As Bonato and teammate Benjamin Boulloud, who are committing to the “1 win for 1 tree” challenge, plan to take part in nine events in the French championship and eight rounds of the European Rally Championship (ERC) this year, “an entire forest” could be “at stake”, according to a document EURACTIV had access to.

To put things into context, when the duo won the French championship for the second time in 2018, Bonato set the fastest lap time in no less than 50 so-called specials, a portion of the race that racers attempt to complete within the shortest time as the winner of the race is the one with the lowest overall time for all specials of the race combined.

“We have entered a new era of environmental awareness,” said Bonato, adding that “it’s hard […] as a rally driver to lock yourself in a bubble and just hope you can continue driving as long as possible” when society is calling for sustainable commitments.

A ‘polluting’ sport?

While Bonato admitted that motorsport does pollute, he also pointed to “other sports and related events” as causing harm to the environment. While football, for instance, has a much greater impact on the environment at a global scale than motorsports, he added, the world of car racing is also “a real laboratory for the cars of tomorrow”.

According to Bonato and Boulloud, planting trees is therefore an opportunity to change certain preconceptions about motorsport and to improve its image among critics and fans alike.

“Motorsports has become my job as well as my passion,” said Bonato but explained that sponsors, whose support he needs to be able to continue, are increasingly concerned about associating their image with a sport perceived as polluting by the general public.

The idea behind the “1 win for 1 tree” challenge is therefore to respond to the “preconceived ideas” about motorsport and the concerns of its partners.

Planting trees, a trendy practice in the world of sport

Although this initiative is a first in the rally world, the phenomenon is becoming a trend in the world of sport. For example, Italian football club Juventus promised last November to plant 200 trees for every goal scored by its players.

In France, the Montpellier Hérault Sport Club announced in 2019 it would plant five trees for every goal scored in the French football league. And last November,
French rugby union club Oyonnax Rugby said it will commit to planting one tree for every try scored to reforest about 15 hectares in the Haut Bugey.

However, the proliferation of tree-planting projects could “quickly turn into greenwashing”, the French environmental association France Nature Environnement (FNE) warned in a press release published in late March.

According to FNE, for such a project to be truly virtuous, it must meet certain conditions, including that the planting of diverse tree species should be adapted to local conditions and be “compatible with the preservation of biodiversity”. Besides, offsetting emissions by planting natural carbon sinks, such as trees, would not be enough, the association added.

A long-term commitment

For Bonato, there is no question of making false promises.

“The idea behind our challenge is not to offset our impact, but to show that we are aware of the problem,” he told EURACTIV, adding that “planting trees won’t change the face of the world, but our action will help to change attitudes in our sport.” For Bonato and his teammate, the challenge is “a small step for the environment but a big step for our passion”.

In terms of biodiversity, the team is working with a local tree nursery and landscape company to plant a variety of tree species in the southeastern commune of Les Deux Alpes, Bonato’s hometown. The team intends to first plant cherry trees in the shape of the commune’s emblem.

This wild variety of cherry tree – in addition to having white flowers that are clearly visible from the sky – would be “a tree that blooms well and attracts birds” and withstands local climate, explained Bonato. “We are very limited in our choice of species by the altitude here in the mountains,” he added.

In a second phase, probably during the 2022 season, the duo will plant different species, with the aim of creating a real “space dedicated to biodiversity”, with a fun trail that will allow school children to discover the area’s biodiversity.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]