Nowadays, many companies offer an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impact report, in addition to the traditional annual report. Consistent with its mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, Tesla has released a 2020 Impact Report that’s thorough and detailed, describing the company’s efforts to minimize its environmental footprint across every aspect of its operations.
“At Tesla, we strive to be the best on every metric relevant to our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” says Tesla. “Furthermore, each product we make must be continuously improved at each step of its lifecycle: from manufacturing to consumer use to recycling.”
“Tesla aspires to do the right thing, and we are constantly looking for ways to do better,” Tesla assures us. The report even lists an email address for “suggestions about how our company can improve in any way.” (The people at the other end are sure to be more responsive than the ones who field questions from the press.)
If you need some ammunition to debunk one of those “EVs’ Dirty Little Secret” articles that continue to appear on a daily basis, this report would be a good place to start. In the section entitled “Lifecycle Analysis of Tesla EVs vs. Equivalent ICE Vehicles,” the company explains in detail why the environmental impact of zero-emission vehicles is “undeniably more positive than the [greenhouse gas]-emitting alternatives.”
It’s true that, on average, producing an EV generates more greenhouse gas emissions than producing a legacy vehicle. However, this is cancelled out within a short time by the far lower emissions generated by driving an EV. “The manufacturing process of a Model 3 currently results in slightly higher GHG emissions than an equivalent combustion engine vehicle,” says Tesla. “However, based on the global weighted average grid mix, a Model 3 has lower lifetime emissions than an equivalent ICE after driving 5,340 miles.”
Tesla presents the per-mile lifecycle emissions of a current Fremont-made Model 3—including “emissions from upstream supply chain, direct emissions from manufacturing and electricity consumption, and use phase emissions when charged from a grid with a generation mix that reflects the geographic distribution of Model 3 deliveries in each of the US, Europe and China.” The assumptions behind the calculations are explained in detail.
Charts demonstrate the lifecycle emissions of a Model 3 in different use-case and charging scenarios, in several different regions of the world. Emissions are lowest in Europe, where the grid is cleanest, and highest in China, where much of the grid is powered by coal. However (as other studies of EV emissions have found), “even in this scenario, charging a Tesla Model 3 from the grid is still less emission-intensive than running an ICE vehicle.”
And Tesla is far from finished reducing emissions. The report details the steps Tesla is taking to reduce the environmental footprint of its manufacturing operations. “Building a factory from the ground up with sustainability in mind can have a material impact on reducing energy use.” The Shanghai Gigafactory is cleaner than the Fremont plant, and future Gigs will be cleaner still, using less energy and less water, and generating less waste. “We build each new factory to be better and more sustainably designed than the previous one. While we have already completed substantial improvements at Gigafactory Shanghai, further improvements will continue at Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg and Gigafactory Texas.”