Tesla has made a name for itself supporting sustainability in the automotive industry… but can this company handle scrutiny? Is a Tesla carbon footprint really less than other electric and gas powered model vehicles?
Many people recognize that less gasoline use means less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, aka cleaner air. But is that really true? Doesn’t production, materials, and other factors play a role in the overall ecological footprint of a vehicle?
Understanding how to calculate your Tesla’s carbon footprint with an ecological footprint calculator can shed light on the emissions created during manufacturing, and the potential environmental benefits eco-friendly vehicles generate during their entire life-span.
The Carbon Footprint of a Tesla: Environmental Impact Explained
Even cars that are designed for sustainable lifestyles generate environmental costs. This includes Tesla. Fortunately, the company shares data about its carbon footprint, publishing an extensive report detailing Tesla cars’ use and production each year.
For example, Tesla’s 2019 Impact Report revealed that the Tesla Model 3’s average lifecycle emissions during the manufacturing include:1
- Grid-charged vehicles intended for personal use only accounted for more than 50 g CO2e/mi (grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per mile). However, this isn’t always the case, as it depends on the powertrain’s efficiency.
- Grid-charged Model 3 vehicles used for rideshare purposes typically use less than approximately 25 g CO2e/mi. This trait also depends on the efficiency of the car’s powertrain.
- Solar-charged Model 3 Teslas have the highest emissions during the manufacturing phase, yet the lowest emission rates during its lifetime use. With that said, charging your Tesla with solar power would impose a cost of nearly 100 g CO2e/mi for manufacturing.
- Solar-charged Tesla vehicles used for ridesharing purposes have the second-lowest emissions during the manufacturing stage, accounting for less than 50 g CO2e/mi.
Unfortunately, the 2019 report did not offer any exact numbers on their vehicle’s lifecycle emissions nationwide.
How Do Tesla’s Emissions Compare to Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) Vehicles’?
In lieu of hard numbers on their vehicles’ lifecycle emissions, Tesla reported statistics about internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to help paint a clear picture of how you might be impacting the environment with every mile:
- Mid-sized premium sedans for the model year 2019 had an average of 23.6 mpg. This equates to roughly 420 g CO2e/mi, including oil extraction, refining, and shipment.
- A green vehicle, such as Toyota Prius, emits about 177 g CO2e/mi, even with an impressive 56 mpg.
Tesla officials also reported that it was vital to note that ICE vehicles can only maintain this level of efficiency with regular maintenance. A car’s performance can quickly deteriorate without periodic oil changes, hardware repairs, and the fulfillment of other critical care tasks throughout the year, which contribute to how much fuel the vehicle uses.
At their current performance levels, Teslas reportedly only emit the equivalent of a vehicle with a fuel economy of 144 mpg. To ensure you get the most out of your Tesla vehicle, though, you’ll want to charge it using solar power. When powered by grid-sourced energy (the electric company), Tesla vehicles tend to produce more emissions during the use phase of their life cycles.
Ridesharing a solar-charged car is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint while driving any electric vehicles (EVs). In general, apart from charging practices, here are the efficiency levels you can expect from various Tesla cars:
- Model S: 3.1 EPA miles* per kilowatt-hour (mi/kWh)
- Model 3: 4.8 EPA mi/kWh
- Model Y all-wheel drive (AWD): 4.1 EPA mi/kWh
*EPA miles refer to fuel economy standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2016, Consumer Reports revealed that several of their analytical studies showed that EPA fuel economy labels are typically 3.3-10.3 percent off the mark.2 Many cars performed below the fuel economy that was advertised.
Despite these apparently positive stats about the emissions over time, some drivers still question if Tesla is a viable solution to the vehicle manufacturing industry’s CO2 output, based on years of ownership.
Finding Tesla’s True Carbon Emissions
Teslas are one of the best possible options for an eco-friendly vehicle, but even they can’t be perfectly healthy for the environment.
According to industry experts, a vehicle’s actual electricity consumption is 35 percent higher than laboratory data typically reflects. Additionally, these vehicles lose about 12 percent of energy during the charging process.
This study by GAC Motor Co., Ltd.4 presented exact numbers on the vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions based on data from disassembly and the China Automotive Life Cycle Assessment (CALCM) and Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) Model:3
- Raw material acquisition stage: 62 g CO2e/km (38 g CO2e/mi)
- Production stage: 10 g CO2e/km (6 g CO2e/mi)
- Usage stage: 304 g CO2e/km (188 g CO2e/mi)
In total, a Tesla Model 3 vehicle was discovered to emit approximately 376 g CO2e for every kilometer.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Tesla’s usage stage still accounted for 81 percent of the car’s CO2 emissions. This is the stage in which the car has the longest life, and therefore the most potential for CO2 output. On the other hand, material acquisitions were only responsible for 16 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and production was a mere 3 percent.
So, while Teslas may not be the perfect solution to climate change because they still have a carbon footprint, they are a much better option than a gas or diesel vehicle, which have much higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions throughout their life.
How to Calculate Your Tesla’s Carbon Footprint
Electric vehicles like the Tesla models are excellent alternatives for commuting while living a sustainable lifestyle. However, since you may not be able to find different data sources that fully agree on whether they’re the greener driving alternative or not, it’s best to calculate the answer yourself.
With this personalized data, you’ll be able to mitigate your Tesla’s CO2 emissions as effectively as possible, and you won’t need to lean on Tesla Impact Reports or research teams to provide the numbers for you.
Charging Your Green Lifestyle
With new technology and advancements in the transportation industry, a healthy planet seems more feasible than ever. Although even the world’s leading electric vehicles may not save the world all by themselves, they are still a much better alternative for the atmosphere than gas or diesel engines. When leading a green lifestyle, every choice counts.
While the world waits for even more advanced technology to provide a long-term sustainable solution that all commuters and automotive professionals can appreciate, you can still stay fully green with additional eco-smart choices.
There are more climate-conscious options regarding the vehicle itself, such as choosing a solar-powered model, or using a home power bank. But for the electricity that is consumed, there are other options. Some vehicle owners purchase a tree planting carbon offset like a one-month carbon offset, which provides a method to remove CO2 from the atmosphere when purchased through one of the best carbon offset providers. These offsets can then — if the same amount of CO2 is offset as the CO2 produced by the vehicle — make any car, especially Tesla Model 3 carbon footprints neutral, eliminating its impact on the planet.
Learn More About Your CO2 Emissions:
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1Tesla. (2019). Impact Report 2019. https://www.tesla.com/ns_videos/2019-tesla-impact-report.pdf
2Consumer Reports. (2016, November 14). How accurate are EPA’s fuel economy labels? https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/research/epa-mpg-label-analysis-2016/
3Argonne National Laboratory. (2020, October 9). GREET Model. Energy Systems | Argonne National Laboratory. https://greet.es.anl.gov/
4Gui, G. (2019). Carbon footprint study of Tesla model 3 [Paper presentation]. E3S Web of Conferences, Anui Jianzhu University.