Honda reveals environmental cost of F1 racing

It seems a brave public relations strategy for to promote its Formula One vehicle as an “”  and link the world’s most indulgent motorsport with “raising awareness of environmental issues facing the planet.”

Rather than the traditional oil/tobacco/corporate fan-type of sponsor on the car, Honda Racing’s new image offers the public the chance to have their name on the car…  

Via the website anyone who wishes, will have the opportunity to have their name on the car, make a pledge to make a lifestyle change to improve the environment and make a donation to an environmental charity. Under the concept of “our car is your car”, each name will form a tiny individual pixel which will help build the image of planet earth on the car. Each name will be visible on the website when you make the pledge or under a microscope on the car.

This public relations strategy is apparently the brainwave of , chief executive of and creator of , as an innovative way to attract sponsorship and act as:

a powerful call to action for fans, sponsors, customers and members of the public to join Honda’s commitment to help address the environmental issues facing the world.

 A spokesman for 19 Entertainment is quoted in :

the company had undergone a “green audit” and has had consultations with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

Although media reports are that both and have slated the move. 

Apparently, Universal Music and Gatorade have signed up and “existing partners have enthusiastically embraced the idea and all remain involved with the team for the 07 season. In addition, the team is delighted to announce that Fila, IBM, Instron, Oliver Sweeney, Perkin Elmer, Showa Denko, TUV and GF Agie Charmilles have joined the roster of team partners and suppliers. ”

Media around the world seem largely unimpressed by the move to “develop Honda’s existing environmental ethos within the world’s most high profile motor-sport”:

Honda’s claim is spinning like a teenage driver doing doughnuts.  Honda has simultaneously linked itself with world environment causes, generated publicity for its vehicles, portrayed the company as being as green as cabbages and made other F1 teams look like uncaring barbarians intent on ruining the planet. All of it priceless publicity for Honda without spending a cent. 

And while calling for support to save the planet, Honda cars are polluting the very environment they say they want to save.   This is a marketing idea that usually comes to industry gurus late in the evening when a decision has to be made – whether to order a fifth martini or have wine with dinner. Remember Classic Coke? 

We now have a car with paint on the front no deeper than a lipstick smear urging us to save the world.  On the back the car’s exhausts are primed to pump out pollution at levels much deeper than a coat of lipstick.

Honda is sticking by its strategy: “The fact remains that 94 per cent of the people we polled thought it was a good idea,” team principal Nick Fry insisted.

However, other facts reported by the global media are that the car will emit 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide this Formula One season – estimated as five times more than the average Brit produces in a year.  That equates to 500kg of CO2 for each of the 17 grand prix races – 1,500g per km – around nine times more than the average new car.

In addition, drivers Button and Barrichello are said to fly nearly 100,000 miles to races during the season – that’s a further 28+ thousand tonnes of CO2.  Then there’s the emissions from testing, promotion, and the whole carnival required to get this show on the road around the world.

The irony of flying both drivers 7,000 miles from pre-season testing in Bahrain to make the “green” announcement in London was not lost on the world’s media who made fun of their personal commitment to the environmental cause which extends to driving “around Monaco in hybrid cars – which combine fuel-efficient gas engines with an electric motor” and Button’s revelation that “he no longer leaves the TV on stand-by and turns off lights when they’re not needed.”

I’m bemused by the goal of raising awareness of climate change – the same aim as the forthcoming concerts.  It is patronising to be told by people whose lifestyles are far more polluting than my own that the planet needs saving.

Nevertheless, I am impressed that Honda has stuck its neck out with this strategy.  Highlighting the environmental impact of F1 racing challenges its right to carry on regardless of the damage caused.  But Honda’s environmental values will need to be a genuine corporate commitment – especially as fans and sponsors may expect winning the F1 race to be more important than attempts to save the human race.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.