How Formula 1 Plans to Make its Events More Sustainable

How simple systems and public officials helped clean up the Dutch GP

By Jonny Amon, Calling the Audible

The Play: Sustainability at the Dutch GP

Formula 1 is one of the most electric sports in the world. With its array of highly skilled superstars, famous brands, and high profile international locations, the motorsport draws millions of spectators to each of its races. While Formula 1 has been a cultural rock for decades, the sport has recently seen an uptick in popularity because of the Netflix series Drive to Survive, a behind the scenes look at how the drivers handle the intense pressure of racing and difficult relationships with each other. This series helped Formula 1 become a premier sporting event in the United States, guiding it along the path of becoming a dominant international brand.

Right now, Max Verstappen, of the Red Bull Racing team, consistently leads the field. Between his terrific skill and the advanced engineering of his RB19 car model, his performances routinely see him at the top of the leaderboards come Sunday evening. Verstappen hails from the Netherlands, a country that also hosts a Formula 1 weekend. When Formula 1 comes to the low-laying country, the event takes place in Zandvoort, a small coastal town west of Amsterdam.

On the surface, it’s clear that Formula 1 has a sustainability issue. The world-renowned motor competition moves around the world every week (or every other week) and the logistics alone are a huge environmental burden. In a sport already challenged by burning massive amounts of fuel and tires, moving cars, people, and even full garages around the world has a huge environmental cost.

In a recent self-analysis, F1 reported that is released 256,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The same report claims that by 2030, the company aims to be net zero, substantially mitigating its carbon footprint. With only seven years to go, it’s clear that Formula 1 will have to implement some significant changes to reach this lofty goal.

At Zandvoort this year, the local racing authorities showed what strategies they can use to help achieve this mission. For example, if you’ve ever travelled to Amsterdam, you might know how centered the city is on bike transportation. A similar principle was applied to the F1 ring in Zandvoort. The local authorities closed public roads, asking fans to arrive by bike or public trains. In an event where 100,000 people made their way to the circuit, 45,000 of those fans arrived by bike. A huge percentage of the remaining fans arrived by public transportation, limiting the environmental cost of logistics, at least from an attendance perspective.

But promoting environmentally-friendly transportation is not the only action the Dutch took during the race weekend. At the circuit, the Dutch GP team implemented a token system to reduce the amount of plastic waste. Dimitri Bonthuis, the Sustainability Manager of the Dutch Grand Prix, mentioned that they had instituted a goal of 75% recycling rate for plastic cups this year.

The recycling system was relatively straightforward, but proved to be successful nonetheless. When fans arrived at the Dutch GP event, they were given a token. If fans exchanged this toke upon purchase of a beverage, they would not be required to pay the €2 deposit. When purchasing the next drink, customers were asked to exchange the old plastic cup for the new one, ensuring that the cups were recycled. If you did not buy a next drink, then a token would be returned to you. Finally, by entering the token code, each fan had a chance to receive one of the “grand prizes”.

This system is not unique to the Dutch GP – I have seen a similar system used in football stadiums around Austria, for example. However, the simplicity of the process allows customers – even substantially inebriated ones – to quickly process and act in an environmentally friendly way.

Despite the success of this plan, one that will undoubtedly pop up in large events all over the world, F1 will have to continue to implement new ideas to reach its 2030 net zero goal. However, if there was any stop on the F1 circuit that was going to lead the way on recycling – it was always going to be the Dutch GP. The Orange are so far ahead of the curve they have already handed out a trophy made entirely of recycled Heineken glass bottles – like this one given to race winner and native son Max Verstappen in 2021.

Jonny Amon is a lifelong sports fan from Daytona Beach, Fla. In college at Georgetown University, he wrote about both college and professional sports for the Georgetown Voice, the school newsmagazine. Having recently graduated with a Master’s in sustainability, Jonny is now writing a newsletter about the intersection of sports and climate, looking to highlight the increasing overlap between the two topics.

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