Net Zero Formula One

Formula One

Formula One is a watchword for innovation and excellence in sport, engineering and technology but it generates 256,000 tons of CO2 emissions each season, writes Nick Gibson. Now the sport is committed to being net carbon zero by 2030. Alice Ashpitel, sustainability and environment manager at Mercedes Benz Motorsport, highlights the steps being taken to achieve the new climate targets.

The 2022 Formula One season saw the sport fully aligned to common sustainability standards and required all teams to publish reports into their environmental impact. The FIA Environmental Accreditation Programme is based on existing best practices in environmental sustainability, primarily ISO 14001, and aims to help motorsport measure and enhance its environmental performance by means of an independent certification process.

Mercedes recently published its second annual Sustainability Report having been the first F1 team to publish this kind of report in 2021. “Our aim is to embed environmental sustainability in every decision we make and action we take,” says Ashpitel. “We have set challenging targets to reduce our CO2 footprint across all scopes and achieve verified net zero by 2030. We will be assessing our carbon footprint to industry benchmark standards in line with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Guidance and SBTi framework, including full Scope 3 emissions reporting.

“We will target a 100 per cent reduction in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions and 50 per cent in Scope 3 by 2026, and 75 per cent reduction in Scope 3 emissions and 25 per cent carbon removal by 2030. We are taking bold action to address our largest sources of emissions, becoming the first global sports team to invest in sustainable aviation fuel to reduce our Scope 3 aviation carbon footprint, which will almost halve the air travel footprint of our race team personnel. Our commitment to sustainable fuel is a multi-million euro investment over many years to help us go racing more sustainably. Air transport is one of the biggest challenges a team faces in moving people around the world.”

In 2020 Mercedes motorsport achieved the FIA Three Star Award which recognises high performance and sustainability in the environment. “It’s the highest level that teams can currently achieve in motorsport,” Ashpitel says. “We’re proud to announce that since 2018 we have reduced our carbon emissions by greater than 50 per cent, which is a fantastic achievement for the team.”

Sustainability drives decision-making

All F1 teams have now embraced carbon reduction strategies and are driven by new net zero legislation. “We aim to embed sustainability into all the decisions we make and the actions we take. Embracing climate regulations is one of the core foundations of our net zero strategy and we were the first to commit to setting a science based target back in 2021. Regulation is fundamental to ensure our targets are aligned to the latest climate science and industry best practice. We work closely with Formula One and as a team we share data back to the F1 organisation and help them assess how we can improve as a sport as a whole because it’s not about individual teams, we’re on this journey together.”

Formula One is committed to using 100 per cent advanced sustainable fuels in race cars by 2026 and teams are exploring a range of options including bio-fuel and hydrogen. “F1 fuel will be made from non fossil fuel products that will also be used in road car technology,” Ashpitel explains. “It will give us the ability to go racing and compete at the highest level while knowing it will also translate to road use. Despite all the work going with EV’s, in 2030 there will still be a huge number of combustion engines on the road. Biofuels will play a key part in net zero and that’s an exciting opportunity from a technology innovation point of view.

“We have a big impact when we move around the world. Our sustainability strategy demands that we address our biggest emissions first because we need to make dramatic reductions and to do that you can’t tinker around the edges it’s got to be at the heart of what we do. We’re constantly assessing the most efficient way we can move people in such a way as to minimise our impact on the environment and protect employee wellbeing. We’ve done a lot of work to minimise the travel that we need to do, so rather than sending everything to every single race we look at where we can send things to a geography and then keep it in that geography. And then we don’t have to continue to drive these around. It’s a fine art of logistics and we’re learning all the time as we keep adapting.”

Data is the key to net zero ambitions

F1 is powered by technological innovation with teams relying on data in every aspect of operation, two key pillars that now support F1 net zero ambitions.

“We’re in a fast-paced innovative sport and have a lot of people who rely on data every day to ensure technology is used to its greatest advantage,” says Ashpitel. “That’s exciting for me, as a sustainability professional, because our industry is driven by one question: what can we do to be better? And that’s exactly the approach we need in order to meet our net zero targets. I’m passionate about making informed decision based on accurate information. We can’t be qualitative we need to know where and how we can have the biggest impact and data gives us the information we need.

“One of the ways we used data during the 2022 season was to trial the use of HDR 100, a biofuel, for transport at some European Grand Prix. We wanted to collect data to understand the impact of using these fuels on our ability to move people and things around. The data showed an 89 per cent reduction in our carbon emissions, a massive success, and it doesn’t impact the MPG we can achieve. That shows how data is critical in sustainability because it demonstrates how F1 can operate in a way that minimises our environmental impact.”

Mercedes motorsport uses a blend of proprietary products and custom-made solutions to capture and report ESG data. “There’s no off-the-shelf data solution that delivers what we need so it’s a mix of both. A lot of great work has been done by a number of organisations, including Formula One, in the way it’s asking for us to collect data. But there’s also an opportunity for us to innovate and work with our partners to do it better. We’ve got some of the best brains working with us who are constantly striving to achieve more and we’re turning that mentality into sustainability solutions because it’s not just a race, it’s the most important race; how to get to net zero. Yes, it’s about practical solutions but it’s also about innovation and motorsport has the skills and ability to make a real difference.”

Innovation to overcome net zero challenges

There are many hurdles involved in sustainability with financial, practical, technological and sometimes internal cultural issues to overcome but the problem-solving ethos of F1 is ideally-suited to overcoming such challenges, Ashpitel believes. “F1 is full of passionate, dynamic and engaged people and our engineers are problem-solvers driven to excel. There’s a total buy-in at Mercedes motorsport to address and tackle the problems around sustainability.

“The biggest challenges for us are geography and transport. We race on many continents and sustainability presents different challenges in every country, things like availability of sustainable products and materials, reduction of single use plastics and recycling. Then there’s aviation fuel. Less than 0.1 per cent of jet fuel is currently sustainable and there’s a huge demand for more but limited availability. We believe this is the technology we should be supporting because we can’t wait; we have to achieve dramatic emissions reductions right now. We need to support the market for it to grow. Right now many of the technologies we need do not exist or they’re under-developed but it gives us the opportunity to put our heads together and find ways to keep improving.”

Formula One a global flagship for net zero

Formula One is the fastest growing sport on the planet with over five million fans attending Grand Prix in 2022 and 1.5 billion watching on TV during the season. With the final race attracting over 100 million TV viewers F1 is in a powerful position to promote eco-friendly innovation.

“We have a young environmentally engaged audience and that gives us a global platform to demonstrate sustainability,” says Ashpitel. “We’re using new technologies fuels and strategies to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t work and to highlight the successes and challenges with transparency. The global events industry faces a big challenge, whether it’s Formula One or music concerts we all need to learn how to reduce carbon emissions. We have an opportunity to share knowledge and skills and keep improving through a continuous feedback loop.”

Despite the many challenges ahead Ashpitel is confident that, with its passion for excellence and innovation, F1 can lead the charge to sustainability. “It’s been inspiring to come into a team and find how driven everybody is to improve, how driven everyone is to recognise the challenge and see every challenge as an opportunity to tackle the climate crisis. I feel incredibly privileged to be in this role. I wish I could have started the journey even earlier.”

See Alice’s video interview here: https://netzeroprofessional.com/videos/

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