The GSB Interview: Julia Pallé, Formula E Senior Sustainability Consultant and SandSI President

Julia Pallé is a very busy woman.

She is shepherding the growth and direction of the sustainability efforts of Formula E, the fully-electric racing series which is about to start its fifth season. And, as if that is not enough, Ms. Pallé is also President of the fledgling Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI).

GreenSportsBlog spoke to Ms. Pallé about what we can expect from Formula E and SandSI.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Bonjour, Julia. It’s great to chat with you. Senior Sustainability Consultant of Formula E and President of SandSISacre bleu! You sure have a lot going on. Since Formula E preceded SandSI for you, let’s start there. Were you always into cars and motorsports?

Julia Pallé: Well, I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand in France, the town where Michelin is headquartered. I was not so much into motorsports growing up but I loved many other sports. I tried them all: Running, kite surfing, wakeboarding, skiing, dancing…oh, and rugby also. I loved the outdoors and knew I always wanted to be close to nature. From the beginning, my desire was to work in sustainability and make a difference so I studied sustainability management and change management and earned a business degree at the Université of Grenoble.

 

Julia_Palle_2016_HIGH RES

Julia Pallé, Senior Sustainability Consultant for Formula E and President of SandSI (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: I wish they had those disciplines when I was in school back in the Dark Ages! So how did you put it into practice?

JP: I went to work for Michelin in 2012…

GSB: In your hometown?

JP: Exactly! I worked in the motor sport division…

GSB: Ahhh…that’s where you got your start…

JP: Yes…Implementing sustainability programs.

GSB: How did that go?

JP: It went well. The group had a sustainability plan but the motor sports division wasn’t specific enough. With the support of management, I helped tighten things up. We did a Life Cycle Assessment on our rally racing tires…from materials sourcing to construction to the event to end of life. Thanks to that analysis, management made some significant changes: In terms of materials, we switched to natural rubber, which greatly reduced our environmental impact. And this kind of transition can have tremendous impact on passenger cars.

GSB: Very impressive, Julia. So how did you end up moving to Formula E?

JP: When Formula E began a few years ago, they started to come up with sustainability standards for their tires. Michelin felt it needed to be the standard and so we developed a hybrid tire specifically for Formula E. I wrote part of the the standard so Formula E and I began to know each other and eventually they recruited me to manage their sustainability department.

GSB: That must’ve been quite a change…

JP: Oh yeah. Formula E is based in London so I moved there. And I started traveling around the world for the races. It is a lot of travel but it’s great and important work.

GSB: An all-EV open wheel racing circuit? It is very important work, indeed. Formula E has grown quite a bit in just four seasons…

JP: For sure. For me it has been a great opportunity. I was among the first wave of employees, when we were pretty much a blank slate. Now there are more than 120 employees from 20 different nationalities in our London office. We are now a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA certified international championship…

GSB: A la Formula 1?

JP: Yes. We have races now in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America. Australia is next.

GSB: That just leaves Antarctica…

JP: Well, we actually brought a Formula E car down to Antarctica to shoot a video. Icebergs were breaking at the time so we had to drive on the icecap. It was incredible. The car was able to drive on an icecap. We also shot a video of a Formula E car racing a cheetah in Africa.

GSB: That is so cool! Who won?

JP: The car, but it was very tight!

 

Formula E vs Cheetah

Formula E car and a cheetah racing in Africa (Photo credit: Motor Trader)

 

GSB: So I would imagine that sustainability would have to be a core part of an EV racing championships DNA. Am I right?

JP: Certainly. From the beginning, Formula E worked to manage our events in a sustainable fashion, to ISO standards. We engage deep into our supply chain to make sure we use sustainable products and services. We recently achieved ISO 20121 certification for the entire championship. Every season, we conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to become more efficient in all aspects of our operations.

GSB: As part of that assessment, does Formula E measure its carbon footprint year to year? If so, how are you doing?

