13 February 2023

Terms like ‘vegan cars’ and programs such as carbon offsetting won’t combat the problem of emissions, says Fredrika Klarén.

“For me, it’s a greenwash, because you cannot say that a car is vegan,” says head of sustainability at Polestar, Fredrika Klarén.

Gothenburg-based Klarén was visiting Australia with her family over the new year, but made time to sit down with WhichCar to discuss Polestar’s plans for the first truly zero-emissions vehicle by 2030, the Polestar 0.

Aside from Polestar’s lofty plans for emissions elimination, Fredrika was eager to talk about the dangers of greenwashing in the automotive industry.

Polestar sustainability boss wants us to enjoy driving fast cars ‘within planetary boundaries’

For those not familiar with the term ‘greenwashing’, it refers to when a company may use false or misleading information to emphasise the environmental credentials of a product.

“Saying that a car is vegan is a lie to customers”

In the automotive world, terms like ‘zero-emission vehicle’ and ‘vegan interiors’ are a few getting around that are so often exaggerated versions of the truth.

Are vegan car interiors possible?

In Fredrika’s words, it’s not possible for a car in its entirety to be vegan “we have animal products all over the place: we have grease; we have animal content in synthetics; in plastics.

“Saying that a car is vegan is a lie to customers. Yes, you can have a vegan upholstery alternative, like we have because we want to ensure that, as a vegan, you have an alternative to move away from leather if you buy a Polestar 2 – but we will never make a claim that we have provided you with a completely vegan car.”

In the case of ‘vegan leather’ products (or vinyl upholstery to children of the ’60s and ’70s), the current status textiles rely heavily on Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Manufacturing PVC requires chlorine and the process releases harmful dioxins and other toxins into the atmosphere, along with CO2.

Manufacturers, including Polestar, are turning to high volumes of recycled materials for cloth textiles. An example being recycled fishnets used in carpets – Audi’s Q8 E-Tron was a notable early adopter of this – or PET bottles in synthetic fibres.

But shiny, easy-clean faux ‘leathers’ will remain reliant on newly-produced PVC, as it is one of the least recyclable forms of plastic.

For Polestar, the leather used in its 2 sedans and forthcoming 3 SUV comes as a by-product of the meat industry and makes up less than one percent of the value of the cow. As long as there is demand to farm meat, says Klarén, leather will remain an otherwise wasted left-over of that CO2 intensive process.

The tanning process is also completed with an eye to sustainability, meaning Polestar minimises the number of harmful chemicals used in its leather dying processes.

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