Technology

Polestar is building a zero-emissions car without ‘cop-out’ carbon offset

Swedish electric performance automaker Polestar says it will build the world’s first truly zero-emissions vehicle without relying on carbon offsets, which it described as a “cop-out.”

The company, which was spun out of Volvo and Volvo’s parent company Geely, framed its effort to cut carbon emissions by changing the way its cars are made as a “moonshot goal” that would result in the world’s first carbon neutral vehicle by 2030.

Carbon offsets, like tree planting, have become a standard way for car companies and other businesses to write off their carbon emissions by investing in renewable energy or conservation projects aimed at bolstering forests’ ability to naturally store carbon. But there’s growing evidence that offsets haven’t succeeded in slowing global warming and have instead given companies license to keep polluting.

“Offsetting is a cop-out,” says Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar CEO, in a statement. “By pushing ourselves to create a completely climate-neutral car, we are forced to reach beyond what is possible today. We will have to question everything, innovate and look to exponential technologies as we design towards zero.”

FedEx, United, Delta, and JetBlue said they would eliminate all of their emissions over the next several decades. And Uber and Lyft have pledged to go carbon neutral within a similar timeframe.

The automaker makes two cars: the $155,000 hybrid coupe Polestar 1 and the all-electric fastback sedan Polestar 2. The Polestar 3, an electric crossover SUV, is expected to be released in late 2021. After its first vehicle, the company has said it will only produce electric vehicles.

The real challenge for Polestar will be the elimination of carbon emissions from its production process and supply chain. Several major automakers have pledged to phase out gas-powered vehicle production by a certain target date, including General Motors, Ford, and Polestar’s parent company, Volvo. But automobile production, including the mining of the rare earth minerals that go into lithium-ion batteries, is an intensely carbon-heavy process. Even reducing those emissions, to say nothing of eliminating them, will be a hugely consequential task.

Polestar, as a boutique operation, may have more flexibility to achieve its goals than other larger — and thus, less nimble — companies. The company announced its so-called Polestar 0 project as part of its first annual review, in which it also said that sustainability declarations would be applied to all future Polestar models.

Sustainability declarations, popular in industries like food and fashion, is a checklist of all the carbon emissions and waste associated with a product or process. Starting with the Polestar 2, the company says it will list on its website the carbon footprint and traced risk materials associated with the production of each of its vehicles.

“Today, Polestar 2 leaves the factory gates with a carbon footprint,” Ingenlath said. “In 2030 we want to present a car that does not.”