face with our consumers.

In 2021, we’ll see electric vehicles continue to rise in popularity. But to aide progress , we need to reinvent our industry. We need full transparency. It’s the only sustainable way to move forward.

Fredrika Klarén is head of sustainability at electric vehicle start-up Polestar

Read more: businessgreen.com