Safe Before Green. Environmental strategies in Volvo Car Corporation and the importance of the U.S. market, 1970s-1990s.

Ann-Kristin Bergquist and Mattias Nasman

During the year as the first United Nations Conference on the environment was held in Stockholm 1972, the Swedish automobile manufacturer Volvo adopted 'environmental care' as a third core value in their business operations, alongside 'quality' and 'safety'. This paper examines the incorporation of environmental concerns into business strategies in the Volvo Car Corporation since the 1970s. Our study shows that Volvo in the 1970s took the technological world leadership to control exhaust emissions from cars. This is explained by the stringent legislation adopted first in California and later in the U.S., which was Volvo's key export market. However, we also find that Volvo's green proactive strategy was temporary. 'Safety' rather than 'environmental care' was viewed as a competitive advantage, which made the Volvo cars big and therefore fuel intensive. In contrast to previous studies that have stressed the role of national institutions in shaping environmental strategies in the automobile industry, our study concludes that regulations and consumer preferences on the key export market played a bigger role than Swedish institutions in the Volvo case.