Interview with Formula E's sustainability director Julia Palle: "Profitability & sustainability go hand in hand"
Julia Palle is Formula E's sustainability director. After studying in Grenoble, the Frenchwoman initially worked in the sustainability department of the Michelin tire group before moving to Formula E back in March 2014. She also advises Extreme E on sustainability topics and is president of Sport and Sustainability International. At the Berlin E-Prix 'e-Formula.news' had the opportunity to talk to her.
Julia, what is your job at Formula E?
I am responsible for developing and implementing sustainability strategies that are in line with our goals. We want to accelerate sustainable human progress - especially in events and motorsports that relate to environmental protection, social inclusion and economic prosperity.
What do these sustainability strategies look like in concrete terms?
We are the first sport in the world to be guided by science-based targets. We will have reduced our CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030. We already achieved a 24 percent reduction last year. We want to reduce our energy consumption by 60 percent overall by 2030 and save 30 percent in logistics to achieve this. And on the social side, we have a partnership with UNICEF to benefit three million children. In the first year of the partnership alone, 2022, we were able to reach 700,000 young people.
On top of that, there are smaller, local partnerships.
We always cooperate with local communities. Here in Berlin, we have worked with the refugee association in Tempelhof, plus Formula Student Germany, which has a space in the Fan Village, and a few more. It's always about working with the race teams, our partners, and the suppliers to implement authentic sustainability programs.
The annual Formula E sustainability report represents your progress in sustainability. In the 2022 report, it said that diesel was used to generate power at some races. How does that fit together?
We have a clear energy strategy: we use as much electricity from the local grid as possible, making sure it comes from renewable sources. When we can't use the grid, we use HVO, which is basically a fuel made from used cooking oils. If we either have to use a fall-back solution or have a logistical problem, then - and only then - we use diesel. The basic idea is that it's just in case of a crisis or a power outage; it's never our intention. But as an emergency solution, we have to have a back-up, and that's diesel.
Why did you have to use this emergency solution in the past season?
HVO is a very innovative fuel. The disadvantage of using it for the generators is that we sometimes have difficulties with customs. This was the case in some races. Where imports were blocked, we had to use diesel as an emergency resource.
A lot of the emissions, after all, are from transport. How does Formula E plan to improve that?
In the area of logistics, we have been working very closely with DHL for years. This is also very important for us, because DHL as a company has the same problem as we do. They are also guided by science-based targets and have to reduce a large part of their CO2 emissions. To achieve that, they have to use a lot of new and innovative technologies. So we're working together to use biofuels for sea and land freight. And we are investigating new and innovative technologies, such as sustainable aviation fuel and similar projects.
The composition of the race calendar also plays a big role here. There have been discussions about jumping from continent to continent for a number of years now.
This is a discussion we are having at the highest level. Alberto Longo, our Chief Championship Officer, thinks every day about how to optimize the calendar. There are two good reasons for this, because this is where profitability and sustainability go hand in hand. It costs us a lot more money if we have to travel further distances. It also generates a lot more emissions. But the reality is that the availability of cities at the right time of the year sometimes leaves us with no other choice.
What strategy are you following specifically?
Our goal is to have a geographic approach: we try to organize the race calendar so that we have geographic blocks. We have always tried to make the calendar as efficient as possible. But sometimes we have to work together with the cities to do that. We then accept that it's not ideal in one year. But we can work with the city representatives to see if one or two years later we can hold the race in May rather than June. Then - just as an example - we could travel from Mexico to Brazil directly.
In addition to the transport of freight, business travel also accounts for a large proportion of emissions. How do you address this issue?
For business travel, we are currently developing a sustainable travel strategy for everyone in our ecosystem. Sustainable aviation fuel is something we're looking at very closely, but right now it's not commercially available. We're still at a very early stage here. Right now, the body that is responsible for aviation fuels is just developing a protocol for that. So we are really two years ahead of the development.