It is no longer enough for motorsport to talk about its green credentials simply in the hope of generating good PR.
For so long, motorsport and sustainability have been at opposite ends of the spectrum. Globe-trotting, carbon-emitting racing series are becoming less and less relevant in a world where people are increasingly concerned about climate change.
Motorsport has had to adapt, and any series that hasn’t prioritised sustainability in the past has promised to clean up, while new players such as Formula E and Extreme E have sought to put the planet at the heart of their strategies.
Indeed, most series are now incorporating sustainability into their messaging, but how does this line up with the progress they are making towards their environmental goals? The BlackBook provides an overview of where the major motorsport series stand and whether their sustainable commitments are being matched by their actions.
Launched in 2019, Formula One’s sustainability strategy is built on three pillars: achieving net zero carbon by 2030; leaving a legacy of positive change wherever it races; and taking steps to build a more diverse and inclusive sport.
You can find these targets plastered over Formula One’s channels, but there is still much to be done if the series is to achieve those goals. After all, the championship reportedly generated 256,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the year it announced its sustainability strategy.
With that in mind, the series’ net zero goal has always been considered ambitious. That’s not to say that initial steps have not been taken to get there, with a reduction in single-use plastic in the paddock and at circuits. The Formula One offices have also transitioned to 100 per cent renewable energy.
This is just a start though, and what Formula One does next matters. Sustainable fuels are set to be introduced in 2026, and this will be a pivotal moment in the series’ sustainability overhaul. A 55 per cent variation of the fuel was set to be trialled in Formula Two and Formula Three next season, but this has been brought forward to 2023.
It shows that Formula One is attempting to give itself as much time as possible to get the introduction of these fuels right, something chief technical officer Pat Symonds made clear at BlackBook Motorsport’s recent winter reception.
However, this shift forward was only made possible by Saudi oil company Aramco, a global sponsor of Formula One, which raises the question of how seriously to take the series’ net zero pledge.
What do these strides in sustainability really mean if the funding is coming from an environmentally damaging source?
To compare the champion of sustainability in motorsport to Formula One is perhaps unfair. It goes without saying that the impact all-electric cars have on the environment is considerably less than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts. However, the two series do have similarities in their sustainability approaches.
Formula E’s principal partner is Sabic. The majority owner of the chemical manufacturing company? Aramco. Environmentalists have estimated the Saudi company to be responsible for around four per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.
That’s not to say this is an issue exclusive to just Formula One and Formula E. Saudi Arabia is increasingly expanding its influence across multiple motorsport disciplines in an effort to further its sustainability agenda, which has resulted in some accusations of ‘greenwashing’.
Stop for a minute and take a breath.— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) July 20, 2022
Air pollution is a real danger to our young people, but we hope that this new partnership with @UNICEF @UNICEF_UK helps drive action and improve air quality so that future generations can thrive. pic.twitter.com/34sRtHcarI
Formula E uses many phrases to market itself – ‘the future of motorsport’, ‘the world’s greenest sport’ and ‘the pinnacle of sustainability’ among them. While these seem hollow against this backdrop, the one that sticks out is ‘creating value through values’.
According to Julia Pallé, sustainability officer at Formula E, you need to “get [Saudi Arabia] around the table” to make environmental progress. But with all the progress Formula E has made, is that in line with the values the series so often talks about?
Yes, the tyres introduced for this season are the most sustainable ever. Yes, the new Gen3 car is a marvel in what can be achieved through regenerative power. Yet the foundation of these ‘values’ is being built on Saudi sand.
The all-electric SUV championship is the perfect example of why Formula E has been pursuing globalisation, with the gaps between Extreme E races making it difficult for the series to build an audience. However, criss-crossing the planet to race cars through fragile environments in remote locations would hardly equate to eco-friendliness.
Still, Extreme E is going the extra mile thanks to an ambitious, independently verified sustainability strategy that aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Extreme E’s stated mission is to raise awareness of climate change, not necessarily to reverse it. But by employing detailed monitoring and reporting of its carbon footprint and a comprehensive offsetting programme, it is doing far more than most.
The all-electric SUV championship famously ships its freight via sea to reduce emissions, although it does use fossil fuels in this process. It also stands alone as the only motorsport series to boast a 50:50 gender split in its driver line-up.
Legacy Lookback ⌛️🌱— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) January 20, 2023
In Uruguay we checked out the largest sea lion colony in the world – and even had a swim with them! 🦭
We also went to a wind farm to learn about how the country switched to 98% energy generation from renewable sources 🌎#ExtremeE #EnergyXPrix pic.twitter.com/ZGMYzApBcV
Meanwhile, its independent Scientific Committee, consisting of climate experts and leading academics from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, advises the series on education and research programmes, event logistics and positive legacy initiatives that support local communities in each race location.
However, Extreme E does have a partnership with Enowa, the energy, water and hydrogen subsidiary of Neom, a ‘sustainable’ city being constructed in the Saudi Arabian desert which is also the title sponsor of the McLaren electric racing teams.
Saudi Arabia, funding the Neom project, promised to increase oil production only last year, something that does not quite align with Extreme E’s inherent purpose.
Over in the US, stock car racing series Nascar has made strides through its partnership with Growth Energy, which has supplied Nascar with its 15 per cent bioethanol fuel since 2011. This has led to a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the organisation’s three touring championships.
The series also has its ‘Nascar Green’ programme, which has been in place since 2008 and aims to raise awareness of climate change across the motorsport industry. In 2009, Nascar debuted its tree-planting programme, with 500,000 trees having been planted across the US since. It is reported that Nascar plants enough trees per year to account for 100 per cent of the air emissions generated from its events during a season.
These efforts are not going unnoticed by Nascar fans, either. Some 85 per cent of avid fans surveyed by the series in 2016 are aware of the Nascar Green programme and 76 per cent recognise the initiative as showing Nascar cares about the environment.
While the series has made efforts to recycle much of the plastic and aluminium waste generated at its events, there is still more it can do in this area. With Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest plastic polluter, as a title sponsor, it’s imperative that the stock car racing series makes a concerted effort to implement single-use plastics at all events as soon as possible.
While Formula One trials a 55 per cent variation of its sustainable fuel in its support categories this year, IndyCar is set to introduce the full 100 per cent mix at the top level. The new product consists of a blend of second-generation ethanol derived from sugarcane waste and other biofuels to create a final product that can be classified as 100 per cent renewable.
The guayule tyres used in Nashville sported a distinctive green border on the tyre wall
Last season also saw the debut of an eco-friendly tyre by IndyCar’s official supplier Firestone. Partially composed of a new sustainable natural rubber derived from the guayule shrub, which requires less reharvesting than traditional sources of rubber, it raced for the first time at an incident-filled Nashville event in August. The plan is for more races in 2023 to feature the tyre, although these have not been made public yet.
IndyCar’s sustainability mission is also intrinsically linked with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Host of its most famous race, the Indianapolis 500, and also owned by Penske Entertainment, the iconic circuit has made considerable environmental strides, too. Most notably, IMS became the first sports facility in the world to achieve organisational certification through the Council for Responsible Sport.
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