The realities of climate change are becoming more apparent every day, and motorsport is not immune to this situation and having to make changes in technology and our behavior to help address the crisis and contribute to Net Zero ambitions.
Motorsport Prospects regularly publishes articles in our weekly roundup that highlight innovations in motorsport that are helping to make our sport more sustainable. Often these innovations are driven by manufacturers and the elite level of the sport, where commercial interests provide the resources to invest and make changes to our sport.
However, most competitors in motorsport are not competing at the elite level, and that’s where we became interested in Carbon Positive Motorsport, who are the worlds first dedicated carbon offsetting provider for motorsport.
Entering their second year of operation, founder Paul Glass explains more about what is behind their motorsport concept, and the challenges of making a positive difference to the sport and climate change from the grassroots up.
Thanks Paul for taking the time to talk to Motorsport Prospects – what is carbon positive motorsport and where did the idea behind it come from?
The idea behind carbon positive motorsport came to me back in 2018. I was watching a historic rally festival in Germany with my then 4-year-old son. He was captivated watching the spectacular group b cars being driven in the way they were intended by former world rally champions – at full speed!
I had a lightbulb moment during that event when I asked myself the question ‘with all the environmental challenges in the world, would the sport still exist for my son when he was old enough to participate?, or would the sport suffer the same fate as these group b cars, and be regulated out of existence by public concerns’ – this time based on the environmental perception of the sport, rather than public safety.
My professional background was in business transformation in global supply chains, and I was very aware even before then of the need to make big improvements in corporate social and environmental responsibility. Change is constant in life and big changes were needed if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Motorsport is understandably at the leading edge of negative public perception – and I could see it would be greatly challenged to exist in the future especially at the grassroots level.
Literally then and there I decided to combine my love of motorsport with my professional knowledge to do something that would help sustain motorsport and the environment for future generations to enjoy – that became the driver behind carbon positive motorsport – but it would take some years to develop the idea into a practical solution.
There was lots going on with technology and motorsports governance especially at the elite level to reduce carbon emissions, but I recognised that these initiatives were not always supporting the grassroots competitor or events, and that we all needed to capture carbon from the environment to reduce CO2e if we were to achieve Net Zero.
That’s where I identified that there were many challenges in providing carbon offsetting for motorsport, both in providing a valid methodology of calculation – most schemes calculate based on standard road cars fuel consumption, but also in providing high quality carbon offsetting that avoided the legitimate question marks of greenwashing and to provide the proof that by using the correct type of projects we could actually demonstrate that motorsport could make a positive difference to climate change and contribute to achieving Net Zero by 2050.
It took me a few years to investigate and develop what carbon positive motorsport has become – which is a purpose led business, and to bring on board some colleagues who each bring specialist skills to help make it a reality. During our launch over the last year, we were fortunate to have the support of many leading competitors to help raise awareness of our brand and purpose.
In a nutshell our business idea makes it possible and affordable to carbon offset more emissions than is generated by motorsport competition.
So what is carbon offsetting and how does your initiative work?
It can be a complicated topic in the technical details and the definitions can vary between countries – basically the carbon offsetting we provide in the UK is to invest in carbon offsetting projects that provide genuine additional carbon sequestration or capture in the future from the environment that would not have occurred without our investment.
We make it possible for events and competitors to estimate their carbon emissions for a given activity, and to buy into these projects – we aggregate these purchases that to make it possible to secure these carbon offsetting units which are provided by the projects. These units are defining the future carbon offsetting that a project will deliver in a defined future time frame.
These projects also must provide validity that they are providing permanence of existing and providing their verified levels of future carbon offsetting for a lengthy time period – in our case often 100 years, and that these projects are properly assessed, validated and transparent for their benefits to be assured.
Most carbon offsetting projects work under some form of regulatory governance and verification, however there is lots of evidence in some lower cost countries that the promised levels of carbon offsetting do not materialise in reality on the ground – this brings valid claims of greenwashing, which has a negative impact for motorsport.
We therefore work in the UK as example with only the very highest standards of projects which are transparent and verified publicly – so we can with high levels of assurance achieve and demonstrate the promised benefits over time.
We use projects with achieve their sequestration by natural means such as woodland and peatland, using projects that have a high level of rewilding. These projects are very scarce and more costly than typical commercial projects, but offer greater benefits than offsetting alone, such as restoration of ancient woodland, improved biodiversity and other environmental or social economic benefits.
Importantly these benefits support the locations and communities that that help support and allow motorsport events to run in – especially for rallying where local community support is necessary for an event to run.
How do you pick your offset projects?
We work with one provider exclusively who is a recognised and trusted leading carbon offsetting provider in the UK. They bring a huge depth of experience and knowledge in this specialist area – that would be beyond us. This capability gives us very high credibility and validity in being able to describe what we do with the highest standards of environmental benefit possible.
Our exclusive provider especially helps us in identifying and developing these projects that provide greater benefits than offsetting alone. Not everyone supports motorsport having a positive approach to the environmental agenda, but the more progressive organisations such as our partner recognise that to make a difference, its not about banning things, but encouraging everyone to improve things – and to do that it needs to be possible to make a difference.
We are especially focused on standards of projects and their verification – fortunately in the UK through the woodland or peatland carbon code we have the highest standards of projects and regulation on the world.
So why rallying? its it the only discipline you provide your services to?
We cover all motorsport disciplines – and provide our services to competitors, events, teams, and spectators – so for everyone involved in motorsport, and in all disciplines.
