Earlier today, the all-electric SUV rallying series Extreme E released its first-ever sustainability report that detailed the series’ efforts to go carbon neutral. There’s a lot of data there, but I want to talk about how Extreme E is actually doing something in tangible ways that you can see and take part in rather than just talking about it.
I had the absolute pleasure of attending season one’s Arctic X Prix in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, which was that year’s third of five events — and it was absolutely fascinating to see how the series had already developed after two events. Where some race series tout sustainability goals without ever publicly putting them into practice, I had the chance to see everything that Extreme E was doing.
There were two big things that everyone experienced every day at the track. First, we were asked to bring our own reusable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery on which to eat our at-track meals. Extreme E provided a washing center so we could clean up after ourselves. The goal was to completely eliminate the single-use utensils that you normally see at the track: paper plates, plastic cutlery, styrofoam cups. And it worked. The only thing provided at the track were napkins. (And each meal also contained a vegan option for those looking to make sustainability changes to their diet.)
The second big change was admittedly less pleasant. Because the track was built out in the middle of nowhere, the series had to construct its own toilets — but rather than bringing Port-A-Potties filled with gross liquid, Extreme E set up the toilets as natural compost bins. There were five or six different toilet stations, and you did your business into a hole before covering it all with sawdust. According to the signs on the bathroom door, the company helping set up the toilets uses a special process to kill any toxins in human waste, rendering it safe to use as compost.
Neither of these were glamorous solutions. In fact — and I’ll be honest — they both sucked. It was rainy and cold in Greenland, so peeling off four layers of thermal underwear to sit on an icy toilet seat and feel the cool, damp breeze tickle your nether regions was extremely Bad News Bears. I was constantly battling between drinking more coffee to stay warm while knowing that more coffee would mean I’d need to use the bathroom more frequently which would therefore make my butt cold.
And washing my own dishes wasn’t great either, especially because — again — it was cold. Our washing water was not heated, so that nice muskox stew that warmed you right up was essentially nullified by a blast of ice water rinsing out your bowl.
But I did like the fact that it was real, that the series didn’t try to sugarcoat sustainability as being something that it encourages other people do while the folks in the series proper are somehow exempt from doing the dirty work. It also brought sustainability down to the personal level, to show you what choices you could make rather than wholly relying on things like “we, as a series, set up some solar panels that no one will ever actually see.”
That same weekend, though, I also got to see the higher-level sustainability projects Extreme E was putting together. The series traveled to local schools with the drivers, set up solar panels, put on karting races, and talked to young kids about the unique climate characteristics of their region — and how to preserve them. I attended several talks about climate change with high-level scientists who have been studying this for decades. I went out onto the Russell Glacier to collect ice samples to help scientists understand why the once-white ice has suddenly turned black. And I got to pop my head into the St. Helena, the ship that freights the series equipment from one track to the next.
And I only attended one event. In Brazil, Extreme E helped restore 100 hectares of natural forest and worked with local farmers to develop an agroforestry region of 200 hectares. In Senegal, the series brought drivers out to collect trash from the oceans and plant one million mangroves to help prevent seat level rising. In Sardinia, Extreme E provided support to forest fire recovery programs and began a conservation process to protect the local foliage impacted by those fires. In Saudi Arabia, the series revamped local beaches to help preserve local turtle populations. And in the United Kingdom, Extreme E took on a project to revamp the native biodiversity of Dorset’s wetlands.
All told, Extreme E reports that it emitted 8,870 tons of carbon dioxide, which it aimed to offset through wind farms, climate pledges, scientific development, and legacy programs.
Is the series perfect? No. The lack of fans at races — while still a great thing for the environment — makes it hard for some of these sustainability efforts to play out in public. But I do think the series is making steps in the right direction. It’ll be interesting to see what Extreme E does in the future, but this is a great start.