Guest Contributor, Georgina O’Hara Smith takes on the hot potato of a topic that is Formula 1 and the environment.  Rather than just ranting for and against or what have you, she’s gone and done her research, dug up some interesting facts and stats and produced this excellent piece for Badger GP about how F1 is rather more ‘green’ than you’d maybe realised…

F1’s Green – Really?

When it comes to the issue of Green, F1 is an easy target. It is a high cost, gas guzzling and often wasteful sport – just think of the development race each season where countless parts are built and scraped or replaced just to find one tenth of a second. F1, one might say, is not a green sport. I, however, say many things are not Green. The internet, for example, is estimated by scientists to account for 3 – 5 % of global energy consumption. That equates to an estimated 300 million tonnes of CO2 each year, enough to fly everyone in the UK to America and back… twice! And by next year that total will be even higher. Admittedly much is being done to try to improve the carbon footprint of the internet but no-one is suggesting we stop using it or restrict it to the point where it’s primary function has altered beyond recognition. The simple truth of the issue is that the internet, so long as it keeps working to minimize it’s ecological impact, is sustainable. The model for sustainability, as decided by the United Nations at the 2005 Kyoto summit, requires that for anything to be classed as sustainable it must work on three levels – environmental impact, economic viability and social enhancement – without negatively impacting on future generations. The internet works because it’s negative environmental impact is balanced by it’s positive social and economic aspects. This leads me to the question of sustainability and F1 – Is the sport I love so much unsustainable or is it just that people are failing to see the bigger picture?

But there are 20+ cars on track!

The whole issue of Formula One’s environmental impact has, so far, appeared to centre around one thing – the cars on the track. Since 2009 the FIA has introduced a raft of carbon cutting measures including kinetic energy recovery systems and restrictions on tyres, engines and in season testing with more proposed changes on the way. Currently (and I say currently as there may be even more changes or different changes to come – or the world might end in 2012 before the changes are implemented) the proposed changes include a reduction in engine size from a 2.4L V8 to a 1.6L turbocharged V6, a reduction in maximum rpm from 18,000 to 15,000 and a fuel flow control system along with improved KERS and exhaust energy recovery linked to the turbocharger. All these changes are important, but they will change the sound, and the feel, of F1. All these changes are linked to the FIA’s commitment to reduce the carbon emissions of F1 by 12.4% from 215,588 tonnes of CO2 in 2009 to 188,784 tonnes in 2012. Whilst this is a commendable intention it should be noted that the emissions from the cars actually going round the track on race weekends or test days only accounts for 0.3% of the total carbon emissions each year so the dramatic changes proposed will have little impact on the overall carbon footprint of the sport.

Global Sport = Global Travel and Logistics…

Another aspect of F1’s environmental impact often commented on is the travel associated with the sport. As a global sport there is no way F1 could not travel, and the requirements of the current calendar – ie. Who and what needs to be where and how quickly – do make it difficult for F1 to avoid racking up the vast numbers of air miles. It was suggested, by a fan to BBC five live during FFP, that maybe the calendar could be altered to ensure the travel between each race venue was minimized. Having spent a few hours playing with weather charts and daylight hours charts I have found two flaws in the idea of changing the calendar. Firstly as parts are constantly being shipped, mainly from Europe, to the teams where ever they are in the world the reduction in actual air miles would be minimal. And secondly, if the calendar were to run from Australia to Brazil, as is traditional and logical, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain would run in June and be a balmy 32 degrees so a tad warm, and Montreal would run in November when it would be almost guaranteed to be sub zero. These two flaws aside, travel is not the big problem as the combined emissions of business and freight travel only accounts for 14% of F1’s total emissions.

The video below shows the quite ridiculous amount of flying around the globe (bearing in mind this doesn’t include the back-and-forth to the factories!)

[vimeo width=”580″ height=”350″][/vimeo]

If it’s not cars and the traveling…

So then, if the cars on the track and the travel of the F1 circus accounts for less than 15% of the carbon emissions what does create the rather large carbon footprint of the sport and what can be done about it? A massive 50% of the carbon emissions is attributed to the parts and raw materials required to actually build the cars and another 30% attributed to the electricity used in the design, manufacture and testing of the cars. According to the Trucost Report (2010) improvements in these problem areas – such as wind tunnel usage restrictions and enforced factory ‘down time’ – will make up the majority of the 12.4% decrease in carbon emissions.