We decided to start by focusing on Rallying – partly because it’s the discipline we are closest to – I’m a competitor, and the other director Steve Smith for example has over 30 years professional experience with iconic teams such as Prodrive – so it was natural for us to start there, but also Rallying is the discipline by its involvement in local communities, that is the most challenged, and on a clubman level the least supported by the developments at the elite level.
We have already since our launch covered competitors and events in racing disciplines, such as circuit racing, karting, and other offroad disciplines, both in the UK and overseas
We constantly look at how we improve our offer especially in how we can build understanding and how we can make it easy for people to offset their emissions and based on competitor and organisers feedback – we have started working with ‘end to end event packages’ that provide the easiest and most affordable way to provide carbon offsetting for more people. This is proving to be very successful for rallying and next month we launch a similar package for race events.
We want carbon offsetting in motorsport to have the highest levels of adoption possible with everyone involved in the sport, and at all levels.
It means for us moving from being an innovation that can understandably have some initial resistance, as not everyone is so aware of the risks to our sport, and the need to act. We want to move that to high quality carbon offsetting being part of everyday natural behavior in how those involved in motorsport go about their participation.
Is offsetting helping reduce our emissions?
Carbon offsetting should be seen as one of several measures we need to take in motorsport.
Avoiding emissions is the ideal – technology will help us with that, reducing emissions is important – this can be achieved by technology but also understanding your carbon footprint and identifying where its possible to reduce. Carbon offsetting is about taking care of unavoidable emissions.
Its generally recognised that its not about one or the other but all things – we can’t reach Net Zero without removing what’s already in the atmosphere and what will be emitted in the future. So carbon offsetting alone is not the answer but a very important part of reaching that point.
Our approach is to offset 25% more carbon than is estimated to be emitted, we only use projects that will deliver that benefit by 2050 at the moment., but of course we look also for long term benefits beyond that point.
There is an argument for electric competition vehicles, and these have their place. But most competition vehicles today are powered by fossil fuels – and it takes a lot of mileage for new electric vehicles to cover their CO2 footprint in their manufacture. We believe that our services provide a practical bridge to where sustainable or recycled fuels will be available and economically viable for all in motorsport and the Co2 already emitted to manufacture existing vehicles can be captured over time.
How does a driver or team get involved, and why should they?
There are different ways, we have an online service that allows people to offset, and we work with event organisers through our end-to-end event package where the cost can be included in an event entry.
There are many reasons why they should – and its interesting to see the differences between those who actively use our services, and their reason for doing so.
From feedback we know that 98% of competitors are generally supportive of our initiative – but that does not translate into the numbers taking up our service today – making it easier for them to use our services is a key focus for us if we are to create the level of adoption needed to make a real difference.
I would say that event organisers are generally those most aware and closest to the reality we face today – motorsport in its current form is a sport under threat, especially at the grassroots level. There are several examples we are aware of where permission to run events has only been given by the event organisers having a valid environmental plan, which of course we can greatly support.
For individuals – competitors especially, its about doing their part to take responsibility – this can support their brand and attractiveness for sponsorship, and we know of several competitors who use our services to benefit or retain their sponsors. Less sponsors will want their brand to be associated with a sport perceived to worsen climate change.
We see interestingly that our most regular customers are those perhaps younger, and we see strong uptake in those who are also most interested in the diversity of the sport. This is important if we want the sport to be attractive for future generations to participate.
But to answer the why – the reason to do this as a customer is about all wanting our sport and the environment to thrive in the future, and each taking our own responsibility in that. It says a lot more about our sport to act on a voluntary basis, which is something we strongly support rather than it being mandatory.
You recently announced an international program. How does that work?
We can’t offset overseas using UK based carbon offsetting due to legislation, but in any case, even if we could it would not provide the local benefits, we think are important.
Climate change is both a local and global issue, and from our launch we already were being approached by international events – so it was important for us to offer the possibility to provide carbon offsetting for international events – especially in countries where there is a high level of participation.
For this we provide a bespoke service to international events– using a different portfolio of carbon offsetting methods and projects. We ‘blend’ these different carbon offsetting projects and techniques – importantly still with supporting international rewilding project activity, so we can still provide carbon offsetting and the additional environmental benefits than offsetting alone provides.
It will take is some time to provide our services internationally in each country, and the climate crisis does not give us that time. So, we will be soon extending our offer to how we can work with country partners using our business idea, unique methodology, and process to provide a similar country specific offer and benefits to what we are developing in the UK. It’s taken a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to develop what we have done – and despite how it may appear, its not easy to replicate that from scratch to the standards we have set out.
How do you feel this fits in with the future of sustainable motorsport?
Ultimately its about doing tangible things that benefit climate change and which the sport can communicate. We need to act and be seen to be doing more than in other sports due to the perception challenge we face. Sometimes I think we are unfairly treated as a sport – I wonder what the carbon footprint of golf is compared to motorsport as an example?
What we offer is not the only answer and needs to be part of a package of measures – we are aligned with FIA and their environmental strategies, so its consistent and valid for events to work with carbon offsetting as long as they are true projects that deliver the benefits promised.
We can greatly help bridge the gap between now and when sustainable fuels are widely and economically available, but its about continually improving our offer to create even greater sustainability benefits – as an example we will be working with electric vehicle carbon offsetting from 2023, and we will diversify in the future to a range of sustainably manufactured motorsport consumables.
Please check the Carbon Positive Motorsport listing in the Motorsport Prospects Directory for complete contact information.