CAN FORMULA 1 REALLY GO 'CARBON NEUTRAL'?
Updated: Mar 8
This article was originally published on March 4th, 2020.
The Formula 1 teams have completed their pre-season testing and the shape of the 2020 season is beginning to emerge on the run-up to the first race in Australia next week.
One thing many people will be looking at this season Formula 1 season is what changes will we see going into the first season after the sport announced a new 10-year plan to "change the face of the sport" and become carbon neutral by 2030.
The Climate Emergency
It is no secret that Formula 1 is a polluting sport and that it has not been particularly interested in sustainability, especially while under previous owner Bernie Ecclestone.
Formula 1 fans, sponsors, and athletes have all expressed their concerns about the sport's current carbon footprint, due to its current yearly output of 256,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Alongside a recent report from over 11,000 scientists, released in November, stating the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to the global society. The report added that as scientists, they have the "moral obligation to tell it like it is."
Six-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) announced, in October, plans to become carbon neutral by the end of 2019.
Younger motorsport fans are also shifting from Formula 1 to the all-electric Formula-E series.
All of these pressures have seen Formula 1 announce the ambitious sustainability plan to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030.
Pat Symonds, Chief Technical Officer at Formula 1, explained in a press release:
"F1 could play a huge role in this transition. It has continually proven its ability to advance technology readiness levels from experimental to production and must do so again. It also has the profile to engage the public in these technologies. The difference this time is that it doesn’t have an option. Failure to reduce CO2 emissions will leave the sport as a pariah with no place in modern society."
Despite having an annual carbon footprint of 256,000 tonnes, surprisingly only 0.7% of the sports emissions come from the cars on track.
The majority of the sport's carbon footprint, excluding fan travel, is the result of teams and equipment traveling to the races around the world.
As much as 72.7% of Formula 1's total carbon footprint comes from international travel and logistics. Road, air and sea logistics are the biggest contributors at 45%, followed by air and ground transportation for team personnel at 27.7% The sport's 10 teams each notched up an average of 110,000 air miles.
The team's factories produce 19.3% of the sport's output.
Event operations, including broadcasting, support races, circuit energy use, generator use, and operation of a hospitality package known as Paddock Club, produce 7.3% of emissions.
Furthermore, there is a huge amount of C02 emissions generated by F1's 500 million fans globally who will travel far and wide to see the sport, which is unaccounted for. When they are accounted for, F1's footprint rises to some 1.9 million CO2 equivalent tonnes.
Ever since Formula 1 was taken over by US media giant Liberty Media, in 2017, the new owners have been trying to revolutionize the sport.
Liberty Media does appear to be changing the sport, with Formula 1 posting its first profit since 2016, after collecting $2.022 billion in revenue.
In November they announced the sport's first-ever sustainability plan. The plan has identified two targets, the first being "sustainable" Grands Prix's by 2025, and the bigger goal to be "net-zero carbon" by 2030.
F1 says its proposal has been produced after a year of "intense work with the FIA, sustainability experts, F1 teams, promoters, and partners". The new owners are keen to distance themselves from Bernie Ecclestone's ideas for the sport.
"Up until 10-15 years ago sport wasn't run in a mature way - typically by ex-players not business professionals. It's become much more professional and is catching up with other industries, and that includes on sustainability," says Yath Gangakumaran (@YGangakumaran), Director of Strategy and Business Development at Formula 1, he is also the man responsible for leading the sustainability plan.
"There is no point just throwing out a target and having it as a marketing gimmick. Ultimately you will be held accountable, and so you should," he added when talking about the ambitious 2030 target.
The first thing to note about the sustainability plan is that the racing series will only target emissions generated by the activities of Formula 1 and its teams.
Therefore the plan will not cover any emissions generated by the sports 500 million fans, which is a much bigger part of the problem.
"We think it is just too difficult to control what our fans do because they are ultimately their own custodians. So we think it is most appropriate and achievable to focus on what we do have control over," said Gangakumaran.
However, the sport will be encouraging fans to use public transport to get to Formula 1 events, in a bid to try and offset fans' air travel.
By 2025, Formula 1 is targeting the idea that all events will be sustainable. This means that the events will look to ensure that sustainable materials are used whenever available, while they will be eliminating all single-use plastics. All waste generated at the events is set to be reused, recycled, or composted.