A 12.4% decrease in carbon emissions is a good start although many people would say it is not enough. It probably isn’t. However, F1 is still much greener than many people think and has been ‘carbon neutral’ since 1997, offsetting not only the cars on the track but also the aforementioned air miles, electricity and manufacturing costs. And more than that, the Scolel Te project in Mexico run by Plan Vivo and the FIA foundation has been deemed so successful that it is being used as a global model for reducing emissions and improving living conditions through sustainable land use. The financial backing of the FIA foundation and the global reach of the sport has also helped the work of Plan Vivo be globally recognized and disseminated helping raise awareness about green issues. Individual teams are also greener than most people assume. McLaren for example, were awarded the Carbon Trust standard in 2010 for their work towards minimizing emissions and were not only the first F1 team to achieve the award but also one of the first 500 companies showing that F1 is at the forefront of green initiatives.

Sustainable? – Tick, but is it beneficial?

So, F1 is not so eco-unfriendly after all. And after all this talk of environmental impact what about the other aspects of sustainability? Is F1 economically viable? Is it socially beneficial? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes!!! The earlier noted proposed engine changes are not purely for the benefit of the environment. As the FIA admits, these changes will have ‘real world benefits, contributing valuable knowledge that will be of use to future road car developments’ showing potential economic benefits for both the car industry and the individual car owner. It is the same with the Scolel Te project. It is not just about offsetting carbon emissions but about being sustainable, it has a social and economic purpose as well. And it’s not just impoverished Mexican land workers or even car owners who benefit socially and economically from F1. Last year an exhibition of non-car F1 technology went on display at the Science Museum in London showing wide ranging, everyday, real world benefitting items such as grip boots to reduce work place slip accidents, an energy efficient filter now used in most hot water boiler systems and a carbon fiber ‘baby monocoque’ for minimizing risk when transporting neo-natal emergencies. We can even look behind the technology and find real world benefits. Surgeons at Gt Ormond St Childrens Hospital in London, for example, have worked extensively with Ferrari and Mclaren pit crews in order to increase the efficiency and reduce errors involved in the hand over of a patient between the operating theatre and Intensive Care wards. A hospital spokeswoman stated that technical and communication errors had been reduce by 40% thanks to the work of the pit crews. Similarly the work ethics of many F1 teams which include positive reinforcement models and interdepartmental collaborative workspaces have been adopted by businesses large and small resulting in increased productivity and staff morale.

Admittedly there are negative economic and social aspects to F1. For example, despite the slightly dodgy social and political situation in China there is still a race held there each year, and despite the appalling scenes in Bahrain earlier this year the original FIA report suggested that this years race should still be held. And although F1 brings huge income and much needed urban regeneration to places there is a human cost. As I write this there is much discontent in Mumbai as farmers feel they have been forced into selling their farms to make room for the Mumbai circuit and the labourers who once worked those farms have been left without means to support themselves. The financial cost of F1 is also a definite negative aspect and although no firm details of the cost of running an F1 team are available published estimates reach £280 million pounds a year for the top teams which is a daft amount of money in these recession hit times.

Final Thoughts

So, all this being said is Formula One sustainable even though it is an expensive, gas guzzling and often wasteful sport? I like to think the answer is yes. F1 is not just at the forefront of green technology but is actively promoting and supporting green issues on a global scale. Similarly F1 is not just at the forefront of business but is creating business models which can be and are applied throughout many forms of industry from multinational software developers to small architectural practices increasing productivity through teamwork and integration. And hand-in-hand with these positive economic and environmental aspects comes social improvements to the way we work and the way we live. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Formula One is a perfect example of sustainability, just that it’s an easy target and it deserves a lot more credit and respect than it gets.

Over to YOU!

So, after reading this, what do you make of F1 and it being green – what do you forsee happening in the future?  Comments below please folks!