• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Sustainability in F1: Legitimate or Greenwashing?

ByElisa Vicencio Patiño

Mar 24, 2023

Formula 1 is not a sport that is typically associated with environmental sustainability. With its fast cars and twenty-two races taking place all around the world, this association for resource wastefulness is not unfounded. However, Formula 1 has in recent years attempted to clean up their image in the face of growing pressure.

In 2019 its main governing body, the FIA, announced their ambition to become Net Zero Carbon by 2030. However, despite the intention of Formula 1’s management to become a more environmentally-friendly sport, there are still questions over whether these new changes solve the main issues surrounding environmental sustainability or whether this is simply a case of greenwashing.

In 2019, Formula 1 conducted a study into the carbon dioxide emissions produced over the course of the season and found that the sport was responsible for approximately 256,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This contributed motivation to their net zero carbon initiative. Three years later, in late 2022, F1 management announced that power units to be used from 2026 will run on “fully sustainable fuel.” This means that no new fossil fuels will be burned with carbon being derived from non-food sources, municipal waste or from the atmosphere. They predict this will provide an 85-96% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. 

In their announcement of the new sustainable fuels, Formula 1 emphasised that their global partner, the oil company Aramco, participated in the creation of the new fuel. According to ClientEarth, an environmental law charity, Aramco is the world’s largest corporate greenhouse emitter in the world, with the company responsible for over 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. Aramco is not the first oil company to become involved in the sport. In fact, there are multiple Formula 1 teams, which have sponsorships from oil companies, including Mercedes and Petronas, Ferrari and Shell, and more recently Williams and Gulf Oil. 

The FIA, F1’s motorsport authority, have proven that, when serious about making change, they have the authority to illegalise the use of certain sponsors. In 2006, Formula 1 banned tobacco sponsorships from their cars after the European Union’s decision to ban advertising for tobacco due to the adverse health effects of smoking. The question remains as to why the FIA have not taken a similar approach to the sponsorship of oil companies if the sport is serious about becoming environmentally friendly.

Although the use of sustainable fuels is an important step for the longevity of the sport, without acknowledging the environmental cost of sponsorships with oil companies, Formula 1 will continue to give off the impression that it is prioritising greenwashing instead of environmental sustainability.

Illustration courtesy of Lucy Keegan.