JP: So far it’s been difficult to compare our carbon footprint over time in a meaningful way. That’s because we keep adding races and changing the schedule so we haven’t been able to measure in an apples-to-apples comparison way yet. But we are working on better metrics for sure. For now, we can say we know we are doing the right things, sustainability-wise and the results we do have are positive.

GSB: What is Formula E doing to connect with the communities it visits regarding its sustainability initiatives?

JP: Our goal is to leave a positive legacy in all of our cities. Our Fan Zones and Allianz E-Village allow fans to really interact with the EVs and the drivers…

 

Sustainability comms 4

Signage along the race wall promoting EVs and the Allianz E-Village at July’s Formula E race in Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That may be the most powerful green thing you can do: Give fans an up close experience with EVs…

JP: Yes…We have a gaming zone to attract younger fans and a driving zone where fans can get behind the wheel of an EV race car. And we make tickets to the races affordable to appeal to the widest audience possible. Since you are in New York City, you should know that we are working with the New York Earth Day Initiative to promote renewable energy and recycling. And the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) will have a booth. Our drivers are our best ambassadors, spreading the benefits of EVs whenever they can.

 

Booth 1

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) booth at the Formula E event in Red Hook, Brooklyn in July (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: Plus Formula E races are on city streets…

JP: Yes! We are of the mind that our races themselves will change consumer behaviors. As you say, we are racing EVs on city streets mainly in urban centers. Fans see that and say to themselves “that could be me driving an EV!”

 

Formula E Bklyn

Formula E cars racing through Red Hook, Brooklyn (Photo credit: Formula E)

 

GSB: That’s the best advertising you can have for EVs…How many people attended Formula E races during the season?

JP: Over 360,000 fans have come to Formula E races in season four – which shows the appetite and curiosity of electric cars and electric racing is fast-growing!

GSB: Impressive! And what about reaching audiences beyond the races themselves — Where can fans watch Formula E races on TV and/or online?

JP: We are on cable now. FS1 airs us in the US and you can stream us via their website or app. Similar deals are in place in Europe.

GSB: How have the ratings been in the US and Europe?

JP: We don’t have exact figures for season four just yet, but we are expecting a projected cumulative TV audience of over 300 million.

GSB: What’s next for Formula E? Are you all looking at a stock car series like NASCAR? I have to believe that fans watching EVs race that they could actually buy would even be more powerful.

JP: We wholeheartedly agree! And the timing of your question is spot on. In addition to Formula E’s season 5 [click here to watch a preview video], next season we will also launch our Formula-E Support Series in which drivers will race modified Jaguar I-Pace EV SUVs. It is our intention to showcase EVs that fans can buy right now.

GSB: How do you think the Support Series will do vs. the new Electric GT Series, which will race stock car Teslas? It is scheduled to launch this November in Spain.

JP: It will definitely be interesting to watch its progress but the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY is quite different as it showcases technology first tested in Formula E in a modified road car – which is the perfect example of what Formula E is aiming to do within motorsport.

GSB: All in all, the world of EV racing, open wheel-wise and stock car-wise is growing rapidly. You sure are in the place to be right now. And that doesn’t even take into account your work with Sport and Sustainability International or SandSI. How did you get involved and what you are doing there?

JP: The founders of SandSI got in touch with me and invited me to attend the “birth meeting” in Lausanne, Switzerland in November, 2016 and to be a board member. Formula E was happy that I would have a seat at the table in this new organization which was very important. As with most every startup, the structure of SandSI was continuously evolving. I was asked to be a Vice President in September 2017 and then, just three months later I was asked to be President! And this May, at our 2nd Congress, the members elected me to a 4-year term as President. Plus every year, the members can vote to change the structure, change the President, which means I am very accountable. All of this is much better than simply being appointed.

GSB: Absolutely! And it’s great to be speaking to Madame la Presidente! So what is happening with SandSI and what are your goals for your term?

JP: Our focus is global, to ensure that the most sustainable practices are disseminated to sports organizations all over the world and to put sustainability and sports on the agenda of major global organizations like the UN. Our three main priorities are 1. Alignment and strategy surrounding UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2. ISO 20121 implementation 3. Monitoring, measuring and reporting. Thus we are working closely with organizations like UNEP and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure sports is well represented in their work.

