Race for the Planet: An extreme legacy

After a turbulent and unpredictable year Extreme E sets itself a high bar, becoming the first motorsport with a sustainable message. As an electric race, the series has positioned itself to highlight environments under threat of climate change, and encourage us all to take positive action to protect the future of our planet.

Back in December 2019, we learned that something new was coming to motorsports: Extreme E – a series that would take place in some of the most stunning locations in the world; push sustainable technology to the limits, and inspire a generation to take action for the planet.

Back then, even founder Alejandro Agag had “no idea what this journey was going to be like”. He and his team scouted some of the “most spectacular, remote locations on the planet; each facing issues at the hands of climate change and human activity”. 

The vision? 

A radical new racing series which will see electric SUVs competing in extreme environments around the world which have already been damaged or affected by climate and environmental issues. 

Now in early 2022, the drivers have wrapped up the final in muddy Dorset, UK, and we’ve just enjoyed a nail-biting start to Season 2 in NEOM, Saudi Arabia. 

But what’s going on behind the scenes is just as interesting. So here at Volta, we’ve unglued our eyes from the race screens to look at Extreme E’s environmental legacy. Speaking to key organisers, sponsors and partners, this is a look back at what the series has achieved in its inaugural season and a hint of things to come.

Legacy First

You know from the moment you arrive that Extreme E is not your usual motorsports event. 

First of all, there are no spectators onsite. It’s teams, event organisers and media only; a step taken to reduce the impact of the races. Secondly, the race itself does not take pole position.

“We make sure that the legacy programme and the purpose side is the first thing all of our drivers […] get to experience when they come to a race week,” Julia Fry, Extreme E head of communications, told us. 

It’s not coming to a paddock first, it’s going off to see the local community project and know why we’re here and what we’re doing.

Like everything in the last couple of years, Covid changed Extreme E’s plan. Locations were swapped as the pandemic escalated, but the final line-up still packed a punch.

From the sands of Saudi Arabia, to the pink hues of Lac Rose in Senegal, the glacial beauty of Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, the sunny shores of Sardinia and finally the spectacular mud of Dorset, each and every Extreme E location has shown us a window into how climate change is affecting the planet, and brought much needed attention to local community programmes.

Some of the recce sites across the world for the inaugral season, from Senegal to the Amazon.

The race set out to “use the power of sport to champion science-backed impact and to inspire our fans and communities to raise their climate ambition”. 

Let’s look at how they got on in their first season. 

Extreme E Season 1 Environmental Impact

Let’s start with the obvious one: Extreme E is about electric racing. No petrol-heads here.

Through partnerships with vehicle manufacturers such as CUPRA and GM, the series has helped support innovation in future EV technology. On the ground, it’s cut emissions to zero by using hydrogen fuel cells which are generated through water and solar power.

The cars themselves accounted for just 4% of the first season’s carbon footprint – a mere 341 tCO2e.

In fact, everything that makes a global race series a global race series comes in low on the carbon footprint. Food and drink is just 1% (124 tCO2e) and VIPs are just 0.2% (21 tCO2e) of the total.

It’s the logistics of the thing that pushed up the carbon. Staff travel clocked up 12% (1,042 tCO2e) while freight accounted for a whopping 82% (7,303 tCO2e) of the season one carbon footprint.

In total, the championship’s carbon footprint was 8,870 tCO2e, and through a combination of focused efforts to reduce emissions and careful carbon offsetting through its work with ALLCOT, the season was carbon neutral.

High on this has to be the decision to use the St Helena to transport all vehicles, event infrastructure and operations equipment by sea instead of by the much more carbon-intensive air option. The team estimate they saved a massive 5,200 tCO2e by using the St Helena ship instead of air freight.  

Even here, 8,870 tCO2e sounds like a lot. But let’s just stop and put that into context for a moment.

In 2019, Formula 1’s carbon footprint was 256,551 tCO2e. F1 aims to be in Extreme E’s carbon neutral position by 2030. That’s an enviable head start Alejandro and team have got on the competition.  

The business of change

If you follow the founder’s vision, activism inspires, but it is business that has to come through if we are truly to change the world. 

Speaking on the Off Track Extreme E podcast, Agag said: 

The ones who can change the world are all the big corporations that really need to change what they’re doing. You start by excluding those, you’ve lost the fight from the beginning.

The legacy of Extreme E includes the work of some incredible scientists, environmentalists and activists. But it extends to its founder’s ‘real world’ vision of change that comes from business. 

Extreme E has given its partners a remarkable platform. These partners are the companies behind some of the most innovative sustainable technology in the world. Over the last year, they’ve tested their products in the most inhospitable locations on the planet, forcing further innovation and giving visibility to a better way of doing things. 

Over the course of the season we’ve spoken with numerous partners looking at the work and their innovations. Check out just a few of the change makers making a difference in Extreme E on VOLTA.

Zenobe …. Keeping Extreme E plugged in

Neptun Ozis …. Bringing the Extreme E’s St Helena to life

Polymateria …. Giving plastic an expiry date with LyfeCycle

Continental …. Setting Extreme E’s wheels in motion

AFC Energy …. The number one element powering Extreme E’s world-class EVs

Extreme E Catering …. Dishing out for Extreme E

So what next?

So what next? Extreme E’s second season is underway, having returned to Saudi Arabia in February. 

No doubt there are some inspiring new legacy projects on the horizon too. As Julia Fry told us: “Many of the legacy projects that we’ve worked on have been set in place a year in advance. It’s ingrained into the reason why we’re in each place.”

It looks like a return to Sardinia is next for the Island XPRIX in May, followed by a yet-to-be-confirmed location. Then it’s of to Chile in September and Uruguay in November to realise on the season 1 dream of taking Extreme E to South America.  

Real change

Extreme E has no doubt learned a lot from its inaugural season. Nothing’s perfect, but this is about change in the real world. 

More than that, as Julia Fry told us, this is about more than just immediate results: “It’s about trying to leave a lasting impact and maybe inspiring others to think about impact in places that they create events in as well.”

All of the Legacy Programmes that Extreme E have highlighted over season one.

If you ask us, Extreme E has delivered something that only a couple of years ago was not only impossible, but worse than that, it was unwanted. 

Real change will only happen in the real world

Alejandro Agag, CEO Extreme E

Motorsports revolves around people with big money and big influence. It’s these people who have the power to change our world. At the start of its second season, Extreme E has proven that motorsports and its fans not only wants this change, but that they can have it. Right now.

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