Lately there have been some exciting sponsorship moves incorporating green tech companies as sponsors across multiple motorsport series, and not all these series have been electric. These moves have demonstrated the incredible sponsorship opportunities that are available in the green tech and sustainability sector. In this article I will look at some tips on how you can incorporate sustainability into your brand (and your lifestyle) and how this can help you to attract potential new sponsors in the green tech and sustainability field. Not only will this be good for your racing career, but it will benefit the planet as well.
In the recent Motorsport Prospects blog series Sustainability, Partnerships, and the Racing Driver (Part 1 & Part 2) by Tristan Niesslein, founder of Niesslein Sustainability Partners, he outlined several reasons why sustainability should be embraced by the racing driver. Using this as a starting point, let’s look at what you can do, why you should do so and at what is being done currently.
Motorsport is Embracing Sustainability
Like it or not, just like the world outside, motorsport is embracing sustainability as a necessity, not as an option. Both Formula E, Extreme E and the newly announced FIA Electric GT series have made sustainability central to their mission but more importantly, ICE-powered series have as well. The ACO with their plans for hydrogen power to possibly debut this year and Formula 1 with their carbon neutral plans for 2030 are firmly on board. IMSA and NASCAR have their Green initiatives, Stephane Ratel has announced that the SRO has a goal of achieving operational carbon neutrality by 2023, Indycar and NASCAR will be going hybrid and more initiatives and series are launching sustainability initiatives every month.
Teams like Roush Fenway, Envision Virgin Racing and Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team have either been certified as carbon neutral or are actively pursuing that goal and several drivers are starting to embrace sustainability as part of who they are. Clearly the trend in motorsport is towards sustainability, mainly because stakeholders in the sport know that the sport will not survive long term if it is not as sustainable as possible.
Be Motivated by Purpose
Be authentic in wanting to do this. This is not a branding exercise; this is a conscious choice that you need to embrace in an authentic way. A lack of authenticity will destroy your credibility when it comes to values-based initiatives like this, especially with a younger demographic that all sports and businesses are trying to attract. Businesses are looking to this demographic for growth and the last thing they want to do is drive them away so a lack of commitment on your part will be noticed by potential sponsors. As Tristan points out:
In a highly commercially driven industry such as Motorsport, where partnering brands today will look for organizations or individuals to share their purpose and demonstrate environmentally sound practices, sharing this powerful purpose will help both parties demonstrate their commitment and gain the attraction of younger consumers in an ageing demographic of fans in Motorsports.
This should all be considered in addition to being the right thing to do for our continued survival on the planet.
Beyond being the right thing to do on a personal level, it makes sense on a business level as well. According to Tristan:
As a Driver in this industry, you will consider yourself a sole entity or an individual who runs as a business. Commercial partners form a crucial element in your development through junior ranks into professional racing seats, where you can demonstrate your talent through podiums, wins and points. These same partners will assess you against their own purposeful criteria and being able to create your brand around sustainability and an issue important to younger fans, could present an important factor in a fruitful partnership.
Walk the Talk
Part of being authentic in embracing sustainability is to ensure you walk the talk and avoid the dreaded virtue signaling where you are merely offering empty promises and platitudes. The one thing that will do the most damage to you as a driver is saying you have embraced something in public yet in actions you have not changed your behavior. Tristan offers some wise words of advice:
As simple as it sounds, it may be much more challenging to do. To be authentically attractive to partners looking to invest in individuals who match their values, you should be able to demonstrate that you can limit your impact and that you are willing to take the necessary steps to do so.
Travel, consumable items, and fuel are difficult to make carbon neutral, the ‘Net’ part of the equation means you are considering that which cannot be erased in terms of your impact. However, those things that you have control over, in terms of offsetting and choices you make, down to your water, training gear and running shoes, can all be responsibly sourced with companies that make considerable efforts in recycling and responsible sourcing of materials for their products.
Once you have identified what you need to do to achieve point (this) and are willing to make the necessary changes, you will then be able to approach and attract partners with a much clearer story-line, leading to better outcomes for both parties and synergies of how you may be able to tackle climate change in your context together.
Not only that but the suppliers you use for your training gear and running shoes for example may be a great opportunity for you to engage with them as you are already using their products. Who knows where that may lead to?
Choose Your Partners Well
As important as it is for you to be authentic, you must ensure that your partners are as well. The last thing you want to do is participate in “greenwashing” where a partner sponsor essentially hitches onto your brand, pledges that they have embraced the same values as you and yet do nothing to change their actions. As Tristan points out:
Motorsport is an industry looking to change and with the Electric Vehicle market growing and fuel diversity increasing, with Hydrogen and Biofuels coming into the story, the industry around Motorsports will continue to change rapidly.
