When Julia Pallé first decided to pursue sustainability in motorsport, electric racing was very much a pie-in-the-sky dream. Pallé, though, was determined. She knew that, in just a few short years, eco-friendliness was going to be the name of the racing game. And when she joined Formula E as the series’ Sustainability Director, her persistence had paid off.
I had a chance to speak with Pallé during the Mexico City ePrix weekend, where I got to know more about her personal goals and those she shares with the series.
Welcome to Women in Motorsport Monday, where we share the stories of the badass women who have conquered the racing scene throughout the years — and to the people who are making it happen today.
Elizabeth Blackstock: So how did your interest in motorsport sustainability kind of start? Did it start with Formula E?
Julia Pallé: No, I mean, I’ve done my entire career in Motorsport and sustainability, so almost done 15 years. I studied sustainability. I was lucky enough to start my studies at the time where they were actually teaching corporate social responsibility. And I wanted to work in an industry that was actually quite impactful, but I had the potential to actually bring a lot of positive changes. And I saw an opportunity to work at the time in Michelin Motorsport department, I started working for them for three years. I was basically doing the sustainability strategic from the group perspective, but applied to the Motorsport specifics. And then at the time I was looking at some of these kind crazy innovative projects. One was called Formula E, which was the first single seater electric car, that was bought by Formula E and Alejandra [inaudible 00:01:06] to become the car and to create the championship. And Michelin applied to be the tire suppliers, and I was part of the meeting when they came and said that we had won the tender and they recruited me basically.
EB: What considerations go into achieving sustainability during a race and with a race series?
JP: Well, the race series for Formula E is really integrally embedded into the purpose of the championship, which is to advance the electrification for sure, but for the wider message is about sustainable human progress. So how we showcase lifestyles that are sustainable, but also exciting because there’s quite a lot of doom and gloom speeches around climate change and the way we need to adapt and live different lifestyles. So the championship is showing that through technologies, we can, yes, change radically the way we live, but without giving up and compromising on the fun and the excitement.
So everything that we do is to make sure that these overarching aspiration of the championship is matching in terms of the product, because we need to be as sustainable as it can get. And that’s why it’s super important for us to be the only model sport having achieved the sustainable events certification international standard that is called ISO 20121. And we have these certifications since more than four years now, which really recognizes that everything that we do, everything we approach to deliver or races, it grows beyond even the way we engage our teams and our partners is stood through the lenses of sustainability.
EB: How do you optimize each factor from the start to reduce emissions from the very get go?
JP: So, to reduce, we measure. We measure first to understand where the impact lies. So for example, the number one impact for the championship is the freight.
Freight is, depending on the season, 70 percent, 75 percent of the impact. So we’ve been working very hard with DHL or logistics partner to develop a sustainable freight roadmap that takes us throughout several seasons to reduce our freight, to reduce the weight that we transport, to come up with different kits that travel around the world in sea freight, to use biofuels and so on and so forth. So this is how we reduce because we understand where the impact lies. We reduce as much as we can. And we are very lucky to have our partners on this journey that are themselves innovators and leaders in their own field. DHL, Heineken, [inaudible 00:03:42] and then for what we can’t reduce, we offset, hence why we became the first part in the world to achieve net zero common since inception, because we offset all the way back since we started the very first season, because we had measured. So we had all this data backlog.
EB: Freight, we kind of expect as being the big key, but what’s one of the more unexpected areas where you’re reducing emissions?
JP: I think probably people don’t understand how much food has an impact. Food is probably the first contributor to the footprint. And we take into account all the food that is served in the village to the food and beverage areas. Also, the hospitalities. And the food for teams and crew, the people that come right, let’s say are behind the scene and food is super important. We’ve been working also a lot on food, putting forward vegetarian option, at least a third of the food offered is vegetarian or vegan. There are some small tips. We always put the vegetarian option at the top of the menus.
Because people tend to remember more easily. We’ve tried and showcase also the CO2 impact of each option. So that people realize that when it’s meat, it’s more impactful in terms of CO2, rather than fish, rather than vegetarian and so on and so forth, pushing a lot for seasonal and local products to reduce the amount of travels. And again, to try and educate people on the fact that you should not really eat tomatoes in the middle of winter or strawberries in the middle of winter.
