Formula E: Walking the talk

As the Head of Sustainability at Formula E, Julia Pallé ensures the world’s first all-electric street racing series ‘walks the talk’. She explains how the championship is inspiring change across motorsport as a whole.

Julia, what are your responsibilities as Head of Sustainability at Formula E?
JP: I am responsible for developing and implementing Formula E’s sustainability strategy, which means that I look at both our environmental and social impacts. The championship is a mix of environmental leadership and traditional corporate social responsibility, so I make sure we ‘walk the talk’. 

How did you get into Formula E?
My background is in sustainability in motorsports. I’ve always worked in this field. Before joining Formula E, I worked for Michelin, the tyre manufacturer. And then I ended up working in Formula E. I must say it has been a dream come true, because when you are a sustainability and motorsport expert, it’s probably the best place on Earth to be working and implementing your projects.

Have you always been interested in sustainability?
I’ve always been passionate about sustainability. It probably comes from my family roots and where I was raised, surrounded by nature. During my studies I already knew I wanted to work in industry, where you can make a big impact and difference. This is especially true for the motorsport industry, which is traditionally seen as polluting. But it also really inspires and excites people. So if you can pass on the sustainability message, you reach the hearts and the minds of so many.

Are you personally concerned about the environment?
I’m very concerned about the environment. As an optimistic person, however, I do believe that we have a bright future ahead of us – if we all act now. Urgent action is needed. But with the trends that we see around the world, with climate being discussed everywhere and especially with the ongoing youth climate action, I do think we will get there. And then you add the importance of many purpose-driven brands – like ours – that have a real mission to do better for the planet and its people, you see real change happening now in terms of mobility. And emissions from mobility represent around ¼ of global emissions. 

Battery range is a problem of the past.

Julia Pallé

How do you measure the impact of Formula E races?
Race by race, and season by season, we conduct a life cycle assessment, which is a state of the art carbon footprint assessment tool. It’s very useful because it’s a decision-making tool, because it helps you identify your biggest impact areas, and then you know what to do and what to target to reduce your impact as much as possible. We follow the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – that’s the climate change branch of the United Nations protocols. So that means we are measuring, reducing, and then offsetting our impacts. We are currently in the reducing phase, and for Season 6 we want to introduce some new reducing measures.

On the other hand, Formula E runs a big show in which a lot of material is moved around. How does that go together with sustainability?
Moving around tons of material without a doubt has an impact on the environment. However, the potential and the power of the platform in pushing the technology, changing the perception about driving electric vehicles and, most importantly, improving the air quality in the cities is one hundred times more important than the few emissions that we would have emitted during the championship. And considering that we are a ‘global circus’ travelling around the world, our footprint is relatively limited.

How is Formula E a catalyst for sustainable technology?
Probably the best example of the technology push in Formula E is that from Season 1 to Season 5, we’ve been able to double the battery capacity. That was huge, because the main thing to break the technology barrier in terms of adopting electric vehicles was range anxiety. The batteries now last the entire race. So we are showing that today, with all the manufacturers we have in these garages, battery range is a problem of the past.  

So now, for the next generation of the race cars – Gen3 – we will focus on tackling fast charging, which is the last challenge that lies between technology and infrastructure issues.  

What do you think the future of mobility will look like?
The vision of Formula E regarding the future of mobility can be summarised in five words [counting on her fingers]: 

  • electric, which refers to the cars themselves 
  • clean: we need to develop clean energy sources to charge our electric cars
  • connected: meaning all of the IT systems that are in the cars themselves, but also the IT systems that will be required to ensure that traffic flow in the cities is more efficient 
  • shared: we envision a future in which we will share all transportation in cities, including cars, and
  • driverless cars: this is very forward thinking, but it will happen quickly. That’s why when we started working with Roborace at the beginning of the championship, it was an important glimpse into the future of mobility in our cities.   

Basically, you will order your driverless car on your phone, it will pick you up and drive you to the supermarket. While you’re shopping, perhaps it will also pick up your neighbour and drop him off at the gym. And when you’re done, it will take you home. All of this will be optimised and autonomous. 

How do you personally contribute to a cleaner environment?
I personally contribute every day because when I go to the track or to work, I get to inspire fans or other motorsports disciplines and events to become more sustainable. I feel like I’m contributing to something that is bigger than myself, and that will be my legacy in a way.

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