Saudi Arabia "needs to be around the table" as they have "the financial power to support us" in the fight against climate change, says Julia Pallé, sustainability director for Formula E.
The all-electric series recently signed a global sponsorship deal with Sabic, a Saudi Arabian company and a subsidiary of the state-owned Aramco. Environmentalists have claimed the company is responsible for more than four per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.
While it may appear hypocritical for a series that champions sustainable practices, Pallé argues that it is necessary in the fight for a better future.
“For us, it's very simple. The reality is that we are facing one of the biggest challenges of humanity, which is climate change,” Pallé told the BlackBook. “It's tomorrow, 2030. So it's seven years [as we're] almost in 2023.”
“You have two ways of approaching this. Either you preach to those that are considered as the virtuous ones, and you turn a blind eye on the reality and the rest of the world, because [Saudi Arabia] makes up a part of the world. Or you get them around the table, and you get them to help.
“We are very pragmatic, because we have decided to work with these guys. And why? Because these guys, they are giants, they have the money, hence they have the ability to innovate, which most other companies don't have.
“These guys can [help us to make] a leap of faith in terms of technology and innovation that very few companies are able to. I was at COP 27 discussing with some of the delegation members, and the feedback is the same: they need to be around the table.
“These guys have the technological ability, because they've got the financial power, to support us in doing this technology leap.”
Th Sabic money, though clearly useful in Formula E's sustainability fight, has been generated at considerable cost to the environment. It begs the question at what point do the ends justify the means for the all-electric series.
The environmental strides they are able to make with this funding are invaluable, and they are granted access to better technology as a result of it, but Pallé points out that Formula E's ethos is “creating value through values”.
Tackling a more sustainable future head on is certainly creating value, and especially commendable in a wider sport that has been so brazen in its previous approach to its environmental impact. However, is the moral value irrelevant if the impact is ultimately good? A difficult question to answer in the increasingly complex concept of greenwashing.