EB: Do you work with the communications in the press side of Formula E to kind of push the message out that sustainability is important? Because Motorsport is not traditionally sustainable. It’s all about excess. So how much do you get to impact that?
JP: Yeah. Well, I must say I’m very lucky to work really closely with communications team. We have a constant line of communication internally, but most importantly, externally. This year you will have seen, we have infographics before the race, on the sustainability aspects of the championship. We have a sustainability video wrap up of all the good things that have happened on site. We also work a lot with our ecosystem. So before the race, we circulate what we call the race sustainability profile that recaps all the sustainability key info regarding the city in which we race, what we’ve done in the past, in that city, in terms of sustainability programs and what we will expect in that location.
We use that to brief the broadcasters so that they can use in their content. When they comment, we use that for the teams when they give their interviews. We use that for the partners, for their media round tables and so on and so forth. And we’ve realized that first of all, our fans are really keen on the sustainability content. It’s something that matters a lot, we’ve realized that more than 40% of funds come to the championship for the sustainability end goal. So it’s really powerful and important for us to keep communicating and leveraging the sustainability authenticity because it’s really, it’s not a strategic, it’s a culture that we have in the business.
EB: You work with Extreme E as well, right?
EB: How does your work with Extreme E differ from what you’re doing with Formula E?
JP: Well, my work is different, first of all, because I’m an advisor for Extreme E, so I’m looking much more zoomed out.
And Extreme E obviously in terms of the concept is similar in the way it wants to promote electrification, but very different in terms of the location and how, I mean, they put forward their messaging around the impact of the climate change. So the Formula E is my baby, my day-to-day, I’ve been involved in the championship for eight years. So I’m really a veteran. Extreme E is the sister organization. And I have obviously kind a very strong involvement, but it’s not my day-to-day.
EB: How has your work with Motorsport kind of changed your opinions of sustainability as a whole?
JP: Well, it’s probably the other way around. Yeah, because I come from a region in France where sustainability and nature is quite central. It’s a natural reserve. It’s really UN protected site and so on. So it was quite deep in my own personal family, family culture. And when I started studying and working in the business environment, I saw Motorsport as a fantastic opportunity to destroy some barriers in terms of people thinking it cannot be sustainable, thinking it cannot change. And I must, first few years people were looking at me with huge eyes thinking what is sustainability and motorsport. And now the whole championship is promoting very strongly and quite at the center of everything that we do sustainability. So I’ve seen a huge change, but a fantastic evolution. So I’m very [inaudible] of the Motorsport people that I’ve been able to take onboard to work on something that didn’t seem natural at all in the beginning.
EB: There was a lot about when Formula E first started where people were skeptical, but it’s been amazing to see the way that it’s evolved and grown and influenced a lot of other sports as well.
JP: That’s really the point. Sometimes when we go out with some of the announcements like net zero for sport or science-based target for sport, it’s not so much about being proud of being the first one. It’s showcasing that it’s doable. We’ve done net zero 10 years before the whole world is due to do it. So for a young sport, we can do it, then the others. There is no reason why they can’t do it. It’s not a question of money. It’s not a question of if it’s possible, it’s a question of willing to do it.
I mean, we talk with our actions, not with karma or objectives, and that’s a huge focus for me.
EB: And how would you advise race fans to make more sustainable choices? Both at the track and then at home?
JP: Well, at the track we try and basically equip them with all the simplest tips to live sustainable lifestyle. So we don’t have plastic bottles on our sites. All the cutlery in the food and beverage area is recyclable and coming from wood. And so on, depending on the location, there’s all the vegetarian options, all the electricity that we use to power the event is coming from renewable sources and we try and make sure that this is quite front and center, hammered in their minds so that at home, they can go back and they think, well, actually I can buy a reusable bottle. It’s not that I always have to buy a plastic bottle that I’m going to drink and throw way.
And then in their daily lives, there’s basically three things that have a huge impact. The way they use transportation. That’s number one. The energy that they use. If it’s coming from renewable sources, it’s going to decrease massively their carbon footprint and food, trying to have a less meat intense diet is going to be better for their health. And it’s also better for the planet. Trying to eat seasonal and local products is also going to be better.