Racing Towards A Sustainable Future: An Interview with Dr. Cristiana Pace and Luca Guzzabocca

Sport And Sustainability International (SandSI)

October 2, 2021

2 October 2021 – Author: Melina Corvaglia-Charrey

No doubt during this decade of action, the race towards a sustainable future is on – and for it’s part, the motorsport industry is moving in the right direction. But is it moving fast enough? To help answer this question, Dr. Cristiana Pace of Enovation Consulting Ltd. and Luca Guzzabocca of Right Hub Srl collaborated on a study that measures the sustainability performance of 96 international motorsport circuits worldwide. The findings were summarized in a paper published in June 2021 titled: Racing Towards A Sustainable Future.

An industry first, the paper sets out to drive awareness about the current landscape of sustainability performance among circuits, as well as offer insights and recommendations for improvements for the industry moving forward. To learn more about the paper and the insights offered, as well as to better understand what a sustainable future in motorsport looks like, we sat down for a discussion with Cristiana and Luca. 

SandSI: To begin, can you please describe what the ‘Racing Toward A Sustainable Future’ paper is about and what it aims to achieve?

L: The aim of the study is to independently evaluate, measure and rank the level of sustainability performances of motorsport circuits around the world using the Sustainability Circuits Index™ (SCI). The Index is based on a very structured set of criteria. By circuits, we are referring to 96 permanent racetrack venues from a total of approximately 600 venues around the world, and we also considered all motorsport venues (cars and bikes). The overall objective of this study is to inspire all circuits, and all stakeholders, with facts and data and not just general information. It’s important to note this index is based strictly on data from information that is disclosed by the circuits. If circuits did not disclose their sustainability achievements, publically and transparently, these initiatives will not have been factored into this study.

C: The goal is to repeat this study and measure progress annually. We want to stress the point that this study is based solely on publicly disclosed information. So hopefully this will be a call to action for circuits to disclose all of their sustainability focused initiatives in future. 

SandSI: The topic of sustainability is growing, but it isn’t necessarily a new one, for motorsport or for all industries. Why did you feel there was a need for this kind of work within the motorsport industry today?

L: I’ve been involved in the field of sustainability for the last 20+ years, first in supply chain management and then in the motorsport industry over the past five years. I’ve seen a dramatic and rapid increase in interest in the last 2-3 years and I’ve been surprised by this in a good way.

C: About a year ago, we identified there was a big gap within the motorsports industry. Teams, Federations and many other organizations had set, or were setting, their goals in terms of sustainability for 2025, 2030 – but we noticed the circuits appeared to be behind. We felt the only way to help the industry understand this gap, and try to influence change and innovation, was through a sustainability index. We’ve seen with other industries that indexes have proven to move the needle and drive change. 

SandSI: When you began to research this topic, what outcomes did you find to be the most surprising?

L: What was surprising was how little circuits disclose about their sustainability initiatives. We may have been aware of initiatives ourselves, but if circuits didn’t disclose their activities, these initiatives were not factored into the study. I think this was the most surprising finding for us, and a good takeaway for circuits to consider moving forward. This can be an area for improvement for the next edition. 

C: I agree it was surprising to see how little data was available. There was a clear gap between the goals set by the Federations (the FIA and FIM), and the level of disclosure at the venue level. Given this gap, it’s difficult to assess whether or not the industry is on track to meet the goals that are set out at an industry level. We hope this study will help close this gap and allow us, and all stakeholders, to measure this activity and progress more effectively moving forward. 

SandSI: The study looked at how circuits performed across seven different criteria (accreditations, certifications, awards, approach/engagement, economic, social, environmental). Is there a single area that you feel can make the greatest difference, or is a holistic approach best?

L: I think focusing first on certifications can be a good starting point for circuits to start their journey. This may not be feasible for all circuits however. Other circuits may want to start with putting together a sustainability strategy first. There is no one clear approach. The important thing is that they start to engage with sustainability – with the aim to improve.

C: Each criteria plays a role in the journey. I believe the one area that can make the greatest impact however is the implementation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies. In my view, having an ESG strategy is very important to drive change and pushes venues to think long-term to grow their business – aligning with medium and long-term goals. With this approach, change towards sustainability can be achieved more smoothly because it’s planned, and can also deliver the greatest impact.

SandSI: You mentioned how sustainability strategy is good for business. Speaking of business, is there pressure coming from businesses for venues to act more sustainably (i.e. corporate partners, sponsors etc.)? 

C: Yes, definitely. There are really two main pressure points, in addition to the FIA and FIM. One is coming from business partners who are focused more and more on adopting sustainable practices and communicating and marketing such activities, and in turn want to associate with sustainable venues.  Pressure is also coming from fans who are also much more aware about sustainability issues today.

SandSI: How important is it for International Sporting Federations, across all sports as well as within motorsport with the FIA and FIM, to prioritize sustainability and influence change? 

