No one could have seen it coming four years ago, with all of the hot asphalt and roaring engines, that the grandest finale of NASCAR’s season would be called the Ford EcoBoost 400.
This is auto racing in its finest hour. As the cars take the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship weekend, NASCAR boasts the largest and arguably the most successful recycling and environmental sustainability programs among all U.S sports.
“Green has become a part of the fabric of our sport,” said Michael Lynch, NASCAR’s managing director of Green Innovation. “We’ve 67 million fans who are deeply passionate and really care, so we’ve got a tremendous stage here.”
Since 2008, Lynch has wasted no time developing partnerships for NASCAR Green, including Coca-Cola, Goodyear, Sprint, Coors Light, Safety-Kleen, and Florida-based Creative Recycling and Green Earth Technologies.
“From grassroots to high tech, from small company to big company, that’s what our pride is about, and that reflects NASCAR nation really well,” he said.
These efforts have developed a concrete connection between what is going on at the track and what fans can practice in their own homes. NASCAR fans are now more likely than non-fans to describe their households as “very green,” according to a 2012 research study.
“I’m astounded that we are talking about numbers like this four years in,” Lynch said. “We’re really pleasantly and delightedly surprised that the platform has been this impactful.”
In 2011, Sunoco Green E15 – a high-performance, American-made fuel, was introduced to NASCAR racing. Its three national touring series began using the renewable, low-carbon fuel that is blended with 15 percent ethanol from U.S-grown corn.
“They’ve now completed over three million miles in some of the toughest conditions possible in practice, qualifying and racing,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, a coalition of U.S ethanol supporters. “It’s an important validator for how great the fuel is.”
The CEO says the jobs created by ethanol production in roughly 200 plants in small communities can’t be outsourced.
“This has probably been the greatest opportunity for rural America in my lifetime,” the former grain farmer turned policy advisor said. “It’s good for all Americans. Ethanol is now 10 percent of all gasoline in America, that’s 10 percent less we have to import from the most unstable regions in the world.”
The official fuel of NASCAR emits 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than unleaded gasoline without sacrificing horsepower, and Buis knows that this message to the auto-racing fan base is a tremendous opportunity to eliminate myths about renewable fuel.
“There’s no sport more American than NASCAR, and there’s no fuel more American than ethanol,” Buis said.
At Homestead, there will be nearly 400 recycling bins where fans can add their bottles to the 12 million that were collected in 2011.
Safety Kleen will be ensuring that all of the fluids used in racing are re-used, as it has done at more than 200 NASCAR-sanctioned races this year.
Goodyear will take care of the tires, and Sprint has already collected over 40 million cell phones to be recycled.
“Everyone knows what to do plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, cardboard, things of that nature. Nobody really knows what to do with end-of-life electronics,” said Brian Diesselhorst, Senior Vice President of Creative Recycling Systems.
“The numbers are staggering; 300-400 million pounds of electronics every year, and only 30 percent of that is captured in recycling. The other 70 percent is being tossed into landfills or sitting in the drawers of people’s homes.”
Creative Recycling will be on hand at the track to collect those items for free, and educate fans about the fastest growing waste stream in the world.
“With NASCAR, we’re able to touch the country,” he said.