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What can we all learn from Extreme E?

May 10, 2023

This week sees the return of Extreme E to the UK. Paul Glass considers what the series has to share with the Clubman competitor.

It might seem that a global championship, with a small number of competitors, that sails between distant global venues, is unrelated to motorsport at the grassroots level in the UK – but is that really so?

The series has positioned itself at the leading edge of sustainability in motorsport, not just by having zero emissions or by promoting gender diversity through a requirement that 50% of its drivers are female, but also by creating a high-profile demonstration of how motorsport can create a positive legacy of environmental benefits to the communities it reaches.


One of the more contentious topics in UK clubman motorsport and on social media, is the question of the validity and attractiveness of electric vehicles (EV's), replacing traditional fossil-fuelled internal combustion engined (ICE) competition cars.

For many the sound of a Mk2 Escort at full tilt could never be replaced by the milk float swoosh of an electric powered vehicle – even if quick.

For others, competition vehicles should reflect the latest vehicle technology – and let’s be honest, if it's pure acceleration you're after, then it takes some fossil-fuelled power to match the performance of the latest electric vehicles.

But there is a dilemma.

Promotion of EV's in the sport is driven by commercial reasons, just as in the past when Audi's Quattro transformed rallying. Audi's innovation was ultimately about selling more cars, using motorsport as a marketing tool.

Many challenge the true environmental impact of EV's, which create more CO2e in their production than an equivalent fossil-fuelled car, and there are many concerns about the environmental impact of battery production.

The counter argument is of course that they generate less CO2e in their use, and the more electricity that can be produced from sustainable sources, then the greater the reduced CO2e will be.

So, for competition cars that travel low mileages in their lifetime, and have already long since been produced, there is still a strong argument for their comparable sustainability advantages, especially with the rapid development of sustainable fuels to power them.

We can leave the debates on electric competition vehicles for another blog, so let’s get back to Extreme E and the question of what all motorsport disciplines can learn from it.

What is the aim of Extreme E?

The series has set a clear strategy and goals, with sustainability at its heart:

"To use the power of sport to champion science-based impact and to inspire our fans and communities to raise their climate ambition."

The strategy has three themes: Extreme Action, Extreme Impact and Extreme Responsibility.

Each theme has several topics to act upon, with overall four promotional pillars:

Electrification – promoting the use of emerging technologies to achieve a low carbon future.

Environment – highlighting the impact of climate change and the solutions available.

Equality – promoting by example gender diversity.

Entertainment – Engaging a global audience through competition and story telling about the impacts of climate change.

Each year, the series still creates a carbon footprint and carbon emissions.

Last season these totalled 9,045 tonnes of CO2e. Thse emissions are all carbon offset, using globally certified projects based in Brazil. There are some concerns about such projects delivering their promise, which we will look into in another blog soon – but the key message is, despite being electric and using the latest technologies, carbon emissions are generated and are being mitigated in the global community where the series is located.

In this year's UK round, held in Dumfries & Galloway, tree planting forms part of the event’s environmental legacy. Correctly, they do not include this legacy in the carbon offsetting of the event, or any of its publicity, as the planting is not using properly verified UK schemes that can give assurances of carbon capture. Instead they promote the benefit of planting that allows them to improve local flood defences and reduce water temperatures to support fish breeding.

How is Extreme E different?

There are some notable differences in what Extreme E does, compared to other motorsport disciplines.

Extreme E seeks to minimise spectator travel.

The series relies on broadcasting as the means to show the series. I guess with dedicated broadcasting and a global target group, it’s still possible to achieve the exposure they and their sponsors seek.

The question is, do we want motorsport to become a media event, or one that embraces the local communities such events are based in? Is it possible to have both?

The series is entirely financed by sponsorship.

Notably, both the series and it's competitors are entirely financed by sponsorship - something I’m sure we would all want to see more of.

Sponsors are obviously attracted to the brand value coming from the global media exposure and the goals of a motorsport series that places sustainability at the heart of its reason for existence.

How many of our events or competitors today do that? and what could the benefits be if they did so?

Extreme E engages fans to drive change.

Cleverly Extreme E uses fans to drive active change. Their Count Us In Challenge is a marketing campaign "designed to use the power of sport, and the excitement of motor racing to inspire fans to take practical steps on climate change".

Effectively the series provides fans with a toolkit that they can use to pledge to take action, calling it "a powerful way to reduce your carbon pollution and persuade others to do the same."

How many organisers, competitors or spectators would act on climate change if we gave them an accessible toolkit to do so? How many make the pledge to reduce their carbon footprint but don't follow it through?

What can we learn?

If there’s one thing we can we all learn from Extreme E, it is that motorsport and the environment both benefit by placing sustainability at the heart of what we all do - whether we are organisers, competitors or spectators.

Picture credit: Charley Lopez

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