How a sportscar ace is speeding to save trees in 2021

During his racing career, Ferdinand Habsburg's eyes have been opened to the waste humanity produces and leaves behind. He explains what he's doing to counteract that through his new Drive Fast, Act Faster initiative that aims to protect one of the world's most biodiverse forests

How a sportscar ace is speeding to save trees in 2021

Racing is something I’ve been doing intensely for the past 12 years since I started karting when I was 11. In that period of my life, I had school that I had to complete until I was 17, and then after that I was just fully focusing on racing all the way. This year, I’ve moved from the DTM into LMP2, and will be racing in the European Le Mans Series with Algarve Pro Racing alongside Richard Bradley and Diego Menchaca, and in the FIA World Endurance Championship with WRT alongside Robin Frijns and Charles Milesi.

That’s really exciting, but I’ve also noticed in my personality that sometimes I need a change of scenery to keep my mind clear. And I noticed that I benefit from having other hobbies beyond racing, and that the trend with me is for them to be quite orientated around nature, like surfing, mountain climbing, mountain biking or hiking.

Now that I’m racing everywhere, I’ve also noticed the waste that we produce and leave behind. I’m a big fan of racing, and what drives us, but over the winter I was trying to find a way in which I could maybe reduce our waste, become more aware, more sustainable. I wanted to have not only the benefit of being very passionate about our sport, which fuels a lot of people in their day-to-day lives, which is why we do it, but also try to change the wasteful nature that the sport has.

Since we’re living in a world where everybody’s becoming more aware, starting to point fingers or trying to cut away things that have a negative impact on our environment, I was thinking, ‘Let’s get ahead of the game, let’s do something that stands out, which could change the perception of the sport. We are not wasteful beings, but our sport can have a negative impact on the environment, and if we could reduce it then we would. How can we make a statement? How can we make a change?’

So I started this campaign called Drive Fast, Act Faster. It was helped out a lot by me joining Algarve Pro Racing for the ELMS, because Stewart Cox the team owner is very motivated by this kind of energy. And he basically told me, ‘Ferdinand, you can have the car livery however you want, you can have free rein and you can make changes, as long as you’re the one who puts in all the effort,’ because obviously he’s extremely busy getting all the cars ready, and the number one priority is still to win races. And I said, ‘Perfect, I’ll do this’.

Drive Fast, Act Faster livery render

Drive Fast, Act Faster livery render

I’ve implemented a few changes at the team to reduce our waste, changes that anybody can do, and found a system that anybody can very easily offset all of the carbon emissions that we still put out. My project is to have a carbon-neutral season, and it seemed to be easier than I thought it would be. But then I didn’t want it just to be me. I wanted to create a statement from the racing community and see how it took off, and that’s what Drive Fast, Act Faster is about.

I’m trying to connect all the teams, all the drivers we can get together, and collectively protect a specific forest that I’ve grown very, very fond of in Ecuador. It’s called the Narupa Reserve. It has the most biodiverse forest on the planet, and that includes flora and fauna. It’s extremely dense, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we have this forest protected by a racing championship?’

Each team or each car that partakes in this protects 10 to 15 acres of this forest, including our car obviously. And my end goal is to protect the Narupa Reserve forest, which is about the size of Manhattan. That would be a huge achievement by the racing community and something that’s never been done before.

The point here is to protect as much rainforest as possible, to go beyond merely offsetting our carbon footprint and to really make change

Going back to the livery on the ELMS car, it’s the Narupa Reserve forest. It’s unique, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s more of a billboard to gain traction. I don’t need the car to have a picture of the forest that it’s protecting, but it sends such a strong message. I love it. I hope it looks controversial.

We don’t need everybody to start stickering trees on their car; the campaign Drive Fast, Act Faster is more to unite people. We still want sexy liveries, we still want aggressive liveries, and what I’m doing is a way of aggressively sending a message out that I’m here to try to make a change, and I have goals that I want to achieve.

We’ve got other projects, like trying to use more sustainable materials for team kit – all the team kit we’re using is made out of upcycled plastics. Then all the team kit that I’ve been designing and working on, all of the excess from that will be turned into merchandise, which will then be sold online through my website ferdinandhabsburg.com, and 100% of the proceeds will go also to the Narupa Reserve. This is my attempt to bring the fans into the emotion of trying to protect this forest, so it’s not just those of us who are racing who are taking part in this campaign. So how do we protect the forest?

Ye Yifei, Habsburg, Binder 2021 Asian LMS

Ye Yifei, Habsburg, Binder 2021 Asian LMS

Photo by: Asian Le Mans Series

Step one is calculating what your carbon footprint is, and that’s including everything, from transport of the vehicle to fuel consumed to tyres consumed, flights, everything. And just to be on the safe side we’ve rounded it up. Our calculations go to 102 tons of CO2 that we’re using for the ELMS, but that includes reductions like using more sustainable clothing.