GSB: Do these organizations get the power of sports…

JP: Many people do; it is our job to make sure the voice of sports is heard loud and clear throughout those organizations.

GSB: There are of course Green-Sports organizations and trade groups throughout the world — the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), mostly in North America and now Japan, BASIS in the UK, Sport Environment Alliance (SEA) in Australia. How will you differentiate SandSI from those groups? And how will you work with them? Is there a need for all of these groups or will there be consolidation?

JP: We see ourselves as a global umbrella organization and we need to have regional peers. SandSI is here to offer practical support to all sporting organization looking to advance sustainability internationally through their sport. Thus we are in dialogue with them. In fact SEA is a founding member of SandSI. We are in touch with the GSA and BASIS to see how we can add value together.

GSB: Good luck sorting all of that out and all the best with the launch of the Formula E Support Series.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona

Tenacious.

Leilani Münter needs to add that descriptor to her already adjective-laden tag line. Because while “Eco, Vegan, Hippie Chick with a Race Car,” is very clever and certainly stands out, it doesn’t quite do her justice.

Why tenacious?

Because she continues to hustle to find mission-driven sponsors to fund her races at Daytona and elsewhere. And because she continues to bring her vegan, plant-based diet mantra — along with food samples — to stock car racing fans, when conventional wisdom would say her efforts are being directed at the wrong audience.

OK; “Tenacious, Eco, Vegan Hippie Chick with a Race Car” is maybe a tad wordy, but you get the idea — tenacity is central to what makes Ms. Münter tick.

GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ms. Munter for a quick preview of her 2018 racing and activism schedule before she took off for Daytona in her Tesla from her Charlotte, North Carolina-area home. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Leilani, it’s great to reconnect. What’s new for you and your team for 2018?

Leilani Münter: We’re building on our 2017 “Vegan Powered” program. We have a new branding — Vegan Strong — with the website launching before our race at the ARCA racing series opener at Daytona on February 10. And we will have a vegan food tent with tasty samples that will be open for fans each racing day at Daytona Speedweeks, which includes the 10th, 11th and then from the 15th to the 18th, which is the day of the Daytona 500. Building on our positive experience doing this last year, our emphasis this year is going to be on the health benefits of a vegan diet.

 

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

GSB: How do you think racing fans at Daytona will respond?

LM: I think those who come to our tent will learn about why being vegan is good for your body — it’s the most efficient way to get nutrients — that’s one of the reasons we call our program Vegan Strong. They will also learn that vegan food tastes great! Not just good but GREAT! Last year we served vegan wings at Daytona and also at Talladega Super Speedway in Alabama that, compared to chicken, have half the fat calories, provide 100 percent of the protein and have zero cholesterol. This year we have something new up our sleeve.

 

Fun, must-watch video from Leilani Münter’s 2017 vegan food giveaway at Alabama’s Talladega Super Speedway (3 min 17 sec)

 

GSB: We look forward to hearing about it. Now I know that your on-track career, your ability to actually race, has been limited by the challenges of trying to find sponsors who are on board with your vegan, climate change mission and who are interested in reaching auto racing fans. I also know that if you are racing in 2018, you have some sponsors, including a new one. Fill us in…

LM: Getting corporations to sponsor us has been a challenge but we’ve found success with some great, mission-aligned nonprofits. In 2017, we were sponsored by A Well-Fed World and they are back again this season. We’ve also added a new nonprofit sponsor, TryVeg.com. These sponsors are essential to allowing us to race and to having our tent at Daytona Speedweeks as the costs are significant.

GSB: Congratulations on gaining the sponsorships. Why do you think they came aboard, aside from their belief in you and your mission?

LM: One big reason is that we had a successful 2017 in terms of media coverage of our efforts at Daytona and also at Talladega. Fox Sports covered us during the race and also ran features on us. That, along with other online and social media coverage, generated media exposure to the tune of 161 million impressions

GSB: Incredible!

