How many people (guys, mostly) do you know that like to show off their green lifestyle with the help of a Tesla? Maybe they should think twice because when it comes to hard data on the company’s green performance, other shades of colors prevail. Is Tesla sustainable? It remains to be seen.
Elon Musk is a master at attracting attention with provocative oneliners and suggestive tweets. Many of those are aimed at boosting his green image, and that of his companies and products. Like Tesla sustainable electric cars. The facts, however, often tell a different story.
Let’s start with a matter of choice. Does a road car need to have the same power a formula 1 racing car has? So if you claim to be sustainable, why build one in the first place?
Ok, it may be a personal challenge to build the most sustainable 1000++ horsepower family car around. Still, the question remains, who needs the power of a Formula 1 racing car? That fact alone makes the process of building it wasteful.
If that would be the only problem, we might just have a discussion about opinions. But the statement of Tesla not being as sustainable as it wants you to believe is based on facts.
Here they come.
Top Greener Cars 2022
All-electric vehicles (EVs) now account for fewer of the dozen greenest cars available, partly because of a shift toward larger and heavier EVs that are less environmentally friendly, according to this year’s GreenerCars ratings, released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
These EVs take only three of the top 10 spots on the ratings’ “Greenest List” for 2022 vehicles—down from seven last year. And none of them is a Tesla.
“Automakers are pledging more all-electric models, but they’re discontinuing some of the most efficient ones, leaving consumers with fewer compact, ultra-green choices,” says Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior transportation research analyst. “Automakers shouldn’t produce only huge EVs. Such EVs, though more energy-efficient than similarly sized gasoline counterparts, mean higher consumer costs and planet-warming emissions than small electric cars.”
This year’s Greenest List features the most environmentally friendly cars for model year 2022. Each car receives a Green Score based on an environmental damage index, which reflects the cost to human health from air pollution associated with vehicle manufacturing and disposal, the production and distribution of fuel or electricity, and vehicle tailpipes. ACEEE evaluated more than 1,000 models, including vehicles fueled entirely by gasoline or diesel (including hybrids), plug-in hybrids powered by energy both from gasoline and electricity from plugging into the grid, and all-electric vehicles.
While the rise in the number of hybrids on this year’s Greenest List occurred in part because of the shift to heavier EVs, it also resulted from updates to the scoring methodology. Based on periodically updated estimates from the federal government, GreenerCars considers the emissions from producing a vehicle’s materials. For model year 2022, the federal estimate showed an increase in the emissions associated with mining lithium, a crucial mineral used in EV batteries.
|Greenest||Power Train||EDX||Green Score|
|Toyota Prius Prime||Plug-in Hybrid||0.62||69|
|Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid||Plug-in Hybrid||0.65||68|
|Mini Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door||EV||0.66||67|
|Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid||Plug-in Hybrid||0.72||65|
|Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue||Gasoline Hybrid||0.73||65|
|Toyota Corolla Hybrid||Gasoline Hybrid||0.74||64|
|Honda Insight||Gasoline Hybrid||0.75||64|
|Toyota Camry Hybrid LE||Gasoline Hybrid||0.77||63|
Now, about Tesla, not producing the greenest car around is not the only fact. As a company, Tesla does not report enough details about the production of its vehicles or the sourcing of its products for consumers to have any idea about how sustainable that process is.
Also, Tesla is remarkably inefficient in its use of raw materials, with 40% of its purchases of raw materials being scrapped.
They sacrifice worker safety in the name of production speed, responded to them in a beautiful PR move, and then didn’t follow through. They bully their workers into not joining unions.
All that makes Tesla just another company that makes electric cars, concludes this post.
ESG, what ESG?
A recent study conducted by Arabesque (not publicly available) found that the car company is among the 15% of the world’s largest companies, across 14 indices, that do not disclose their overall greenhouse-gas emissions, as writes Morningstar.
In its reports, Tesla shows its carbon emissions in graphs, which means they do not disclose the exact numbers. They also do not offer details, such as Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions, or the percentage of operations that these graphs cover. What’s more, the company’s data are not timely: the figures in its 2019 report are for 2017.
The company also has failed to commit to carbon targets.
General Motors and Ford are far more transparent according to Morningstar, —about both the emissions they create in making their vehicles and their targets for reducing those emissions.
Because of its meager ESG results, S&P Global decided to boot the automaker from the sustainable version of its flagship S&P 500 index, citing the company’s weak handling of a federal investigation into multiple deaths linked to its self-driving cars and claims of racial discrimination and poor working conditions at its Fremont, California, factory.
Elon Musk is now turning his Twitter sights on sustainable investing, calling ESG a “scam” after Tesla was given the boot from a widely-followed sustainability index.
But what Tesla’s chief executive is ignoring, Morningstar writes, is that sustainable investing is more than about which companies produce environmentally-focused products, as Tesla does. The other two legs of the stool in “ESG” investing are social and governance issues, and that’s where Tesla comes up short, as we saw before. Tesla sustainable? Not so much.
Unions still not welcome, but called for – again
[ update Feb 15, 2023 ] Tesla workers in New York are launching a new unionization campaign, Axios’ Ivana Saric writes in a recent newsletter. So far Tesla managed to keep the unions out of its facilities in the US. Elon Musk himself opposed unions already back in 2017 and allegations were made about intimidating workers who wanted to join a union.
But Tesla workers want better wages, job security, a say in workplace decision-making, and a reduction in monitoring and production pressures, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news.
Your next read: Why it is not sustainable for everyone to have their own Tesla or Rivian (or any other) EV
[ First published July 3, 2022 ]