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 SandSI. Sacre 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.
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?
Julia: I went to work for Michelin in 2012…
GSB: In your hometown?
Julia: Exactly! I worked in the motor sport division…
GSB: Ahhh…that’s where you got your start…
Julia: Yes…Implementing sustainability programs.
GSB: How did that go?
Julia: 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?
Julia: 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…
Julia: 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…
Julia: 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?
Julia: Yes. We have races now in Africa, Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America. Australia is next.
GSB: That just leaves Antarctica…
Julia: 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?
Julia: The car, but it was very tight!
GSB: So I would imagine that sustainability would have to be a core part of an EV racing championships DNA. Am I right?
Julia: 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?
Julis: 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?
Julia: 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…
GSB: That may be the most powerful green thing you can do: Give fans an up close experience with EVs…
Julia: 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.
GSB: Plus Formula E races are on city streets…
Julia: 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!”
GSB: That’s the best advertising you can have for EVs…How many people attended Formula E races during the season?
Julia: 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?
Julis: 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?
Julia: 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.
Julia: 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.
Julia: 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?
Julia: 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…
Julia: 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?
Julia: 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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