Tesla’s first Corporate Sustainability Report report

The electric-car maker offered fewer specifics on diversity and water use.

Tesla Inc. released its first-ever environmental impact report on Tuesday afternoon, joining the 80 percent of S&P 500 companies who produce glossy-looking and sunny testaments to their own corporate sustainability record. There are pictures of smiling employees, solar panels in green fields, and data on the electric automaker’s performance on some environment and social metrics.

The company put a total on its worldwide carbon dioxide output in a single year: 282,000 metric tons of CO2 released, directly and indirectly, across its facilities, energy operations, network of car chargers, and sales and delivery services in 2017. This data establishes a baseline, allowing investors and other observers to detect a trend in future reports. 

Tesla’s self-reported emissions from its facilities—146,000 metric tons of CO2—compares favorably to conventional automakers. Ford Motor Co. said its worldwide facility CO2 emissions is 4.4 million metric tons. 

Of course, Tesla sells fewer vehicles and has the distinction among major automakers of producing none with internal combustion engines—and the sustainability report focused on this. 

Tesla said it has sold more than 550,000 electric vehicles, for example, with more than 10 billion miles driven. That works out to saving over 4 million metric tons of CO2 compared to conventional driving. Tesla explained this math as follows: “This is the equivalent of saving emissions from being released into the environment from over 500K ICE vehicles with a fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon.” 

The report had hard numbers on energy—Tesla said its solar generation of 13.25 terrawatt hours far exceeds the energy consumption of its fleet of cars on the road, at 5.26 terrawatt hours—but provided fewer specifics about worker safety at its auto factory in Fremont, California or the efficiency of its battery gigafactory in Nevada.

On diversity, meanwhile, the company reported that two-thirds of employees at the Fremont factory identify as Asian, Hispanic/Latino, African American or Other. There was no information about other locations.  

A shareholder who tracks corporate sustainability said Tesla’s initial report went beyond superficial metrics. “With any first report there’s always going to be room for improvement, though this is kind of a step above most first sustainability reports we see,” said Allan Pearce, a shareholder advocate at Trillium Asset Management in Portland, Oregon. Pearce noted the inclusion of a full greenhouse-gas footprint, a metric often left out of first-time reports.

Tesla said water use per vehicle manufactured dropped by 9 percent from 2016 to 2017. Pearce said investors would have wanted a more data and concrete goals.  

Trillium, which oversees about $2.5 billion for socially-conscious investors, had been seeking a sustainability report from Tesla since 2017 after reports of high injury rates at the factory in Fremont. On Tuesday, the firm withdrew a shareholder proposal it had submitted in December asking it to publish the report. 

In the future, Pearce said, he’d like to see more analysis about how much greener its cars are compared to internal combustion vehicles.