Interview with Julia Pallé

September 28, 2018

Julia Pallé is the Sustainability Manager at FIA Formula E. She is responsible for Formula E's sustainability leadership position in the world of motorsport, as well as driving Formula E's internal and social performance across the world. Julia's commitment and knowledge of sustainability issues has not only helped Formula E reduce its carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the cities they visit, but also redefine the very boundaries of what a sport can be if the thinking is driven by the requirement of a fossil fuel-free future. She is also President of the Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI): a trailblazing NGO which uses the global influence of sport to address climate change and other pressing environmental and social issues. We caught up with Julia recently to ask her a few questions about fast cars and cleantech.


SE: As part of The Legacy Programme, Formula E entered into a joint partnership with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Can you please tell us a little more about this partnership?


JP: We have been partners since the very beginning of the championship with Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. This is a very important part and pillar of our championship for the legacy side of our activities, and by this we actively support, promote and give a platform to the Foundation. The main work is to try and advance sustainability in various fields that match really well with our activities. There's transportation, there's renewable energy, there're some protection activities in terms of biodiversity. And obviously, I would say that renewable energy and sustainable transportation have a very direct link and match to what we do.


And also because we do very often what we call "hero" content where we do some quite strong videos to create some awareness on some pressing issues related to climate change. The Monaco Foundation has always been an important podium to us to work on these projects and to showcase so that the benefits from the exposure and that helps their message and the awareness around what they do.


SE: There were reports back in March that Formula E is set to use the full Monaco GP street circuit instead of the curtailed version. Can you confirm if use of the full street circuit will indeed be permitted for next year's event on the 11th of May?


JP: I can't confirm because it's not yet been approved.


SE: Fair enough. Last year Formula E announced a new partnership with The Climate Group to act as a Global Ambassador for their EV100 initiative which aims to accelerate businesses' transition to E-Mobility. What more can you tell us about this partnership and how does Formula E plan on using your influence to help big business to make this all-important transition?


JP: Before entering into this official partnership with The Climate Group, we were part of the founding members of their RE100 campaign, which was actually launched during our first season - just before our very first race.


We historically had a very close and important relationship with them, because again, since RE100 is about using exclusively renewable energy and that is what is powering our cars and that is also an aspiration that we have for our events - and so then we became their EV100 Ambassador. There's very strong synergy between the two organisations, and since The Climate Group is quite business-oriented and government oriented, that is a very important platform for both parties.


For example, we were just on Friday organising a summit in New York that was officially part of Climate Week and that's just one example highlighting the fact that there are obviously many mutual benefits in this partnership both try and promote a similar message to the same type of audience.





Formula E electric cars in action at the Monaco ePrix


SE: Formula E has become the very first motorsports category to be granted the much coveted ISO 20121 certification, the latest international standard for an event sustainability management system. Can you talk us through the significance of this standard and how it's been helping to make your events more planet-friendly?


JP: ISO 20121 with third-party certification was obviously something extremely important for Formula E, because sustainability being so obviously rooted in the DNA of the Championship, it was extremely important to show that our events were sustainable in the sense that they promote environmental protection, social inclusivity and also economic prosperity. And I think it is very important to highlight that and to make that more tangible for the people that are actually working at our events, whether that is the organising part, the supply chain or even the fans.


Unfortunately, sustainability is quite technical with lots of jargon, making it more accessible for the people was one of our big aspirations, so achieving the ISO has enabled us to be able to communicate maybe more simply, but also to show to the world that from a very operational perspective, our sustainability message was truly backed by action.


SE: Let's talk emissions now. The transport sector has the highest CO2 emissions growth of all sectors in the world. Conversely, Formula E has possibly the lowest carbon footprint of any major regular sporting event (a ratio of 86kg of CO2 per spectator) and has been experiencing a lower carbon footprint year on year. Do you think that we'll ever reach the stage where Formula E can become truly emission-free?


JP: Well, I think we could definitely become emission- free if we are using carbon credits to offset. At the moment, it's not part of the strategy that we're taking. I mean it took us a few years, first of all, to get a very set baseline to calculate our emissions, getting the scope right to have accurate data for the things which we wanted to report on, so I think that we've reached this stage and we're still in the efficiency stage, so it's like: "Okay, let's try and reduce whatever we can."


Probably for season 6 we will go for the Science Based Targets (SBT) as part of the ISO process. What is great about ISO is that we have to have objectives and targets to achieve, which means that it is still achievable. But for purpose of the certification, I want to make them SBT-aligned so that we start assessing absolute numbers or absolute achievements and that's where we might think about introducing carbon offsetting. At the moment we've measured the process, reduced, and offsetting will come a bit later down the road I would say.


SE: Interesting answer, and one which touches upon what I'm about to ask you... and stepping back a little now... In your first ever Sustainability Report, Formula E stated that one of your main objectives was to reduce your footprint by implementing a carbon offsetting programme by the end of Season 5, which will of course coincide with the end of the upcoming season. How are those plans coming along?


JP: They've been a little delayed for several reasons. First of all, going deeper into the understanding of carbon strategies and carbon market, I've discussed with UN stakeholders who've told me that by 2020 the carbon market should have a, let's say, quite an important turnaround in terms of the price of the credits and so on, and that should give more legitimacy and also more of a real price to what is actually being exchanged. And since that aligned well with my aim to implement the SBT's by Season 6; I've decided to delay that to make sure that we were actually more aligned with what was happening outside in the "carbon" world and also "inside" within the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.



La Rascasse hairpin bend at the Monaco ePrix


SE: Interesting you should say that because we're also certainly hoping for some big changes to happen in 2020, as indeed it should for more legitimacy to be introduced. On that note [of legitimacy] and as I think you may probably already know, Formula 1 actually claim to be carbon neutral since 1997. In our opinion that is a very, very dubious claim because Formula 1 are nowhere near as meticulous with their operations as Formula E are, as you were built from the ground up to be keeping the environment in mind - and they weren't. So in this instance it's going to be very interesting to see what's going to occur in the near future.


JP: Yes, yes, I'd say it really depends on what strategy you want to take. First of all, we are really young, and so there are plenty of things that we can refine and do better. That's really about efficiency and improvement and reduction, and there's definitely a lot of things to do from that perspective. You can proceed the other way round and decide that you want to simply offset all of your operations, but my feeling is that it's not that much more difficult to really have a look inside and see how you work, how you can improve and work in a different way, and then obviously you know that there are going to be unavoidable emissions - at which point you obviously take the offsetting solution. It all comes down to different views.


SE: And that's very much in line with what we try and promote, which is that we should look at cutting down on operational CO2 at the source, rather than saying business as usual and let's offset it all at the back end.


JP: Yes.


SE: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today.


JP: Pleasure! I'm glad that we made it!


SE: Haha! So am I. We wish you continued success on your sustainable journey and the best of luck for the upcoming season!


JP: Thank you!







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