In December 2011, Edgar Farrera became Sustainability Director (and Employee #18) of the brand new Formula-1 Circuit Of The Americas (COTA) track in Austin, Texas.
F-1, the most popular auto racing classification in the world but absent from the U.S. for years, decided to establish its first sole-purpose track in Austin in 2010.
Farrera spoke with GSB about COTA’s sustainability efforts and how motorsports can fight the perception of greenwashing.
Edgar Farrera, Circuit Of The America’s Sustainability Director, with Solar Powered Car from Eastern Michigan University. It was one of 11 such cars competing at COTA’s Formula Sun, June 2013. (Photo credit: Circuit of the Americas)
GreenSportsBlog: Edgar, how did you find your way to COTA and the Sustainability Director position?
Edgar Farrera: I started out as an architect out of University of Texas/Austin and was fortunate to get involved with the “green building” movement in the early 90s, almost by accident, as Austin was an early adopter of green-build principles.
Later, I joined a large commercial architecture firm and served as their Sustainability Director. We did a lot of aviation, federal, and military projects, and I was responsible for making sure we met all US Government sustainability standards (storm water, air quality, emissions, etc.).
About 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to be involved in sustainability full time with a facility, not just designing new green facilities. I thought I was going to end up managing sustainability for a campus or for a city. A motorsports enthusiast, I jumped when the COTA opportunity came up as it married my experience, education and passion!
GSB: Did you have an impact of the design of COTA? Why wasn’t it designed for LEED Certification?
Edgar: No, the design was locked in by the time I got there and the owners did not decide to go for LEED status. As to why, I’m not certain, but the project was built under an incredibly compressed schedule and that played a role in just deciding to go forward without a certification. But it’s important to note that I was brought in as the Sustainability Director, not as an Architect and our commitment is to make COTA the most sustainable motorsports facility in the US.
GSB: How is COTA making good on that commitment?
Edgar: The impetus to “go green” came from both COTA’s desire to address the community’s sensibilities about the environment as well as from the Host Agreement we signed with the City of Austin, related mainly to our biggest event, the US Grand Prix. Once we signed the Agreement, we committed to a detailed set of day-to-day, sustainability-related obligations, including:
- Recycling and Composting
- Education events dealing with renewable energy
- Transportation initiatives
- Site stewardship measures including protecting critical on-site environmental features, like small ponds and a dry creek on our property
We are required to make comprehensive submissions to the City every year to demonstrate compliance (please find year 1 submission here) In fact, the Host Agreement is so involved, it necessitated the creation of the Sustainability Director position!
GSB: Austin sure sounds pretty green.
Edgar: Oh it is. Sustainability is a huge deal here! In fact, it’s a topic of public policy debate. Candidates sometimes win or lose based on their environmental platform.
The rest of Texas is considerably greener than the country thinks butin Austin sustainability is embraced in a very public way. Some of our event sponsors get it too–some brands want to be associated with the sustainability aspects of COTA. For example Michelin, very involved in “green racing”, has communicated the importance to COTA that there be full ‘resource recovery’ (i.e. composting and recycling) at their sponsored areas on site.
Aerial view, Circuit of the Americas, Austin, TX (Photo credit: Circuit of the Americas)
GSB: How is COTA doing on those sustainability obligations?
Edgar: We’re doing well. Our diversion rate (how much waste is diverted from landfill) of 33 percent for COTA controlled areas is not bad out of the gate–remember, we’ve only been open less than a year. But, we are certainly inspired by what the Philadelphia Eagles are doing at Lincoln Financial Field and will be moving those numbers up towards their amazing 99 percent.
In terms of renewable energy, we’ve investigated on-site solar and wind but have not committed to it yet. We are buying 50 percent of our electricity from Austin Energy’s Green Choice (similar to Renewable Energy Credits or RECS) program for non-event days.
GSB: How about buying Green Choice for 100% of your power needs on all days?
Edgar: We’re looking at upping the percentage for sure.
GSB: What about the races themselves from a sustainability perspective?
Edgar: Cars in our signature event, the Formula 1US Grand Prix, use the KERS system — which stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. It’s kind of a very soft hybrid system in which the energy that would normally be lost as heat during braking is instead harnessed so that it can be used later to boost acceleration.
Also, our recycling and composting system was put to the test and passed it at the inaugural USGP last November as we drew 117,000 people on race day and 265,000 people over the weekend. Named “Event of the Year” by Sports Business Journal in 2012, we expect a bigger crowd this November and are confident our sustainability performance will match the performance of the drivers and cars.
This coming weekend, we are hosting both the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the American LeMans Series. What’s interesting about these events from a sustainability perspective is that both series really push advanced green racing technologies, including allowing cars to use different advanced fuels. Audi, which is dominant in the WEC, uses diesel-powered hybrids.
I can also see a day where electric cars will play a role.
In fact, Nissan plans to race a car that can run in all-electric mode in next years event. We hosted the Formula Sun Grand Prix this June. Eleven collegiate teams drove vehicles powered solely by solar panels, 8 hours a day for 3 days. These cars are super light, with no AC (it gets very hot in Austin in June). The team from Oregon State won by driving 658 miles with 0 emissions. Finally, we were selected by ESPN to host the Summer X Games the next four years. We are excited about this for many reasons; one of them is working with ESPN’s sustainability team to make the X Games at COTA the Greenest X Games yet.
GSB: The Formula Sun Grand Prix sounds amazing. And a greener X Games will certainly resonate with the young ESPN viewers. One final question: I’d be remiss if I don’t ask you about greenwashing. Meaning isn’t it an oxymoron to say that motorsports can be green?
Edgar: I’ve heard this, of course. The reason I got into this is that we’ve got to get beyond preaching to the green choir. Beyond the folks who are green because “it’s the right thing to do”. Motorsports (and other sports) can broaden the discussion by engaging the business community and the fans about making smart micro- and macro-choices.
Also know that the carbon footprint from the cars being driven around the race track is minimal compared to the footprint from transportation to and from the event. Which of course is endemic to any sports or entertainment event. The important thing is for us to do better, in terms of resource recovery, cleaner energy use, site stewardship, etc.
GSB: While I’m not a motorsports fan I’m glad there is a sustainable/green motorsports movement and that COTA is advancing the cause (NASCAR Green shows that the stock car giant is also taking a lead role). GSB will keep in touch to see how things progress (especially on the on-site renewable generation, diversion rate and transportation to-from fronts).
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