Companies today are more cognizant of their environmental impacts than ever. But the term sustainability has practically become a buzzword, with some brands treating it like a box to check among a long list of corporate responsibility issues.
Then there are those who’ve built their identity around the very idea of being sustainable — like Polestar, the Swedish car company with an ambitious goal of producing a truly carbon-neutral electric vehicle by 2030. Facing stiff competition in the EV scene, it behooves Polestar to enter the market with a value proposition beyond good looks and effortless performance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, brands like RIMOWA follow a more holistic approach to sustainability and focus on making their products as durable as possible. Their logic is simple — the longer its suitcases last, the less you’ll need to replace them, thus impacting our planet (and wallets) a little less.
To get a better understanding of Polestar’s carbon-neutral ambitions and RIMOWA’s manufacturing standards, we spoke to Fredrika Klarén, head of sustainability at Polestar, and Emelie De Vitis, chief marketing officer for RIMOWA. They discuss material innovations, how companies can be better stewards of the environment, what they’re doing to combat emissions, and more.
Fredrika Klarén, head of sustainability at Polestar
What is Polestar’s idea of sustainability?
We want to improve society by accelerating the transition to electric mobility. We envision a society that has tapped into four key drivers of sustainable development: climate neutrality, transparency, inclusion, and circularity. We know that electric cars are the more sustainable option and clearly offer a route to climate-neutral mobility. But they are not 100% clean or sustainable today, and we believe that our role will be to lead the way and redefine how to make cars so that they can become fully sustainable.
How are sustainable practices incorporated throughout the production process?
We want to design towards zero, thinking that encompasses our brand’s key pillars: design, innovation, and sustainability. It speaks to how sustainability starts at the drawing board: how our designers and engineers work to find more sustainable and innovative solutions. This thinking will guide us in creating the world’s first climate-neutral car in 2030.
“Designing towards zero” reflects how we construct cleaner manufacturing plants. Our production center in Chengdu is the first car factory in China to attain gold status in LEED ratings and is powered by 100 percent renewable electricity. The factory has no industrial water discharge and is implementing a circular approach to waste handling, including the recycling of its waste carbon fiber material and reduction of landfill waste.
What steps will Polestar take to achieve a climate-neutral vehicle by 2030?
We will take it on as a car project with an increased time plan and a very clear deliverable in terms of the carbon footprint. It will involve three strategic phases: research, advanced engineering and product development over the coming nine years. We will need to put a lot of initial resources into research to find solutions where there are none today. Design and engineering will play a crucial part as the most decisive change starts at the drawing board. And we will need to team up with partners, not least the suppliers, who also see the incredible value in decarbonizing the car industry.
Ultimately, with Polestar 0 project we’re not only creating a sense of urgency internally and in our supply chain, but also a demand for solutions that will benefit the whole industry. In order to succeed, collaboration will be key. We simply cannot do it alone.
Talk to us about carbon offsetting and why that’s not a sustainable practice.
Offsetting is a vague term and can mean everything and nothing. We want to talk about the offsetting schemes that rely on measures like tree-planting or forest conservation and how problematic and misleading they are. It allows companies to claim they have achieved climate neutrality when the reality is they are still using the same production processes and emitting greenhouse gases that cannot be offset by these traditional schemes.
Turning to offsetting is not sustainable in the long run, many environmental experts and NGOs try to get this message across. Questions around the long-term carbon storage capacity of forests and soils remain, as a forest might be logged, devastated by fire, or altered by climate change. True climate neutrality means eradicating emissions completely, from supply chains to manufacturing processes, and is a commitment that Polestar is working hard to achieve.
Walk us through the materials used in the Polestar 2 and its sustainability ambitions.
With Polestar 2, we wanted to redefine what a premium material is. We believe it should be innovative and more sustainable. One example of that is WeaveTech, a vegan option to the standard leather upholstery. WeaveTech is produced using a process that reduces the amount of chemical plasticizer from the industry-standard 45% to around 1%.
Maybe the most innovative aspect on Polestar 2 is that it’s the first car that uses blockchain technology to trace the cobalt used in the battery. All the way from the mine or recycling plant to the finished car. We want the minerals in our batteries to be mined responsibly, paying full respect to human rights and creating minimal pollution. Using software supplied by our strategic partners, Circulor, we can track cobalt throughout our entire supply chain. This means its source, and the methods by which it's extracted, processed and transported, can be regulated. Thanks to this immutable way of creating traceability, we can feel confident that the cobalt we use comes from the mines or recycling facilities that we want. Going forward we will use this technology to trace more risk materials and extract important data from our supply chain, for example regarding climate emissions.
Emelie De Vitis, chief marketing officer at RIMOWA
What is RIMOWA’s idea of sustainability?
We have three pillars upon which we can explain sustainability. The first one is very simple — materials. Our suitcases predominantly use two materials: aluminum and polycarbonate. Aluminum is eternally recyclable. Any piece of aluminum that doesn't get used for the manufacturing process can be easily recycled after.
Aluminum is extremely resistant and durable, we have suitcases that have encountered many journeys and stand the test of time. The second pillar is around replaceable parts. If one component breaks down, you can order in the pieces to fix that particular part. We keep parts from suitcases that date back 20 years. So even if you bought a RIMOWA two decades ago and bring it for repair, we can fix it.
The third pillar is customer service. Everywhere around the world, you can either return your RIMOWA through hotels, boutiques, or other partners to have it fixed. If you bring it to a boutique where there's a customer care center attached, you can have it fixed almost on the spot. Our aim is to make sure you keep your RIMOWA suitcase for as long as possible.
Talk to us about RIMOWA’s repair service.
We have relationships with hotel concierges around the world, which means that they know where our stores are. Customers can leave their damaged baggage at reception and it can be fixed very quickly — we have partnerships with most hotels in big cities where we have a repair center. And if you need to leave that night and can't wait for your suitcase to be fixed, we will lend you a suitcase.
As a leader in the luxury lifestyle space, how does RIMOWA think about applying sustainability within its own output?
We don’t encourage people to buy impulsively, we're encouraging people to maintain their suitcases. We're also encouraging them to showcase the RIMOWAs they own. When I visited our archive museum in Cologne there were so many suitcases from people that are proud of owning older RIMOWAs, and the notion of wanting to share and communicate the fact that it's endless. So the important message is we’re catering to purposeful travelers. We're aiming for that lifelong journey with our suitcases.