Can racing be an extreme way to raise awareness of climate change?
If you were to name an industry associated with combatting climate change, motorsports probably would not be the first you would think of. In fact, you would be more likely to see it as a contributor to climate change.
This is a perception that Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, is on a mission to change. His unorthodox championship uses motorsport as a platform to raise awareness of three big themes:
1. Climate change — by racing in parts of the world that are experiencing severe impacts to highlight the challenges.
2. E-mobility — by racing electric sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
3. Diversity — by being the first racing championship to have teams with equal number of male and female drivers.
Agag’s passion is evident. This pioneering series is filled with diverse teams backed by some of the biggest names in motorsport – all united to create long-lasting change through impactful legacy programs.
“This pioneering series is filled with incredible teams backed by some of the biggest names in motorsport – all united to create long-lasting change through amazing legacy programs.” says Agag. “Extreme E symbolizes the ‘Race For The Planet,’ a voyage we all need to play our part in to create a better future for both our people and the planet. My vision is that we will use the power of sport to raise awareness of crucial issues, while showcasing the solutions we can all be part of as we promote a less carbon- intensive world.” he adds.
Extreme E, a series of races that are held in locations to highlight sustainability-related issues in diverse locations such as Greenland, the Middle East, Africa, and South America, needed help in maximizing the opportunities to raise awareness of climate change, while minimizing its impact on the planet.
That is where EY teams come in. “The EY teams were energized and excited to support Extreme E. Both teams shared a passion for real impact and a vision of a sustainable world. Extreme E’s entrepreneurial spirit was clear from the start with the sustainability part of the DNA of the organization,” says Luke Kitchen, Director at EY Climate Change and Sustainability Services (EY CCaSS) at Ernst & Young Services Pty Ltd, who led the team. “As Sustainability Partner, we’ve used our broad sustainability knowledge and experience to build a framework to support our shared ambition.”
“The EY organization has had a long history with the electrified premium racing series - Formula E, helping them to set out their strategy and ambition long before even racing a wheel back in 2014. So, when the opportunity to support Extreme E as one of its five founding partners came up, it was a natural extension of an already existing deep and purposeful relationship,” explains Marc Coltelli, EY Global Energy Strategy and Operations Leader. “Their three themes align with the EY organization’s own values and decarbonization journey. So, it was a natural relationship.”
Meanwhile, having an experienced team to hold them to account was the big draw for Extreme E. “EY Global Services Limited became a founding partner of Extreme E and has provided huge knowledge and credibility to the championship in our opening seasons. EY teams helped develop and support our first ever sustainability report, and continue to guide this process for Season 2,” says Agag. “It is not only their insights and data that benefit the series, but the ongoing advice and dedication to further improve the footprint of the series that really provides value.”
Maximizing Extreme E’s platform for change
As a start-up, there were myriad challenges that Extreme E had to manage from the outset. First and foremost was minimizing the carbon emissions of running the series.
Extreme E understood that air freight is usually the greatest source of emissions for racing teams. EY CCaSS teams set about identifying the carbon emissions sources that would have the most significant impact on Extreme E and its stakeholders. Then, they gathered the relevant data about these emissions and used it to develop carbon accounts for Season 1 of the championship.
While Extreme E had incorporated a number of design decisions to minimize the impact of the series at a global level, to be a fixture in the future of motorsport calendars it also needed to be a good corporate citizen to the local communities where it races. This required a focus on minimizing its local social and environmental impacts at events.
To support this, social and environmental professionals from CCaSS developed a social and environmental impact assessment (SEIA) framework by tailoring the World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework to suit Extreme E’s relatively small, transient events. This was supported by a series of templates that would help to provide a high-quality output, irrespective of who undertakes the assessment. They also built flexibility into the framework, so that it can be used in any location. “A desert in Saudi Arabia has a very different risk profile to Greenland in the Arctic,” says Kitchen.
Capitalizing on opportunities
While effectively managing ESG risks was important, Extreme E also wanted to focus on the opportunities. Extreme E had developed a powerful platform for communicating global sustainability challenges to a new audience, but it wanted to maximize the impact it could have and position itself as an agent for change.
Using the custom-made EY Sustainability Materiality Assessment Program, EY teams held detailed discussions with a range of Extreme E’s internal and external stakeholders. They found that for many, this was the first time they had been invited to discuss Extreme E’s sustainability credentials and how they underpinned the entire series.
EY multidisciplinary teams then helped develop Extreme E’s sustainability strategy, centered around three pillars: Extreme Action, Extreme Impact, and Responsibly Extreme. This assessment formed the foundation for Extreme E’s inaugural sustainability strategy, a collaboration with EY teams. Effectively communicating its sustainability vision, achievements and challenges is important to Extreme E’s brand. It is also a valuable tool for increasing sponsorship funding, attracting high-profile personalities and teams, and educating and mobilizing partners to help enable an oversized impact.
EY teams helped create the Season One sustainability report, which acted as the keystone of Extreme E’s sustainability communications efforts. Kitchen is proud of this final output, which he describes as “a great example of a bespoke, client-specific, report.”
A continual process of becoming more sustainable
The work that a diverse range of EY teams have undertaken is already helping Extreme E deliver on its purpose to use the power of sport to champion science-backed impact and to inspire fans and communities to raise their climate ambition.
The bespoke SEIA framework helped mitigate and manage the impact of Season 1 races before they happened and have led to innovations for Extreme E’s events that further reduce impacts and are now part of the standard design of events.
These mitigating actions include protecting heritage features carved into rocky outcrops or camel herders taking their camels to a local watering hole in Saudi Arabia. They also address a number of waste mitigation initiatives such as the introduction of bring-your-own crockery and cutlery to reduce waste generation in Greenland (that has since been adopted across subsequent events).
Meanwhile, by supporting Extreme E to calculate its emissions, the carbon inventory has helped the organization offset them – and achieve its goal of being carbon neutral at the end of Season 1.
So, what is next?
“We’re currently developing a site selection framework that builds on the SEIA,” says Kitchen. “We will develop an outcomes measurement framework for Extreme E’s legacy programs,“ Kitchen continues. “The legacy programs are integral to Extreme E’s success by providing long-term social or environmental support to each race location. This will allow Extreme E to calculate the nonfinancial impacts of its activities beyond the race itself. These impacts can range from improving biodiversity to developing educational facilities that will exist many years beyond the race schedule.”
EY teams are committed to continuing to act as strategic advisors. “EY CCaSS teams, alongside other EY teams, supported Extreme E turn their best intentions into an efficient and coordinated set of actions,” says Kitchen. “Our job now is to help them continually improve their sustainability performance in future seasons.”
Agag adds, “The EY teams’ breadth of industry leading knowledge and insights of the e-mobility, sustainability and innovation sectors has really impressed and is second to none. Their advanced and in-depth approach has provided data and insights that have been invaluable to the series.”
He concludes, “These findings have ultimately been used to shape environmental discussions and decisions, as well as improve the footprint of the series. Our partnership is built on shared passions which has continued to grow and gain momentum over the past two seasons, and we're truly excited about the future we have together.”
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