Leading the Charge

Volvo's Turning the Key to Sustainability and Environmental Responsibility

Northwest Bergen County is welcoming another major luxury car manufacturer to the neighborhood. Volvo's Americas headquarters has recently moved from Rockleigh, New Jersey, to MacArthur Boulevard in Mahwah, taking ownership of the former Ascena (Dress Barn) site.

Jim Nichols, Brand and Product Communications Manager, was instrumental in selecting Mahwah as Volvo's new corporate home and worked to seal the deal on this 145,000-square-foot, environmentally-sound building as Volvo's new digs.

"We looked at over 40 sites—none of which were a fit for us, so we decided to stay in Rockleigh and rebuild. Plans were drawn up, but our realtor encouraged us to look at this building. I stopped for a look on my way home one evening, and that was it. Negotiations followed, and we closed the deal in June of 2020."

Taking possession of the building during the pandemic required a thoughtful plan and a comprehensive phase-in process. "We opened the building to staff in late October, floor-by-floor," says Jim. Eventually, the structure will accommodate 400-450 employees.

In light of Volvo's commitment to safety and environmental responsibility, the building's unique appeal was its LEED certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies to improve performance across metrics such as energy savings, water usage, CO2 emissions, and indoor air quality.

The building is powered by a highly efficient "smart" HVAC system that heats and cools in coordination with the outdoor weather, time of day, and population within the building. UV lamps within the air system help to eliminate bacteria and bring in high levels of fresh, clean air. "This feature helped us to bring staff in earlier during COVID because of the superior air quality," says Jim. Low VOC carpets and paint also help to improve the indoor environment. The lighting system is connected to sensors that adjust wattage according to room occupancy and available natural light. The entire building will soon be retrofitted to have all LED bulbs. Water conservation is another aspect of Volvo's sustainability plan. All fixtures are low-flow, and there are no sprinklers on the grounds of the property.

Environmental responsibility was the driving force in purchasing this building and doing the required renovations. "Rather than what looked the nicest or what was the cheapest, we focused on what was the most energy-efficient," says Jim.

Volvo's headquarters also features a state-of-the-art fitness center and a corporate café operated by Bergen Community College's culinary arts program. "It's a great opportunity for students to see corporate life first-hand," says Jim. "Eventually, our employees will be able to enjoy cooking classes and farm-to-table cuisine." In keeping with their environmentally-themed standards, the café will focus on reusable dishware and not provide single-use plastic items.

The headquarters' Brand Experience Center will highlight Volvo's history and innovations over the decades, including developing the 3-point safety belt. Volvo is now leading the way to establish a culture that embraces the shift to electric cars. They are committed to enhancing their infrastructure by constructing a new electric car charging facility on the property. This represents a nice perk for Volvo employees who drive hybrid and electric vehicles. The lot will also be open to the public on weekends for charging.

Volvo's environment initiatives go far beyond their headquarters in Mahwah. "We will begin to phase out gasoline engines over time and will be looking to continually improve sustainability efforts and the impact of our carbon footprint," states Jim. Carbon neutrality is an ongoing initiative that will affect Volvo's corporate culture, the vehicles under development, and even the logistics involved in vehicle shipping and transportation. The company's ambitious goal is that 50% of the cars they manufacture will be electric by 2025 and that in the same year, the carbon footprint of each vehicle will be lowered by 40%.

Launched in 2020, the XC40 Recharge is Volvo's first all-electric vehicle and a significant milestone for the brand.

The SUV's two motors generate 402 horsepower. "The torque is instant," says Jim. "There is no lag when you accelerate like a regular gas engine. You feel the difference when you pass another car." The vehicle features an electric powertrain that allows for regenerative braking. Volvo's one-pedal drive option instantly slows the car down when the driver takes their foot off of the accelerator, utilizing energy from the decelerating wheels to generate electricity through a small turbine. "It's beneficial for city driving because the technology generates electricity which is delivered back into the battery," says Jim.

The vehicle produces no tailpipe emissions and features Google built-in with full voice recognition and command capabilities. Google can show you how to get to the nearest charging station and even turn on your seat heaters! Drivers new to electric vehicles will want to install a charging station at home to charge the car overnight. Costs may vary; however, they are not prohibitive. 

As a forerunner in safety research and technology, Volvo has led the revolution for better engineering for decades. "Our mission is to make vehicles that eliminate or reduce the impact of a crash, whether people are inside or outside of the car," says Jim. "Most accidents are caused by human error. So, we need to study how to eliminate those mistakes." Over the years, industry research has brought about innovations like pilot assist, automatic braking, and blind-spot warning technology available from every car manufacturer. These features don't take over the driving tasks, but they assist the driver by enhancing safety.

What happens when the car takes full responsibility for all the driving tasks? Looking toward the future, Volvo is preparing for the time when our entire culture will evolve to accept fully autonomous vehicles on the road. As self-driving vehicles evolve from fiction to fact, Volvo designers and engineers are giving serious thought to the changing role of the car in society and how people will accept giving up driving control in the future.

"We could provide transportation to people who are unable to drive for one reason or another," says Jim. Shorter car trips, like traveling from New York to Boston, will be much more efficient by car than by plane. You could sleep while traveling by car during the evening and wake up when you arrive at your destination. The bonus is that we can significantly reduce emissions by traveling in an electric vehicle instead of traveling by air. The opportunities are boundless."

Q&A with the CEO

Anders Gustafsson is the Head of Volvo Cars within the Americas Region and President & CEO of Volvo Car USA LLC. Holding both roles since 2017, Anders’s area of responsibility spans more than 20 countries.

Why did you choose Mahwah for the home of your new HQ?

Volvo Cars has a long history with the state of New Jersey. We opened our regional office in Rockleigh in 1964. As our business continued to grow, we saw the need to find a larger space that reflected who we are as a brand and were presented with this great opportunity to move to Mahwah. As you know, moving a business that has been in the same location for 56 years can be very challenging. After considering many locations, we found that Mahwah offered us a beautiful new building that fit our growing needs, while also having the smallest collective impact on our employees’ commutes – a factor we took very seriously.

We noticed the building is LEED-certified, why was this important to Volvo?

At Volvo we are very committed to the safety of our people and our planet. Sustainability is a key pillar of our brand and a top consideration in every decision we make as an organization. In looking for a new home for our business, we knew it needed to meet certain standards of environmental friendliness. LEED certification confirms not only that the building was built with the environment in mind, but also that we are committed to operating it in a way that uses resources efficiently.

What other initiatives does Volvo plan to achieve its sustainability goals?

As I’ve mentioned, sustainability underlines every decision we make at Volvo Cars. Of course, that goes for decisions about the products we sell, but it applies equally to the way we do business. That is why we’ve set a goal to reduce our lifecycle carbon footprint per car by 40 percent between 2018 and 2025. This means not only lowering tailpipe emissions by offering pure electric vehicles, but also by reducing carbon emissions in our manufacturing network, wider operations, supply chain, and through recycling and reuse of materials. We see this as one of many tangible steps we can take towards our ambition of becoming a climate-neutral company by 2040.

You've just launched your first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge, which must be a huge milestone for the Volvo brand. Can you tell us more about this?

We are very proud of the pure electric XC40 Recharge. As the first of many great new electric vehicles that will be offered by Volvo Cars, the SUV really highlights what is important to our brand. That is, offering beautiful products that meet the needs of our customers and remain true to who we are – a brand that puts the safety of our drivers and our planet at the very forefront of everything we do.

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