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Sustainability in Formula E

January 23, 2020

This blog has been co-authored with Iona Neilson, Regvita Dzemido and Romy Aspinall from Formula E and Amie Kim and Lucy Bruce Jones from Norton Rose Fulbright.

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship is arguably one of the most competitive categories in motorsport, with unpredictable and exciting electric racing taking place in the centre of some of the world’s most iconic cities.

Formula E is the fastest-growing series in motorsport, where renowned road car manufacturers and automotive brands battle for points, position and bragging rights.

Sustainability is deeply rooted in Formula E’s DNA, as it aims to transfer technologies from racetrack to road and inspire innovations to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. Formula E’s approach to sustainability appears to be influencing other motorsport organisations, as evidenced by Formula 1’s recent announcement that it intends to become completely carbon neutral by 2030.

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship is hoping to speed-up the switch to electric in a bid to counteract the climate crisis as well as addressing the devastating effects of air pollution. Working in close collaboration with host cities to leave a lasting legacy, Formula E is racing for a cleaner future, faster, and with sustainability at its core.

Sustainability initiatives

Sustainability, as a concept, has been gaining increasing attention, and, as a result, events are under enhanced scrutiny and pressure to minimise their environmental impact. The importance of complying with environmental regulations is becoming more apparent as regulations are becoming tighter and penalties higher. As an example, in 2016, Glastonbury Festival Ltd was fined £31,000 for breaching regulations 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. The incident involved 20,000 gallons of human sewage contaminating Whitelake River affecting the fish population, including protected fish species. Depending on the turnover of a company, the category of harm, and whether there was intention to harm, fines can range from between £7,000 to £3 million (for companies with a turnover (or equivalent) of £50 million and over).

Formula E’s sustainability programme is based upon three pillars:

  • delivering a sustainable event;
  • generating positive impacts and creating a lasting legacy in host cities; and
  • using Formula E’s global platform to create awareness on air pollution and help push electric vehicle adoption globally.

Central to Formula E’s sustainability programme was its commitment to the ISO 20121 certification process.

ISO 20121

Formula E became the first ever motorsport championship to receive the ISO 20121 Certification and the FIA’s Achievement of Excellence Accreditation (which was recently renewed with a Three-Star Accreditation). Formula E achieved the ISO 20121 Certification in July 2018 and successfully passed the surveillance audits in July 2019.

ISO 20121 is the international standard of sustainability specifically relating to the delivery of sustainable events, created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 20121 Standard provides a framework on how to effectively manage an organisation's sustainable development issues taking into account social inclusivity, economic prosperity and environmental protection. It covers all types of events and of varying scales, from summer fêtes to large music festivals and major sporting events like the Olympics. The ISO 20121 Standard provides an event sustainability management system which ensures that each of the 14 races in the 12 host cities is capable of meeting the ISO 20121 Standard’s requirements.

The ISO 20121 third party certification provides international recognition and credibility, supports Formula E in the process of constantly improving the organisation’s way of working on sustainability and ensures a long-lasting competitive advantage. The high level of legitimacy associated with the certification ensures Formula E has the ability to:

  • Act first before its competitors;
  • Build trustworthy relationships with its stakeholders;
  • Be perceived as different;
  • Generate more revenues by attracting new sponsors; and
  • Enhance employee retention/talent acquisition.

Legal compliance

Complying with the ISO 20121 standards requires rigorous planning and, as part of this, Formula E established a network of local law firms able to assist in developing the regulatory framework in the relevant host country and to cover the following areas:

  • employment: staff and volunteers (labour laws; anti-discrimination; equal access);
  • health and safety (including food safety);
  • licensing (event permits, music, alcohol licences);
  • environment protection;
  • waste management;
  • public transport and mobility (traffic);
  • energy and water (air emission control, water pollution control); and
  • anti-corruption, anti-bribery and anti-money laundering laws.

Compliance with local regulations is only the first step for Formula E. Formula E is hoping to use its profile and focus on sustainability to continue to impact others in the industry and further afield to drive change and set standards.

Using a third party to conduct independent audits offers a different approach to review, assess and analyse the effectiveness of an organisation’s event sustainability management system and a well conducted ISO 20121 audit can make a substantial difference in terms of risk management and prevention for what concerns an event’s economic, social and environmental impacts.

The external auditor plays an essential role in this process by ensuring knowledge and validation of the existing practices and by providing recommendations for growth and/or change when necessary. This external point of view guarantees objectivity, a neutral assessment and review of the organisation’s processes and procedures, as well as an unbiased analysis of the different ways used for allocating resources, for monitoring and reporting on sustainability issues.

Last but not least, a third party audit provides an accurate review and a more detailed reporting approach of what is occurring within the different departments with regards to the organisation’s sustainability management practices.

Lessons learnt

The biggest challenge that Formula E faced, to start with, in achieving (and maintaining) their ISO 20121 accreditation was with regard to ensuring legal compliance, particularly given that Formula E hosts races in different host cities in different jurisdictions and which can change year on year, depending on the race calendar. It was therefore essential that Formula E developed a process capable of being adapted, as necessary, to ensure legal compliance in each host city, as breaches could lead to fines and prosecution.

This furthermore led to the need to develop a process for Formula E to keep abreast of any legislative changes in each host country and to have adequate time to address issues and ensure further compliance, which inevitably involved third party legal counsel from the relevant jurisdictions, together with the use by Formula E of its own human and financial resources. As the number of races which will be audited on or off site for ISO 20121 will increase, this process will continue to be developed and improved.

Future developments

Building on the foundations paved by Formula E, Extreme E will be operated separately from Formula E and is set to launch in 2021. Extreme E is a radical new concept of racing, bringing electric racing to some of the most remote corners of the planet to highlight the climate change challenges faced by different ecosystems, whilst showcasing the performance of all-electric SUVs in extreme conditions.