Breaking out of the climate echo chamber: EVs’ route to net zero

2021 could be one of the biggest years for climate change action, with COP26 giving us the opportunity to build momentum and clear comittments. The topic of electrifying transport is central, and countries are seeing huge and positive investments in the charging infrastructure as part of the route to a clean, electric future.

Breaking out of the climate echo chamber: EVs’ route to net zero

But even though many actions are productive and aimed towards the right impact within the right timeframe, there are forces in a play that continue to distract businesses and consumers alike from making purposeful progress.

This is the climate echo chamber.

Deserving and regaining trust

The debate currently raging amongst the traditional energy industry, about whether the electricity grid will be enough to electrify transport, is a standard example of the climate echo chamber. Rather than engaging in discussions about innovation, energy efficiency (so that energy can be allocated to solutions that are most important for the climate) and how to get more renewable energy into the electricity grid, these approaches impede progress.

Let’s be clear: whilst electric cars (EVs) are not perfect – they are the future. They offer a genuine route to net-zero emissions and are a more sustainable option moving forward. But to make EVs a large-scale solution, the industry (and its affiliates) will have to reinvent how it operates.

Truth is, only 25% of consumers trust car companies to be honest and do the right thing for the environment. And the doubtful majority is not entirely wrong. Historically, car brands have been notoriously reluctant to disclose data on environmental performance and applied fact-less and incoherent communication techniques around the impact of vehicles. Today, many companies have changed their strategy, promising to decarbonize their operations – but without providing an answer to the question of how and when.        

How can we then ensure that car manufacturers are taking the right steps and that true progress is being made?

Transparency as a driver for change

Transparency is key in the journey towards less talk and more purposeful action, ultimately breaking the climate echo chamber. In seizing this opportunity, we all have a role to play.

First of all, the automotive industry must invest in sustainable innovation end-to-end. This means ceasing investment in legacy technologies and moving to viable, greener alternatives like EVs. These actions must be tied to/coupled with more transparent communication, sharing for example the carbon footprint from the production of cars.

Secondly, charging providers must be transparent about the energy they put on the grid given the type of charging drastically impacts the lifetime carbon footprint of an EV. Data from a recent study indicates that only a very low percentage of charging stations are running on renewable energy. The proportion of renewable energy in a countries charging infrastructure can even be lower than in the country’s energy mix.

And third, as global interest in sustainability continues to increase in the lead-up to COP26, consumers must learn to utilise their consumer power. Armed with the right information, people are empowered to ask for more. In line with the law of supply and demand, the transparency of EV companies and the availability of renewable electricity at charging stations will increase if requested by drivers. Empowered consumers hold the key to fuelling change. They must communicate the changes they want to see and should expect businesses to meet their expectations when it comes to being more transparent.

Time to take on the real enemy

Sustainability has become critical to every business model and is now a prerequisite of long-term success. Global warming has shown us, the transport sector in particular, that doing the bare minimum or treating sustainability like a ‘tick-box’ exercise is not good enough. In the quest towards net zero, we need to be challenging ourselves, and others, to do better. It’s time to push for full transparency about the lack of green charging at public charging points, without which we cannot break out the climate echo chamber and take on the real enemy – climate change.

Together we can reinvent the car industry and prove, not only to the doubtful choir but to all people, that we are on the right path and the progress that we make will be of great value to everyone.

Fredrika Klaren, Head of Sustainability at Polestar

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