Sustainability, Partnerships and the Racing Driver

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(Note from the publisher) For this week’s blog posting I welcome a guest post by Tristan Niesslein, the founder of Niesslein Sustainability Partners LTD. (NSP) where in the first of a two-part series he discuses the importance of sustainability both in a general sense as well as in the experience of a race driver and how embracing sustainability can be an important differentiator in the search for sponsorship. You can find more information on their directory listing here.

Sustainability, Partnerships and the Racing Driver
Tristan Niesslein, founder of Niesslein Sustainability Partners

Environmental Sustainability is now a key pillar for partnership success

The climate emergency is fast becoming pervasive in all areas of life, personal decisions and professional lives need to meet the challenges of climate change and potential partners in the Motorsports industry are not immune. In fact, they are likely to be highly motivated to partner with those who can share their ‘purpose’ when it comes to being conscious of the impact of doing business on the environment and generate a lot of goodwill through the association among their target audiences.

Where does the driver, either experienced or building their professional career, fit into this?

Motivated by purpose

Organisations recognise the requirement to ‘do more’, be more ‘purposeful’ and in rare cases, will ensure that nothing that could negatively impact the planet we all live on, is left behind.

Increased numbers of companies are signing up to global certification standards like SBTi (Science Based targets initiatives; who challenge large organisations to set targets to limit their environmental impact) and the UNFCCC’s (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; linked to the Paris Accord and associated closely with Sport with their ‘Sport for Climate Action’ initiative) principles to prove their credentials and commit to targets that achieve net neutral or neutral carbon emissions status (or lessening greenhouse gasses).

Those that are not, or not yet, stand to lose market share or risk reputational damage as a result.

In Motorsport Prospects’ recent article on the Formula E Documentary ‘And We go Green’, the sustainability point was raised as important to the formation of FE, as founder of the series, Alejandro Agag mentions; the lack of sustainability in F1 gave certain partners pause to invest in the series.

We can and should align this thinking to all categories and entities within Motorsport, as if the pinnacle of the sport can’t move past this, what could anyone else expect to do?

This is further demonstrated by a study conducted by Nielsen Sports in 2018, which articulated that 75% of consumers aged under 34, would be willing to “pay more for brands committed to positive social and environmental impact”, resulting in “sports that cannot demonstrate their social usefulness will lose business to those that can.”

In a highly commercially driven industry such as Motorsport, where partnering brands today will look for organisations 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.

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.

Making your mark with partners

So, what can be done to positively impact on the environment and gain credibility with partnering organisations who are increasingly looking for shared purpose in their partnerships? Here are 5 key points, for a Driver looking for commercial partners to consider:

Make changes

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.

You may not need to know your carbon footprint, but if you are interested in becoming ‘Net Carbon Neutral’ it would be important that you do. There are online calculators like Carbon Footprint and  Resurgence which offer ways of understanding the impact your lifestyle and career is having on the environment and if you want to appear authentic being knowledgeable and informed could be a differentiator.

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.

What can you change today to get started?

Know your brand and that of your potential partner

Anne-Cécile Turner, head of the Ocean Race Sustainability Programme, said:

“The first step should be to look at your own organisation and reflect on your core values and DNA…That will help to identify the impact you can create and the influence you can have. Next, identify ways forward through practical solutions, and then associate internal and external stakeholders.”

Once you have identified what you need to do to achieve point 1 and are willing to make the necessary changes, you will then be able to approach and attract partners with a much clearer storyline, leading to better outcomes for both parties and synergies of how you may be able to tackle climate change in your context together. 

Intertwine positive impact with your story

The UNFCCC Climate for Sport’s 5 principles largely focus on communication, education and advocacy from its members after promoting responsibility and reducing your overall impact. Your story can serve as a perfect vessel to illustrate how your changes and commitments have led to a reduction in the impact on climate change and demonstrate broader thinking throughout your racing development.

How can you be part of demonstrating the UNFCCC Climate for Sport’s 5 principles?

Look at and share best practice in your industry and around you

The sustainability in sport industry is becoming well represented and is growing, with practical advice and already many resources to support your journey to lessening your impact.

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.

Drivers, as individual entities, should not get left behind or rely on teams to provide the infrastructure to minimise your impact. Take a leading role to own your part of it and importantly, talk about it with others.

How can you raise awareness about sustainability issues using the platforms you already have?  

Avoid ‘Greenwashing’

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 organisations will be important to maintaining your credibility.

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 realise 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.

Look out for Sustainability, Partnerships and the Driver Part 2, in which I will illustrate how to identify organisations who may be looking to advocate sustainability in commercial partnerships.

In conclusion

Partnerships in business, sport and Motorsports are becoming increasingly purpose focused, with sustainability-based activations and collaborations to drive more impactful outcomes.

These partnerships only truly work when they are authentic, well-meaning and committed and individuals in Motorsports, especially those with platforms to communicate, such as Drivers can lead in influencing such partnerships to be participants in reducing your collective impact.

Aligning priorities, showing commitment and communicating to fans and customers will attract other atypical partnerships in Motorsports and perhaps widen the pool to organisations previously not interested in the polluting and unsustainable reputation of Motorsports.

Being part of the people who lead the change in the industry and its reputation with continued development of activities to minimise the impact of the sport, could now represent an important part of your career as a driver.

Finally, when considering a driver to invest in, the partner who is presented with a driver with neutral impact vs a driver who has not considered theirs, could certainly be a factor in their decision-making.

Part 2 of this feature can be found here.

Tristan Niesslein
Author: Tristan Niesslein

Tristan holds an MBA from Warwick Business School and is the Founder of Niesslein Sustainability Partners; Environmental Sustainability leadership and support for Motorsports organisations, drivers, and stakeholders. Genuinely passionate about Motorsports and driving positive change throughout the industry in terms of its environmental impact. The Motorsports industry was previously the focus of an extensive research project on the strategic development of Carbon Neutral operations in challenged industries. “I consider myself lucky that I can transfer my findings and expertise into my every-day work, in an industry I am passionate about.”

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