Growing sales but not emissions – Polestar reduces CO2 intensity by 8% during a record year

Swedish EV maker Polestar released its third annual sustainability report showing it had reduced relative CO2 emissions by 8% per car sold – during a year of record growth in 2022.

Polestar cuts CO2 emissions during record growth

Polestar delivered 51,491 vehicles in 2022, up 80% from 2021 and beating its 50,000 annual global volume target.

Despite the impressive growth, Polestar managed to reduce relative CO2 emissions for each vehicle sold by 8% compared to 2021 levels.

Due to scaling operations (nearly doubling), Polestar’s absolute emissions did increase, but this is to be expected as a rapid growth company expands its network.

Absolute emissions include the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) a company emits compared to a specific base year. In contrast, relative emissions include those tied to a unit of production – in Polestar’s case, each vehicle.

While absolute emissions have risen, Polestar has reduced its relative emissions on a per-vehicle basis by 13% since 2020, an impressive feat for a company that has scaled from just over 10,000 EV sales to over 51,000.

The EV maker says it has cut emissions by reducing average transport, having high sales in markets with more renewable energy on the grids (Norway, Sweden, Australia, etc.), and vehicle updates using over-the-air (OTA) tech.

For example, Polestar says it changed the supplier providing aluminum for the wheels and battery trays for the Polestar 2, where a “change to a hydro-powered smelter resulted in a 1.2-ton reduction per car.”

Other contributing factors to the reduction include the factory where the Polestar 2 is built now running on 100% renewable energy and a larger share of single motor vehicles, which have low energy demand.

Fredrika Klarén, head of sustainability at Polestar, said:

We wear our emissions on our sleeve – measuring and scrutinizing every detail ensures we keep our eye on the ball.

Polestar is best known for its sleek minimalist designed vehicles that bring out the best in EVs, but what you may not know is that the Swedish EV maker is on a mission to improve sustainability in the auto industry, not just through its vehicles but with transparent tracking and reporting.

Electrification is not enough

Polestar is one of the automakers that’s actively working to advance zero-emission technology, not against it. The Swedish EV maker aims to build a completely climate-neutral EV by 2030 with the Polestar 0 project.

Klarén explains:

Electrification alone is not enough and pure EV-makers like Polestar have a lot of work ahead of us. Our focus remains unchanged as we double down on cutting emissions in our supply chain.

In addition to reducing emissions from its vehicle lineup, Polestar aims to be completely transparent by disclosing where the minerals (cobalt, mica, lithium, nickel, leather, and wool) they use are sourced from and the supply chains they use, as well as reporting back the results to provide valuable insights to push the industry ahead.

Earlier this year, Klarén called out automakers, saying anyone focusing on anything but EVs are taking the wrong approach, adding there is no place for mass-produced non-EV models after 2030.

She says Polestar is basing its assessments on science rather than locked in business plans like many other automakers, claiming:

From our standpoint, our climate strategy is based on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). It’s a top-down approach. We’ve said that we need to be climate neutral by 2040 as a company and we need to halve emissions by 2030, and that’s not what we can do – that is what the climate scientists are telling us we need to do as companies.

Klarén turned her attention toward Toyota and its stance on hybrid vehicles, saying:

To me, you’re still putting gasoline in the car, so don’t focus on that technology at all. If you keep focussing [and] having that in your business plan, you’re not going to level up in the way you need to do in terms of this new technology.

If we continue down the path we are headed, Klarén explains, we only have seven more years until we hit 1.5 degrees global warming, so anything after 2030, Polestar is not interested.

Electrek’s Take

The fact that Polestar has been able to grow as rapidly as it has and still managed to reduce relative CO2 emissions is an important one. It shows it can be done.

Another important thing to note here is this just includes manufacturing emissions, which is nothing compared to emissions from operation. Information from the EPA shows 74% (some estimates say +90%) of gas car emissions over their lifetime are from operation, while EVs emit zero GHGs while driving.

Polestar is leading the charge toward a sustainable auto industry, but it’s still only a fraction of the total market.

Other automakers need to get on board, and it starts with ending gas-powered vehicle production ASAP. We cannot afford to continue on the path we are on. Global CO2 emissions hit a new record in 2022, and if something isn’t done, it could mean more extreme weather events that destroy communities and the food supply.

Atmospheric CO2 levels are just over 420 ppm, according to the NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Observatory’s latest readings.

For us to get back to the 300 to 360 ppm range that it has been over the past several millenniums, the transportation industry, one of the largest contributors to emissions, needs to modernize – and quickly.

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