L: Definitely the Federations have really impacted and influenced change industry-wide. There is a top down approach, and then there’s the bottom up approach that is also important. For instance, some circuits like the Mugello Circuit in Italy and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, among others, were certified before any strategies or mandates were put in place at the federation level. The next challenge for the industry is to align on objectives, strategies, accreditations, and initiatives to make an even greater impact, jointly.

C: I think the most effective approach to tackle sustainability in motorsport is to have influence from the top down. Federations play a key role. You need Federations to mandate sustainability practices among stakeholders. It’s an approach the FIA and FIM are currently taking. For instance, FIA Certifications are required in order to participate in their events in 2030. They are providing a sustainability roadmap of sorts for stakeholders to follow. This kind of approach is needed to influence and drive sustainability forward.

SandSI: You mentioned this is the first of what will be an annual study. The aim is to establish a benchmark and then see how the industry is progressing moving forward, correct?

L: Correct, this is the first study of its kind that looks at performance of sustainability of racetracks around the world. As we declared in the study, our aim is to monitor all of the activities, improvements, achievements, and also the stable situation of circuits, and then based on the same methodology provide the outputs in a second edition.

C: Yes, that is the goal similar to indexes you see in other industries – like the Sustainable Cities Index or Sustainable Financial Index, which are issued each year. Next year we are aiming for early Spring 2022 to align with the start of the season, and this timing will also allow circuits more time to respond and improve for their upcoming season. Looking ahead, The Sustainability Circuits Index™ is actually the first part of an overarching three-part Index called the Sustainability Motorsport Index™. The next two parts will look at the sustainability performance of Championships and Teams, with the aim of providing a more complete picture of sustainability practices across the industry as a whole. 

SandSI: The Paper was published recently in June 2021, what kind of response have you received thus far? 

L: We have received a number of congratulations about the study as well as compliments about the professional approach to the study, which was conducted with independent consultation, for instance with Paolo Taticchi, Professor of Strategy & Sustainability at University College London, School of Management. Regarding the circuits, we hope this inspires them and also gives them a chance to learn from each other and see what others are doing as they continue to put their own sustainability strategies in place.

C: Overall the response we have received has been very positive. As this was a first paper of its kind we received a lot of good press and interest internationally. We also heard from circuits directly asking more questions about the evaluation and showing a genuine interest to understand how they can improve. I think it’s been really good for increasing awareness among the circuits, especially around the issue of disclosure. We have already seen circuits improve disclosure of their sustainability initiatives. It’s great to see this movement that is happening and the desire for circuits to up their sustainability practices game. 

SandSI: Looking ahead, what does a sustainable future in motorsport look like, and what is your hope for the industry moving forward?

L: My hope, and this is the goal of our consultancy service here at Right Hub as well, is to see that when motorsport events are taking place in the future, they will be managed sustainably – from an environmental standpoint and a social standpoint. We work on many projects in the industry and our aim, with each initiative, is to move the industry towards sustainable management. Sustainability in motorsport is not just about the ten or 20 cars or bikes that are racing – which really have the lowest impact today due to the improvements in technology and fuels etc., but really it’s about measuring and improving the impact coming from all the rest – from the spectators coming to the events, the operations, the mobility etc. This is our goal.

C: I think we are getting there. I think the industry will manage to be sustainable, it’s a question of at which level. We know there are strategies in place – with set targets and commitments to net-zero for 2030, which is ahead of many other industries. Committing is the easy part. Hitting the targets is the tough part. It’s important to ensure that these are more than commitments, and that they are reported and held to account to ensure targets are achieved. I think this is where the Index can play a key role. I’m confident that the motorsport industry, being an innovative and technical industry, can attain the goals it sets out to achieve. It is in the nature of motorsport to address and resolve issues as they come, so I’m very hopeful that this is the case for sustainability, and believe that we will indeed have a sustainable future for racing.  

To read the full ‘Racing Towards A Sustainable Future’ paper, click here.

Commenting on this work, and what it means for the overall motorsport sustainability movement, Paolo Taticchi, Professor of Strategy & Sustainability at University College London, School of Management, offered this statement: “Sustainability is one of the key issues of today’s society – as confirmed by the increasing attention from governments, media, academics. In the context of Sustainable Development, businesses that are often referred to as being part of the problem can be part of the solution. Eventually the Sustainable Circuits Index™ has the potential to influence both practice and policy.”

SandSI would like to thank Cristiana and Luca for their time to discuss this work, and for sharing their enthusiasm, insights and vision for the motorsport industry moving forward. Both Cristiana and Luca would also like to thank Professor Paolo Taticchi of UCL for his guidance on this study. 

At SandSI, our aim is to accelerate sustainability in and through sport. With this work, Cristiana and Luca are certainly committed to accelerating sustainability in and through motorsport.

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