LM: Thanks. That’s really what helped us secure the funding for Daytona 2018. And we will be making an announcement at Daytona about the rest of our season schedule, so stay tuned for that.

GSB: We will for sure. Now, as you mentioned at the top, you’ll be racing in the ARCA Series event on February 10 at Daytona. Just what is the ARCA Series and how does it relate to NASCAR?

LM: Sure. ARCA stands for the Automobile Racing Club of America. It is a feeder division into the top three national series of NASCAR.

GSB: So is it fair to say ARCA is to NASCAR as Triple A minor league baseball is to Major League Baseball?

LM: That’s about right.

GSB: What will you be driving at the ARCA Daytona race?

LM: I’ll driving a number 20 Venturini Motorsports car with the new composite body,

GSB: What kind of result are you hoping for?

 

Leilani Munter car Jim Jones

Leilani Münter, driving her Vegan Strong Venturini car during a practice run at Daytona (Photo credit: Jim Jones)

 

LM: There is absolutely no reason I can’t win it this year. Last year I was running in fourth place in the final stages of the race and then with just 15 laps to go I got taken out by a competitor. As long as I have a clean race, I’m going for the win!

GSB: I wouldn’t bet against you, that’s for sure…Now, in the ARCA Series, you’re driving a standard, internal combustion engine car that consumes gasoline. I, of course, get that that’s the price for bringing your vegan, eco message to auto racing fans — an audience that is assumed to not be open to such a message. So this makes perfect sense. On the other hand, have you looked into also racing in the Formula E, electric vehicle (EV) series that is gaining lots of fan interest?

LM: Actually, I’m involved with a new EV series that’s just getting started; the Electric GT Series based in Barcelona. When it launches, we’ll all be driving Tesla Model S that has over 1,000 lbs of weight removed and many other adjustments to make it into a real race car. And it’s the first electric car to win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. I was the first American driver to sign up for the new series.

GSB: Why the Electric GT Series and not Formula E?

LM: The appeal of NASCAR is that it uses cars similar to the models driven by regular folks. Similarly, I love the fact that Electric GT will feature Tesla Model S, the car I’ve been driving since 2013 — and charging it with electricity generated by solar panels on the roof our house.

GSB:…And now Tesla’s started selling and shipping their Model 3 — priced at $35,000 range — by far their most affordable offering yet. Once they up their production run on the Model 3, many, many more people will be driving Teslas…

LM:…Which will make this series more relatable to racing fans. And I really believe in Tesla as a game changing, disruptive force in transportation — I love that Ferrari recently announced it wants to compete with Tesla

GSB: How cool is that?!?!

LM: Very cool. And competition is good but my loyalty is to Tesla because they took the risk, powered through the times when no one believed in electric cars. So the Electric GT Series and I are a perfect fit.

GSB: When will the series launch?

LM: It’s not clear just yet. Starting a new racing series is not an easy task, especially as it relates to signing sponsors.

GSB: You know that better than most…

LM: Exactly! I know they are hoping to launch the series in the second half of 2018, and there are a lot of moving parts but eventually I think it will be a fantastic racing series. Meanwhile I’ll race in the ARCA series and hopefully make the next step to NASCAR. Stock cars is where the eyeballs are and I want to do what I can to influence fans to make their next car purchase or lease an electric car. And, while I’m at it, I will work to show them that eating a plant-based diet and buying solar power are also great life decisions. The more fans I reach, the more I impact…Simple as that.

GSB: That’s so great. How has the fan reaction been?

LM: Oh, they love it! At the vegan tent, I tell them, with a plant based diet, aside from the health benefits, there’s no animal cruelty and it’s better for our environment, and the food tastes great. They’re like “How do they make chicken out of plants?” Then they taste it — the first bite is the key — and they’re hooked. It’s the same thing as with driving a Tesla — once you try it, you’re hooked.

GSB: Well, I can’t wait to taste the vegan wings. In the meantime, all the best at Daytona, Leilani! 

 


 

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