Reducing Lifecycle Emissions A New Mission At BMW, Polestar

The BMW i Vision Circular, manufactured from 100 percent secondary materials or renewable raw materials and 100 percent recyclable, shows how individual, sustainable, luxurious urban mobility could look in 2040, according to the automaker. (BMW)

Automakers have been making more and more public disclosures about their sustainability efforts, with Polestar and BMW joining the chorus this week. These pronouncements often promise massive shifts in the way people worldwide buy and use their cars, and the new additions do that as well. But these two companies are getting into some of the nitty-gritty details regarding the production process as well, and if you can change how a car is made, it will be greener before anyone ever gets behind the wheel.

On the BMW side, that means reducing CO2 emissions by over 40 percent for the car's entire life cycle, including when it is built and regarding the components that come from various suppliers. BMW is also planning to use more recycled materials—or, as BMW calls them, secondary materials, which gives rise to the slogan "Secondary First"—in its vehicles. Reclaiming products like aluminum and nickel for its cars means that future BMWs will be greener and reduce the potential for conflicts to arise if they only dealt with primary materials.

The automaker said it plans to cut its global CO2 "use-phase" emissions (that is, the pollution that the cars put into the air as they drive) by 50 percent. Since these kinds of emissions account, by BMW's calculations, for 70 percent of the BMW Group's CO2 footprint, that's a significant change right there. BMW said that by 2030, the "CO2 emissions per vehicle and kilometer driven will be at least halved from 2019 levels."

For Polestar, the new public claims are about the present and the future. This week, the brand issued a lifecycle analysis for the all-electric Polestar 2 sedan as part of a call for greater transparency in the industry. As with BMW, the information includes the use phase and the production of these electric vehicles (EVs). Since an electric car doesn't emit any CO2 during the drive, the numbers have to factor in where the electricity is produced. Polestar offered different figures for its EV owners to understand their contribution to climate change better.

Using a gas-powered Volvo XC40 as a comparison, a Polestar 2 emits fewer tons of CO2 over its lifetime, even when driven on energy that matches the global electricity mix. The XC40 would be responsible for emitting 58 tons of CO2, while the average Polestar 2 emits 50 tons. But when you look at the European electricity mix, that number drops to 40 tons, and it's just 27 tons if you power the EV with wind-generated energy.

Those excess emissions are why Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said that just building EVs is not enough. He noted that automakers need to take full responsibility, which means understanding all the environmental impacts of building and driving vehicles.

"Every week, we see a new announcement that an automaker is changing direction toward electrification," he said in a statement. "But going electric alone is not enough. Making cars electric is not the end game; it is a starting point. We need to be honest and transparent."

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