Tesla is Not “Sustainable”, or What People Get Wrong About Sustainability

John Katsos
5 min readSep 25, 2018

Tesla is widely viewed as one of the world’s most sustainable companies.

When someone tells me that Tesla is a sustainable company, I often must excuse myself from the room. The very suggestion is laughable.

Yes, Tesla produces electric cars. Yes, they are working toward a “sustainable energy future”. And electric cars generally are better for the environment than traditional gas-powered cars.


None of that makes Tesla a “sustainable” company. And certainly it doesn’t make it one of the world’s most sustainable companies.

To understand why, you have to first understand what sustainability is. Then you must understand what Tesla actually does, as opposed to what it says it does.

What is “sustainability”?

“Sustainability” is a term used around the world to mean many different things. It always includes some aspect of environmental awareness. For some, it only means the more efficient use of natural resources.

The UN-sponsored Brundtland Commission was the first to talk about and create widespread awareness of “sustainability”. They did so in the context of discussing “sustainable development” which is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.

The Commission spent a great deal of time coming up with the definition. they also discuss in detail what “development” and “needs” are.

“Development” is the human attempt to improve our social and economic achievements as a group within our environment. This definition recognizes that social, economic, and environmental aims are all interrelated.

“Needs” specifically referred to the world’s poorest. Those who are surviving with the least. Any conversation about sustainability must refer in some way to them.

When someone speaks of “sustainability”, they are often only talking about the environmental impacts. This…

John Katsos

Scholar. Educator. Writer. I help people learn to start and manage better, more sustainable businesses and be better humans. Opinions my own.