Tesla’s carbon footprint is much larger than it previously disclosed

The popular EV maker comes clean on the full scope of its CO2 emissions.
New Model Y electric vehicles are parked in the early morning in a parking lot outside the plant of the US electric car manufacturer Tesla. Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Although Tesla’s latest Impact Report promises that “a sustainable future is within reach,” the company’s 2022 figures show just how crucial accurate measurements are in achieving the lofty goal. Released earlier this week, an expanded dataset dramatically upped the electric vehicle maker’s total carbon footprint when compared with the prior year’s available information. The larger picture? An estimated 30.7 million tons of CO2 in supply chain emissions atop previously reported categories of pollution. That’s roughly equivalent to Serbia’s total emissions in 2021. 

[Related: Tesla employees allegedly viewed drivers’ car camera footage.]

Tesla only publicly offered how much greenhouse gas the company generated in 2021 via direct operations and EV owners charging their cars—around 2.5 million metric tons of CO2. That might seem small compared to its competitors (Ford recorded 337 million metric tons of CO2 in 2022, for example), but these segments of overall emissions are just a fraction of a company’s supply chain pollution stemming from production, transportation, and indirect operations. And while those numbers weren’t disclosed for 2021, they were for last year within Tesla’s new report.

As The Verge notes, the vast difference in numbers comes down to what companies generally choose to include in these kinds of industry reports. Carbon footprints are often broken down into three “scopes,” with Scope 1 encompassing direct company emissions (i.e. factory emissions, brick-and-mortar offices, and its own vehicles for travel and commuting). Meanwhile, Scope 2 includes emissions stemming from heating, A/C, and electricity usage in company buildings like offices. Scope 3 focuses on all the extra, indirect emissions from supply chain manufacturing alongside products’ lifecycle emissions.

Most often, businesses choose to detail only Scopes 1 and 2, as they are usually smaller than Scope 3’s numbers, even when combined. This often makes a company’s carbon footprint appear much smaller than it actually is when seen as a fuller picture; a strategy often referred to as “greenwashing.” In Tesla’s 2022 Impact Report, for instance, the first two “scopes” totaled just 610,000 metric tons of CO2—a much more palatable figure for investors and consumers than the true total of over 31 million tons.

[Related: Tesla is under federal investigation over autopilot claims.]

Still, Tesla actually making its Scope 3 data available to the public offers some much needed additional transparency within the industry. Even then, however, the company’s  combined Scope 1 and 2 numbers rose a little under four percent, year-over-year. This, as The Verge also added, came even as Tesla still worked to make its EVs less carbon-intensive. Earlier this month, Tesla revealed “Part 3” of its ongoing “Master Plan” to provide sustainable energy for the entire world, estimating it will take $10 trillion in investments to fully realize.