In a bid to reduce its carbon footprint to "net-zero" by 2030, all power at every event will be from a renewable energy source, and its offices, facilities, and factories will be 100% renewably powered.
The sport plans to utilize local environmental groups who will be consulted to protect the biodiversity in the areas around race events and minimize the impact of the sport on local wildlife.
"Our commitment to global environmental protection is crucial," FIA president Jean Todt said. "It is not only very encouraging for the future of motorsport, but it could also have strong benefits for society as a whole."
Teams will look to reduce the number of people that travel to each race, instead, the teams will use improved communication technology to allow strategists and analysts to work remotely back at the teams' headquarters. Which will also be "100% renewably powered offices, facilities, and factories”.
The sport is also targeting moving to an"ultra-efficient logistics and travel and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories". Increasing the use of rail and road travel to transport equipment to races as a way of reducing air miles.
Despite the sport's small percentage of emissions caused on-track, the sport is changing to use improved biofuels made up of biological material, such as algae.
Formula 1 may see a drop in its carbon footprint, however, it will have to rely on come carbon offsetting tactics. Promising a move to “credible offsets and breakthrough CO₂ sequestration programs.”
"We are a global sport and we have fans around the world who want to see F1. That requires travel," Gangakumaran said.
One of the ways the sport is looking at offsetting is through the planting of trees, although this has already received fierce criticism from environmental campaigners, with many believing it to be little more than a band-aid.
A spokesperson for Formula 1 indicates their tactics "We will be looking at tree planting, which is a highly effective biological way of capturing carbon from the atmosphere. We will also be working with our incredible scientists and engineers in the sport to develop breakthrough carbon sequestration innovations that are applicable not just to F1 but to the wider world. This could include technology around carbon sinkholes and materials that extract carbon from the atmosphere […]We will ensure we have ultra-efficient logistics and travel and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories, improve the sustainability of race events, targeting 100% reused, recycled or composted waste by 2025 and move to 100% Second Generation Advanced Sustainable Fuels in F1 cars by 2030."
A key problem for the sport, however, is growth. Formula 1 will see an increase from 21 races to 22 races in the 2020 season, while there are also plans for several more.
Gangakumaran believes that the growing number of races will have been factored into its carbon reduction plans.
"You can't say anything is 100% but we wouldn't be putting these targets out there if they weren't ambitious enough or we didn't think we could achieve them," Gangakumaran says. "Most importantly our fans are totally behind us on this."
Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the UK political party The Green Party, believes Formula One should serve as an example. “It is very welcome that Formula One is making this commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and significantly clean up their environmental impact,” she said. “It should set a benchmark for all other sports organizations and businesses to follow suit, if F1 can do it then surely anyone can."
The fact that Formula 1 has taken a stance on carbon emissions is important for the rest of the world at large. Much of the technology that is seen in modern-day cars was first pioneered in Formula 1 races, before being passed down. A great example of this is the paddle-shift gearboxes developed for the sport in the late 80s and early 90s, which are now ubiquitous in road-legal cars. "Over its 70-year history, F1 has pioneered numerous technologies and innovations that have positively contributed to society and helped to combat carbon emissions," F1 CEO Chase Carey said. The latest V6 turbo-hybrid power engines set to be used in the new season are the most efficient engines available anywhere in the world. The sports hybrid technology can also be seen in Mercedes models such as the S-Class. KERS a technology that was introduced way back in 2009 to harness braking energy and unleash it on the track, is now used not only in hybrid cars but also in buses. On the Scottish island of Eigg, which isn’t connected to the UK’s power grid, the same flywheel energy storage systems are used to power homes and businesses. Other industries have benefited too. Take the way a Formula 1-inspired aerofoil attached to chiller cabinets has cut refrigeration costs by about 15% in some supermarkets. If the new 10-year plan is not just a marketing stunt, the technology developed within this period could find its way to having a really positive contribution to the rest of the world's fight against climate change. Professor Mark Jenkins (@f1professor), an F1 expert at Cranfield University, says Formula 1's 2030 goal is highly ambitious and should be lauded. "But whether it is achievable is another question."