News - Polestar
Polestar slams industry ‘greenwashing’
Sustainability chief of EV brand Polestar calls out carbon offsets, vegan interiors
12 Jan 2023
POLESTAR’S head of sustainability, Fredrika Klarén, has called out “greenwashing” techniques employed in the automotive industry, including so-called ‘vegan’ interiors and carbon offset schemes.
The Chinese-owned electric car brand wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to carbon emissions and the materials used in building its cars, going as far as publishing a total life-cycle assessment (LCA) from where the minerals and metals are dug out of the ground to the end of life of the car.
Ms Klarén said that offering such clarity to consumers helps them understand what they are buying and where it has come from, and highlights that some talking points that car brands fall back on are a form of ‘greenwashing’, or “deceptive marketing that aims to persuade people that an organisation's products, aims and policies are more environmentally friendly than they really are”.
Two standout examples, according to Ms Klarén, are carbon offsets or carbon credits, and the apparent shift away from leather interior finishes to PVC-based ‘vegan’ alternatives.
Ms Klarén bluntly stated that carbon offsets schemes “don’t work”, citing scientific evidence that a lot of the measures those schemes put in place will be too late to rectify or address the issue.
“In 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was being written in the UN, this idea was conceptualised for a very great reason, because they saw … there is a balance sheet here, to climate. And the UN started drafting a standard – but that has grown to become a monster, a greenwashing monster.
“Scientists are pointing to this now that it's not working quickly enough. If you plant trees, it's going to take decades before they capture the CO2. And we don't have time – remember we have seven years,” said Ms Klaren, referring to a point she made about that timeframe being the point at which the world hits 1.5 degrees (Celsius) of global warming.
“Anything after 2030, we're not interested. Anyone, any company claiming that they can fix this in 2040, 2050, it's not interesting because we’ll have missed the goal by then,” she said. “We're very open to conserving forests and planting trees. But we don't make any claims that that can offset the emissions from the cars that we're producing now, because it doesn't do that in time.
“I mean, there's other schemes where you invest in a renewable energy plant, but the thing is that we're seeing that there's big gaps in governance here. The UN has this gold standard, but when the media and scientists start digging into this, they see that there's corruption – there's no way to (ensure) that this is working,” she said.
On the point of the materials used to make the brand’s cars, Ms Klarén said the recent push for ‘vegan’ interiors in cars is, essentially, a false hope. She said that while there are ‘vegan’ materials currently being used to trim seats, dashboards, headliners and other parts of car interiors, those finishes are constructed from PVC-based synthetics, which she labelled as “the worst of the worst”.
“The big challenge with vegan leathers is that they are reliant on PVC. And PVC is … the worst of the worst. It's so toxic,” she said, before clarifying that Polestar cars currently – the Polestar 2 specifically – still use PVC as part of the production process.
“We need to use PVC materials also, but we don't want to. If we would go only vegan, we would be so reliant on PVC,” she said.
Ms Klaren called out the new Polestar 3 SUV in particular, which launches in Australia later in 2023. That model will feature a non-fossil-fuel-based PVC called Inovyn, which is produced by British chemical production company, Ineos (a subsidiary of which produces the Grenadier off-roader). That material uses pine oil rather than crude oil in its production.
As such, Ms Klaren suggested that, to this point, cow-derived leather has still been more environmentally thoughtful than vegan leather, because the animal skin used would otherwise have been a byproduct of the meat industry. In other words, it needs to be used, otherwise, it is simply waste for waste’s sake.
“(The automotive industry is) keeping leather to a very high degree,” she said. “And I think that is because they know that if you just replace it with synthetics, you're moving the negative impact to another area. And it can be even worse.
“It all depends on how you source the leather,” she said. “What we chose was to stick with leather because we see that we can't replace it in a sustainable way. And we see that we can source leather from very conscious and responsible companies like Bridge of Weir, that we use in Polestar 2 and will in Polestar 3.
“But of course we don't want to contribute to an increased meat production. That's the important thing here. So we always choose to only buy leather when we see that the value of the leather is less than 1% than the value of the full cow,” she said, reiterating the notion that the leather should be a byproduct of the cow being farmed, not the end product in itself.
“It's not sustainable to just discard (the leather) – the meat industry will still be here, but we of course want to secure that we don't create an increased demand for this,” she said.
Polestar remains a small voice in a big crowd, accounting for just 1524 sales in Australia in 2022. Rival EV-only brand Tesla sold 19,594 units over the same period.
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