The pitfalls of being seen to present a ‘greenwashed’ (where there is only the appearance of impact awareness and reduction but little meaningful changes as a result) proposition, as a partner or a Driver should be quite clear, but it is worth re-stating that an authentic proposition will avoid these pitfalls. Where the values are not in line, there should be expected accountability from the media, from fans and other members of the industry, of false claims.
Making sure your proposition to the partner is authentic, as well as the partner’s broader offering is generally important, but even more so when promoting an emotive topic such as caring for the environment and having done the hard work to make your proposition as good as it can be, your care in choice of partner organizations will be important to maintaining your credibility.
Authenticity goes both ways and as in every partnership, you both need to be on the same page.
Embracing Sustainability Makes You Stand Out to Potential Sponsors
Not only is embracing sustainability good for the planet and potentially good for attracting sponsors, embracing sustainability now will make you stand out in a crowded field of other drivers. Business realizes that in today’s world, consumers expect businesses to take a stand in favor of sustainability and they will increasingly want to partner with drivers that embrace the same values. Tristan gives a great example:
Businesses increasingly need to mirror the world they operate in. This includes being value driven and representing the community in which they exist and in so doing, gaining their social license to operate.
A good example, in a recent panel discussion where Puma, who partner with elite teams across motorsport, stated that they ‘certainly consider sustainability’ when choosing to partner with rights holders or teams, even if it is not yet part of a formal decision-making criteria.
Now is the time to build your brand and set your values as integral to that brand. The earlier you do it the more authentic you will be.
Some Examples to Get You Thinking
Looking for examples of green tech embracing motorsport in a sponsorship role? Here are a few:
The primary sponsor of Indy Lights driver Devlin DeFrancesco is from PowerTap Hydrogen Fueling Corporation, a company that is involved in a B2B relationship with the whole Andretti Autosport organization. Team Principal Michael Andretti is an enthusiastic backer and stated:
“Adding another innovative company within the green energy and sustainability sector also brings unique opportunities both for our team and among fellow sponsor/partner companies that can lead to cool ideas and integrations.”https://racer.com/2021/04/05/defrancesco-lands-powertap-backing-for-andretti-lights-campaign/
Andretti has also teamed up with KULR Technology Group and their next-generation lithium-ion battery safety and thermal management technologies as part of their EV racing activities and he expects more partnerships like this to come.
The Alpine F1 team have partnered with Plug Power Inc., a leading provider of turnkey hydrogen solutions building the global green hydrogen economy. According to Alpine:
In January 2021, the Renault Group and Plug Power announced the signature of a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop the hydrogen powertrain for light commercial vehicles in Europe, targeting 30% share of market, in line with Groupe Renault CEO Luca de Meo’s strategic vision detailed in Renaulution in January.Alpine F1 Press Release March 26, 2021
This partnership is a perfect definition of a Business to Business (B2B) relationship that is becoming more and more prevalent in motorsport sponsorship these days.
Another example of green tech B2B sponsors are the high percentage of those involved in Extreme E. They want to be associated with motorsport, but sustainability must be part of the package as it is fundamental to their business.
This connection between motorsport and green tech and sustainability will only grow in the future, especially when the understandable skepticism of the green tech industry with motorsport begins to wane. Start small and build up a conversation with your potential sponsors with long-term thinking the key.
Getting sponsorship is hard at the best of times. Toss in a global pandemic and the natural skepticism that some have towards motorsport as being the antithesis of sustainability and at first glance it might seem that this is an impossible task. But Rome was not built in a day. Start by embracing sustainability on a personal level and don’t be shy to talk about it with colleagues, fans and on social media. Do it because you believe in it because anything less than being authentic will bring on accusations of virtue signalling.
Look to make a difference in your workplace, on your team and in the series, you are competing in. Engage in dialog with your current sponsors and explain why you think sustainability is important. Don’t preach but make it clear how important you believe this is both in person and on all your media channels. Study the issue and the companies bringing solutions to market so you are informed. Take some time to review Solutions Explorer, an excellent searchable database for green tech companies to help refine your search. Open a dialog with them and demonstrate your interest in what they are doing as well as keeping them apprised of your career and results. Do not try any hard sells but keep the conversation flowing. By demonstrating your sincere interest in what they are doing you will have laid the potential for a business relationship in the future.
Even if a potential sponsor is not fully on board, as Tristan says:
This does not mean you should throw opportunities away but having honest assessments of each other’s status and intentions can mean you move forward on the journey together; it is a partnership after all.
It is also important to realize you do not need to do it all or take on all topics. It is more powerful and impactful to take on only one or two issues and follow through consistently on those.
All of this requires hard work and dedication but, in the end, regardless of whether the sponsorship materializes or not, you will have made a small dent in one of the biggest issues of our time. And that is a win-win scenario no matter how you look at it.
Updated November 7, 2021 to include Solutions Explorer as a resource.