Step two is to calculate how many acres of forest we need to protect to make sure that we are offsetting our carbon footprint, by using scientific evidence to calculate how much CO2 gets eaten up annually by one acre of forest. We know that one acre of the Narupa Reserve can store up to 40 tons of CO2. Therefore, to protect three or four acres would be more than enough to offset my ELMS campaign. However, we are protecting 10 acres. The point here is to protect as much rainforest as possible, to go beyond merely offsetting our carbon footprint and to really make change. But how do we do that?

Green Future Project are the people who I’m working with, and they are there regularly at the Reserve doing all the necessary research, and making sure that everything happens smoothly. They are working with a local NGO called Foundation Jocotoco, which then goes to deforestation companies, cattle breeders and private farmers to buy the land and integrate it in the reserve. So instead of the deforestation company going there a month later to take away all of the forest, it stays there. And it’s the most protected of forests by rangers, who are there to make sure that nothing illegal happens.

Green Future Project is a young group who have been focusing on getting companies and industries to take more sustainable routes, and have found easily accessible ways for them to offset all of the carbon that they produce. So they make assessments, and then they present certain projects to you that you can support to offset your carbon footprint. They have projects in Indonesia, which they frequently visit, and others around the world. The way I got to know them was through my younger sister Gloria, who went to the same school as one of the ladies who works there. She put me in contact with her, and then she put me in contact with the founder of Green Future Project.

It’s funny, because my older sister Eleonore last year married Jerome d’Ambrosio (pictured), and of course he is really well known as an ambassador of Formula E and electric racing. Why not do that instead of carrying on with internal combustion engines, especially as Jerome is my brother-in-law? But he was in Formula E it started, and he was in a different phase of his career to where I am.

Jerome d'Ambrosio, Mexico FE 2020

Jerome d'Ambrosio, Mexico FE 2020

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

I have the privilege of taking part in the motorsport that I fell in love with. It includes stuff like Le Mans, the noise, the smell, all the things that I’m trying to protect by protecting forests. Formula E has its place in the world, and is its own story, but instead of trying to change something we love into something new or something different, which I have no problem with whatsoever, I’m trying to protect something that we truly fell in love with as kids by making a more sustainable version of it.

As it is, I’m lucky enough to be racing in a 4.2-litre V8 LMP2 car, which makes a proper noise. You can see the trend of championships moving away from that through, let’s say, pressure from organisations and politics, and if that trend were to continue I’d be worried that one day in the near future it would start having a large effect on our motorsport, and my children and my children’s children might not have the opportunity to see V8s, let alone V10s, racing head to head around a racetrack in an intense battle with top-class drivers. And I would be very sad to see that happen.

As well as the ELMS, I’m offsetting my WEC season. The difference is that with air freight to Fuji and ship freight to Bahrain we have to protect a higher number of acres, because that obviously increases our carbon footprint quite dramatically. So instead of 10 acres we’re protecting 15 with the WEC car.

Some people might ask whether the profile of my family – my father is the head of the historic House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and he served as an MEP – gives me more of a platform to do this. I haven’t thought about it like that, although I do think that I have inherited certain strengths. I’m good at explaining why I do things, and I think that’s really powerful, so I hope to use that strength for something that I believe to be really good for Mother Nature and the earth. I’ve had a lot of support from my parents as I’ve stepped into this journey of doing something different – not only being a racing driver but starting a campaign on something that I really believe in.

We shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about motorsport. We should be aware of the benefits we have from the sport, and try to outweigh the negatives that we do produce

For each race weekend that I have in ELMS and WEC, I’m targeting two or three teams and drivers who I believe might possibly have an interest, so I’ll be trying to expand the campaign and get people involved. I’m keen to show not only the Reserve we’re trying to protect with my ELMS car, but also that there are opportunities in other places that we can protect around the world – in Brazil, in Mexico, in Indonesia – which might be of more interest to other drivers.

I’ve planned on making carbon offsetting as available as possible and as easy as possible, because I do feel that there are a lot of guys out there who would be very keen to do this kind of stuff, but just wouldn’t know where to start, wouldn’t know who to trust, and wouldn’t know where to go, and I hope that having this come from a fellow racing driver it would be a trustworthy project and something that people would really like to get involved in.

We shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about motorsport. We should be aware of the benefits we have from the sport, and try to outweigh the negatives that we do produce. That’s why I’m trying to get as many people as I can onto this, because imagine if we are truly able to protect one of the most valuable forests on the planet, just by our racing community. It would be such a huge achievement, and only because of our passion for our sport. So the more I try to get this out there, the more we reach people and get them involved, the cooler the sport will become for those of us who are conscious and are aware.

Ye Yifei, Habsburg, Binder 2021 Asian LMS

Ye Yifei, Habsburg, Binder 2021 Asian LMS

Photo by: Asian Le Mans Series

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