Polestar Sets Sights on a Genuinely Carbon Neutral Car by 2030

The Swedish electric automaker is not going to rely on carbon offsets.

Polestar vehicles in a showroom

Polestar

When Treehugger design editor Lloyd Alter picked apart the green credentials of the all-new electric Hummer, his observations weren’t limited to its size or the impact it would likely have on other road users. He noted the sheer amount of embodied carbon in creating a hulking beast like that made it an exercise in — at very best — marginal improvements over the status quo. 

Specifically, he pointed out that the batteries alone may result in 16.7 tonnes of embodied carbon: “That's a little more than half of one's lifetime carbon budget, if you believe in that kind of thing. And if you didn't believe in it, why would you be buying an electric Hummer?”

As we’ve argued many times before, the best private car is no car at all. But if car manufacturers are going to get serious about more sustainable transportation, then they also have to get serious about tackling embodied carbon.

Swedish electric car company Polestar appears to understand this challenge. Not only is it promising a “moonshot” goal of a carbon-neutral, emissions-free car by 2030, but it is aiming to do so without resorting to tree planting or other questionable forms of carbon offsets. (Or at least, the company is describing such tactics as an absolute last resort.)

Fredrika Klarén, Polestar's head of sustainability, explained the challenge: "As an electric car maker, we don't have to worry about combustion engines producing toxic emissions, but that doesn't mean our job is done. Now we must focus all our efforts on cutting emissions in the supply chain and in the production of our cars. This is a historic and exciting time for car makers, an opportunity to seize the moment and do better. For the first time, we can dare to dream about a future with climate-neutral, circular, but still beautiful cars, and the human right of air that is cleaner to breathe."

Exactly how Polestar will get to this goal remains to be seen, but the company does outline several steps that should help it on its way:

  • Transparent product sustainability statements and disclosed carbon footprints for all models
  • Traceability of all materials
  • The incorporation of recycled materials and circular design—including in battery manufacture
  • 100% renewable energy in manufacturing

Taken together, it’s an impressive list of action items. These action items can and should help to both significantly drive down Polestar’s own carbon footprint per product and move the conversation forward around mobility and embodied carbon. After all, with the current proliferation of net-zero and carbon-neutral pledges, it’s important that such initiatives are judged in the details. And whether it’s transparency, ambition, or near-term goals, Polestar's effort does appear to check a lot of the important net-zero boxes.

It would be nice if the company also pushed back on the notion that everybody needs their own car. While pouring through Polestar’s sustainability content, I was initially encouraged to also see a video spotlighting how electric vehicles integrate with the goal of healthier, smarter cities. And yet most of it focused on the need for different types of cars. That said, those are some pretty empty roads, so maybe they do secretly get it on that front too.