For This Luxury Electric Vehicle Marque, Collective Progress Lights the Way

As the global head of sustainability of Polestar, Fredrika Klarén is one of the world’s leading experts in commercial sustainability strategy. T Australia spoke to her about the electric vehicle market and the brand’s climate neutral aspirations.

Article by T Australia

663201_20230124_Polestar_2_MY24The Polestar 2. Photography courtesy of Polestar.

Fredrika Klarén is a self-described electric vehicle nerd. “I was an early adopter,” she says of her EV interests. But despite her eagerness to embrace electric motoring, it wasn’t a smooth conversion. “I struggled with making this transition – I had to down-prioritise a lot of what I wanted in terms of a car to just secure an electric one,” says Klarén. “Not working, not very beautiful, the limitations of range and so on.”

This was about eight years ago, and the market has made significant strides in the near decade since. “When Polestar popped up on the radar I just found that amazing,” she says of the Swedish, Volvo-owned automotive brand. “The fact that they also wanted to push the envelope in terms of design and innovation, I couldn’t resist. So, I started to magically think about that they needed a sustainability person.”

Klarén joined Polestar in 2020, bringing to her role a wealth of experience in the sustainability space, including previous positions at IKEA and Swedish fashion retailer KappAhl. “It’s so meaningful to me to be a part of the early phases of a company,” she says. “Having the background that I have, where I worked at very old companies, and getting to take those learnings and be a part of building something new is one of the best experiences of my life.”

T Australia recently had the opportunity to speak with Klarén about Polestar’s ambitious launch strategy, its internal sustainability engine and the power of community in inciting change.

Fredrika Klarén_1
Polestar's global head of sustainability Fredrika Klarén. Photography courtesy of Polestar.

Polestar is young compared to other automotive brands. What are the benefits and the challenges of such relative infancy within this space?

The challenge, of course, is that we are competing with an industry that doesn’t have the same vision and ambitions like we do. We’re kind of locked into a system. That always keeps us on our toes, it always pushes us to be really agile and flexible – but also very strong about what we want, very clear about what we want.

The benefits are the opposite: that we don’t come with a legacy. We don’t have a heritage. We get to shape our own business. And also, one of the core strengths that we have is that we come to the market in this significant time. In 2022, where everything is at stake in terms of climate, where we have a rampant climate crisis that everyone knows about and we are delivering this powerful solution in this time, in this context. That just show goes to show how valuable it is for a brand if you are relevant, and if you are on point, and if you use the context and your time to its full potential. So that’s really inspiring.

Global head of sustainability sounds like a position with a large scope. How does it break down for you on a day-to-day level?

Every day is a new day, generally. So that’s what I’m feeling after 15 years, and that’s what I love about it also. We are building a new way of working with sustainability at Polestar. We have decided that we’re not going to build this humongous sustainability department that does everything, but instead really secure that we now use the drive of all of the Polestar team coming in. They’ve come to our company because they want to be a part of something that is progressive, more sustainable. So, we’re building a lean central team that is more like competence, an internal engine, and really pushing everyone and educating everyone to make the right choices. It’s a lot of exploration, a lot about new learnings and also a lot of communication to secure that is being spread.

What do you love most about what you do?

Collective progress is a big driver for me. I come from a small island that is built on a sense of community, that you all pitch in. We’re not at all about individualists, we’re more about collective progress, and that is my whole drive. And that’s kind of what I realised why I love working with sustainability. But also learning on a day-to-day basis and making things better, who could not love that?

The Polestar 2. Photography courtesy of Polestar.

Polestar plans to have a climate neutral car by 2030 (the Polestar Zero project). Can you tell me a little bit about how the project is tracking?

As a company, we’ve said that we want to become climate neutral in all of our operations, all of our products, by 2040. But it was so important for us to also point to the fact that it’s what happens before 2030 that really matters. And we decided for ourselves that we would create a sense of urgency among designers and engineers, that we need to find solutions now. And what better way than to say that we’re going to deliver a completely climate neutral car by 2030? And it also points to the fact that low carbon, reducing of emissions, that’s fine. But in a climate neutral world, zero is zero. We’re going to have to find solutions where we’ve eliminated emissions.

We chose to be outspoken about this goal as well. A lot of companies set internal targets, but we also realised that we cannot deliver this car by ourselves. We need an industry movement, and we need to be very outspoken about this towards our whole supply chain also. So, we decided to launch this project externally in 2021, before we even knew how to make it happen. And that has created so much value. On a daily basis I get emails from innovators, researchers with solutions. We have 16 amazing partners already, everyone from giant steelmakers like to small startup companies, all with the goal to really develop these solutions now, researching, putting the resources in, in terms of time and money. Because we all see this value and this business case for these solutions.

What is the Polestar 2 life cycle assessment?

The first person coming in working with sustainability at Polestar was a life cycle assessment specialist. And that’s also very telling that the head of R&D chose that. It’s very telling about who we are as a company. We’re very data driven, very design-engineering driven. And she developed a method by which you can calculate the carbon footprint of a car. That method wasn’t readily available. She had to work with standard as a basis in close collaboration with Volvo, and it enabled us to learn about and to measure the impact of solutions that we were incorporating in Polestar 2.

How can we educate consumers to make these sustainable choices in their day-to-day lives?

We’re trying to really use our design approach to that. We want to capture them with this beautiful, functional, safe product. And then also talk about the fact that it’s more sustainable. That’s the potential I think that businesses have going forward that they need to tap into. I still see sustainable solutions where you have to lower your standards as a consumer. We really want to get the message across that this will only bring value to you and you don’t have to compromise. If you buy a Polestar 2, it’s beautiful, it’s safe, it’s well designed. And it also comes with a lot of sustainability solutions packed into it.

But then also, of course, we have to advocate for policymakers to step up and solve the infrastructure problem, because that’s also a huge barrier for consumers today. They fear that they will not be able to work out their life balance by switching to an EV, largely because of charging. Yes, policymakers need to step up and increase the pace, but it’s also about really showing and reassuring consumers that a lot is happening here, and what we knew yesterday probably isn’t true today because things are developing so quickly. They need to keep up with the progress also. I just love working at a company that is so communicative and that has this design hope, because I really do think that we can hit home with consumers in a way that others can’t.