Huge drama, high speed, a weekend of excess in every regard. Motor racing is probably not uppermost in the minds of sports fans when it comes to being low-impact in any way at all, but that’s where Formula E comes in: not just trying to change perceptions and sustainability in the sport, but actively contributing to reversing the effects of both.
The all-electric series is in London this weekend, the street circuit E-Prix taking in not just the roads around the ExCel but even the tracks inside it, thanks to the no-emissions nature of the cars involved. Across the back-to-back racedays, more than 20,000 fans will pack out the arena and witness the latest electric vehicle technology being showcased in a world-class sporting environment.
Well, almost the latest technology. Formula E, like every ecosystem in entertainment or tech, is moving fast. Just a few months from now the cars will be upgraded as Gen3 hits the scene for Season 9, bringing greater speed and power but at less of a cost to the environment. From next year, over 40% of the car’s energy will be regenerated by itself during the race, an incredibly efficient demonstration of power and engineering.
It is a combination of approaches from within FE that enables such development, with a focus on reducing negative impacts and increasing sustainability at every turn, both on and – increasingly – off the track.
“We focus on three circles: first our impact in terms of waste management and so on. Then it’s the communities and cities and how we impact them positively from a social perspective. The third layer is how we work within our ecosystem: the racing team, partners and sponsors,” explains FE sustainability director Julia Palle to The Independent.
“Gen3 is the pinnacle of performance tech and sustainability – it’s years’ worth of work. We’ve improved the sustainability credentials of the car, it’s in line with our net-zero carbon commitment and everything will be measured through a lifecycle assessment.
“The car is the big piece for us in terms of sustainability.
“It’s crazy how much the championship has been growing and evolving; we were a startup and now it’s an established world championship structure. It’s completely different but we stayed true to the purpose of the founders, sustainability is at the heart of what we’re doing – EV development and advancement on our streets, but now widened also to showcasing sustainable lifestyles and innovations.
“The teams develop the technology and then showcase it. They have solutions to help us fight climate change very quickly. The solutions are here. They just need to be adopted and implemented at scale.”
Therein lies the lure for the manufacturers, the race teams and their partners. They are showcasing today the commercial EV tech of tomorrow, and doing so in a way which proves over and over that mass vehicle electrification can continue to push the limits of performance while also improving the prospects of positively fighting climate change.
That was the original purpose of FE’s existence and remains at the core of it. But sustainability needs no bounds and small, incremental changes to processes have shown to have an incredibly big impact over time. Immersing one’s self at an FE event reinforces that fact, over and over. It’s in the posters explaining how produce local to each race track is used, in the way food menus are arranged with grains or plant-based food purposely at the top and in the fact public transport is designed as the main way fans can get to any circuit.
But beyond the racecars, the drivers and the people watching on are an absolute multitude of commercial and societal behemoths – from sponsors to the actual cities themselves hosting each event, all keen to associate with a fast-growing championship.
And, Palle increasingly hopes, able to recognise how they can learn and apply sustainability processes to achieve their own goals.
“In the beginning we didn’t have the bargaining power we have now – some suppliers wanted to charge double the price when we had our sustainability requirements! It didn’t make sense. We needed to have and a collaborative approach.
“At the same time while the championship grows, the challenges of the CO2 emissions reductions also increases, that’s part of the challenge. Our teams and partners really understand now they have the chance to test on a smaller scale their solutions that can be rolled out. That’s a competitive advantage for them and something which can bring wider societal benefits.
“Sharing best practices is important. Cities are encouraged to share what they are struggling with in terms of mobility or a wider sustainability agenda, then discuss how we can find solutions to implement at their own scales.”
Palle is no stranger to detailing the challenges faced by even the most high-profile and populous of cities and corporations, speaking last year at COP26 on how sports leaders needed to be proactive about drastically cutting emissions and pushing to achieve net zero carbon status.
Working closely alongside senior sustainability manager Iona Neilson, who plays a big role in how that overarching approach translates to actual, on-the-ground impact, Palle also highlighted how Formula E’s “naturally balanced environment” appeals to a wider demographic both inside and outside the organisation. It is no longer solely about emissions and green energy, but about positive social impacts in all areas, from diversity in the workforce to improving environmental prospects of locales where races take place. “In [hiring] interviews, sustainability is always a big factor for younger applicants,” she said.
“We have developed programmes to push women into motorsport to show there are careers for them – that’s important to us as we put more effort into the social side of sustainability. We want a structured and strong approach to diversity inclusion throughout the championship.
“[At the last race] in New York we were planting trees with one of our partners to improve the air quality, support habitats and so on. This weekend, London is a home race so it’s a special one for us. We’ve done a lot of work around air quality and pollution.”
Nielson adds further detail on those societal efforts, from getting local charities involved in educational programmes to local plant donations. It’s a non-stop, revolving door of extending lifecycles of products and reducing waste.
And all the while, the championship pushes itself to become more watchable, more visible, more relevant.
Without question, Formula E is increasingly a standard-bearer on what is possible and what must be strived for in improved action, in every sense of the word.
Not just for the wider motor racing world, but for all of sports entertainment.
The 2022 London E-Prix will be broadcast live on terrestrial television on Channel 4 on July 30 & 31. Buy tickets and follow all updates from the race at ExCeL London here.