Accelerating opportunities: the Sustainable Motorsport Index
Efforts to enhance sustainability in motorsport are often met with a degree of scepticism – and Formula One, the sporting genre’s most high-profile championship, is an obvious target.
From drivers to race organisers, there appears to have been a concerted drive to make motorsport more environmentally friendly.
Just this week, F1 revealed that the use of DHL biofuel-powered trucks had slashed carbon emissions by an average of 83%.
Additionally, legendary driver Sebastian Vettel brought together all of the championship’s teams ahead of this Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Japan, to build ‘bee hotels’ at the circuit as part of his biodiversity project.
However, in spite of the fuel changes and bee hotels, many remain unconvinced.
Jeff Dodds, CEO of the Formula E electric car-racing series, said recently told City A.M. in relation to Formula 1’s push to be carbon neutral by 2030: “Let’s be clear, that [F1] is not a sustainable sport.”
“I’ll give them credit for getting better but let’s not try and convince anybody that that’s a big sustainable sport, because it’s not. So anything they do that is material and meaningful that makes them more sustainable, they should get credit for. [But] when I say a low base, [it’s] a very low base.”
Sustainable Motorsport IndexTM
The need to accelerate change in motorsport – which has traditionally championed vehicles that burn through fossil fuels – is arguably greater than in any other sport.
With that in mind, the innovative Sustainable Motorsport IndexTM (SMI), the brainchild of UK-based Enovation Consulting, is beginning to make a vital difference.
The index, which has been established on the premise that ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’, is the only global performance system that reports on publicly disclosed sustainability practices in the sector. Each index is based on more than 20 sustainability performance criteria across dimensions including certifications, accreditations, awards, environmental performance, social performance, economic impact, and sustainability approach and engagement.
With Enovation Consulting’s academic partners, 97 global circuits are assessed each year, as well as 105 global championships, and performance is weighted against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the ESG framework.
“Our work in this area is delivering real impact,” Enovation Consulting Founder and CEO Dr Cristiana Pace tells Global Sustainable Sport. “The number of circuits yet to meaningfully engage with sustainability has fallen more than 18% between 2021 and 2023, and the number disclosing relevant accreditations more than doubled from nine to 21 in the same period.
“A similar upwards trajectory can be seen across championships, with the number tracking and measuring emissions using a carbon calculator or disclosing environmental impact through the Carbon Disclosure Project doubling from five to 10 in 2022. We are now launching a membership service to allow stakeholders with smaller budgets access to ESG reporting and recommendations on how to start their journey towards sustainability.”
Enovation’s team conducts rigorous research aligned to the consultancy’s proprietary methodology to map out the sustainability achievements related to each category. Data are then independently verified by academic partners to ensure robust and objective results.
“The aims of the SMI are twofold. First, we want to shine a light on what best practice looks like across the industry, providing a template for those stakeholders who are at an earlier stage of their journey towards sustainability. Second, we hope to encourage the enhanced disclosure of sustainability-related strategies, initiatives, and accreditations as a way of demonstrating the centrality of ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) to the industry’s success.”
Dr Pace has worked in a number of motorsport and sustainability-focused roles over the years, including in the Environmental and Sustainable Commission at the FIA, motorsport’s global governing body, and as a Research Consultant at the FIA Institute for Motorsport Safety and Sustainability. Earlier in her career, she was the first woman to work trackside alongside the FIA technical department in F1 as data analyst.
She is currently a Board Member and Independent Non-Executive Director at the British Association for Sustainable Sport and a Member of the Sustainable Committee at Motorsport UK, as well as a Senior Technical Sustainability Consultant for motorsport companies at Jamie Dye Limited.
Dr Pace established Enovation in 2018 in Silverstone – one of motorsport’s most famous destinations – with a focus on driving positive and meaningful change through motorsport and sport.
Enovation is an FIA environmentally accredited and B Corp certified agency. SMI is one of two not-for-profit initiatives run by the sustainability and strategic management agency, alongside the Sustainability in Sport Future Leaders Programme, which aims to nurture talent who will help to steer the industry for years to come.
Partners include global sports rights-holders and stakeholders including International Federations, clubs, venues, industry partners and a variety of other enterprises. Enovation is also an official member of the United Nations’ Football for the Goals initiative.
“We deliver innovative, data-based solutions grounded in robust research, empowering organisations to integrate ESG into operations whilst managing risks and enhancing resilience. This includes the creation and execution of sustainability strategies, carbon foot-printing, carbon reduction road-mapping, sustainable sporting events, environmental accreditations, purpose-driven social and environmental campaigns, impact assessments, training courses, strategic ESG communications, partnership activations, and advising on sustainability best practices within built environment asset design.”
In March, Enovation published the second annual Sustainable Championships IndexTM, with Formula E taking top spot ahead of Formula One, with MotoGP and Extreme E tied in third place among a total of 105 global two and four-wheeled championships reviewed.
In July, the third annual edition of the Sustainable Circuits Index™ saw Mugello Circuit in Italy return to the top of the rankings, having ceded first place to Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya in Spain last year. Over the previous 12 months, Mugello Circuit’s initiatives have included the protection of about 120 hectares of green space that absorb approximately 3,600 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, as well as the installation of more than 4,000m2 of eco-active and antibacterial ceramic slabs to break down air pollutants.
Other big motorsport venues were prominent towards the top of the index. Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in Italy entered the top three for the first time, while Silverstone was named the most improved circuit, sharing fourth place with Paul Ricard in France. However, the gap between circuits in the top and bottom tiers continues to widen, providing a stark illustration of the challenges that lie ahead.
However, given the enormous reach of motorsport, Dr Pace also sees significant opportunities for motorsport’s stakeholders, including the championships and circuits. Formula One alone attracted a global audience of 1.55 billion last year, while in key consumer markets like the United States, the likes of the NASCAR stock-car racing series remain popular.
“Not only is it urgent that all corporate stakeholders take their carbon impact seriously as a way to mitigate the global climate crisis, and robust, data-driven sustainability strategies are a necessary and central part of that, but the global sports industry has an enormous influence over its fans, and within motorsports the same is true of circuits and championships. There is a fantastic opportunity to encourage fans towards positive behaviour change and sustainable practices, whether that’s by encouraging sustainable forms of transport to or from races, recycling initiatives on site, the provision of more sustainable food and drink options, or through many other channels besides.”
Dr Pace also believes that the broader desire for change across the motorsport space is genuine. This is partly demonstrated by the emergence of electric-racing series like Formula E and Extreme E, which launched in 2014 and 2018, respectively and continue to push boundaries.
An Extreme E-backed hydrogen off-road racing world championship is also in the pipeline, with hopes that it will launch in 2025 before becoming an FIA World Championship in 2026.
However, there are also positive signs from within motorsport’s long-established championships, teams and circuits.
Increasing usage of sustainable fuels is just one of the strategies being adopted by Formula One as part of its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030 while earlier this year, NASCAR committed to its own target of producing net zero operating emissions by 2035.
As reported this week by Global Sustainable Sport, the world’s most popular two-wheeled championship, MotoGP, is also stepping up its own ‘Making a Difference’ initiative in the digital space.
“There is huge ambition across the motorsports sector to be an accelerant for positive change in the race for decarbonisation, and impressive progress has already been made,” Dr Pace says. “Many of the innovations we have come to rely on in the transition to a low carbon economy find their roots in the high-performance racing sector, so the contributions that can be made here shouldn’t be underestimated. There is always more to be done, but with a spirit of collaboration and learning from one another, we can meet the challenges ahead.”