Tech companies have talked up their climate pledges. A new report from corporate accountability non-profit As You Sow shows some are for real and some falling behind. The group found Tesla — which claims its mission is to "accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy" — is making the slowest progress to reach net zero emissions. Microsoft, Apple and Alphabet, on the other hand, are amongst the leaders in the tech industry.
Thursday’s report, titled “Road to Zero Emissions,” evaluated 55 large global companies in tech and other sectors on whether their climate efforts align with the Paris Agreement goals. The world's main climate pact has set out a stretch goal of limiting global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial temperatures. To stabilize the climate at that level requires the world to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050.
The report notes that the vast majority of companies haven’t even established comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Further, most have not “demonstrated progress in reducing their emissions in alignment with net zero goals.” (To be fair, it's not like governments are doing a great job either.)
Microsoft was one of only two companies to receive an A, and the only tech company to do so. Alphabet received a B and Apple clocked in with a B-. Apple and Microsoft were the only two companies making considerable effort to reduce Scope 3 emissions, a term that refers to carbon pollution associated with assets not owned by the company like supply chains. Those are generally the largest sources of companies' emissions. Microsoft received the top rating mainly because of its transparency in reporting emissions and clear goals to reduce them in line with the 1.5-degree-Celsius target.
Tesla, on the other hand, ranked at the very bottom of the list with a big, fat F. That put it even below well-known polluters like Chevron and Exxon, despite being an EV company. The company's poor grade reflects the fact that it ranked lowest for disclosures, along with Berkshire Hathaway and Square. “Tesla represents an interesting case of a company that creates products significant to the energy transition yet displays a serious lack of disclosure related to its own emissions,” the report says. The company has also failed to set a climate goal, though, again, its product is absolutely essential to helping the world get on track so that we don't cook ourselves.
Square and Meta also received low grades, respectively getting an F and D. As You Sow found that Square has not met any of its emissions goals in any category. That may have something to do with the fact that the company focuses on energy-intensive Bitcoin. (CEO Jack Dorsey claims Bitcoin can reduce emissions, a claim that's, to put it lightly, pretty sketchy.)
Meta, on the other hand, received an “A” for its disclosures, but received a D for its emissions targets and an F for its ability to meet those goals. The company has published optimistic reports tracking its efforts, which show the company reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 59% from 2017 to 2020. It has also invested significantly in renewable energy. But the As You Sow report found Meta significantly lags in addressing its Scope 3 emissions.
Square and Meta did not respond to immediate requests for comment. As for Tesla…well, maybe it’s time they reinstate a PR team.
This story was updated on March 4, 2022 to include more information on Tesla's grade.