From Ideas to Impact: How Innovation Is Fueling Climate Action

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As the effects of our warming climate escalate, the pressure to develop and adopt innovative solutions to help reduce emissions – and clean up existing ones – has never been more important. As underscored in the OECD’s Financing Climate Futures report, “Innovation is a key ingredient in addressing climate change by laying the foundation for new businesses and jobs that help increase global productivity while advancing key UN Sustainable Development Goals such as eliminating poverty, improving health and well-being and access to education.” 

In 2024, company leaders participating in PWC’s 27th Annual Global CEO Survey indicated that at the top of their list of priorities is “innovating new, climate-friendly products, services and technology” (67%) and “selling products, services or technologies that support climate resilience” (65%). But when it comes to climate, what does innovation actually mean, and how are leading travel businesses thinking about it today? In this article, learn from two innovation-focused business leaders about how they view the multifaceted importance of innovation in climate action and where they foresee the most significant opportunities and challenges. 

Innovation in Fuels

Companies like Neste, the world’s leading producer of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), are helping reduce the emissions associated with transporting people and goods via airplanes. Neste refines waste, residues and raw materials into renewable fuels and sustainable feedstock for plastics and other materials. In 2023, the company received the European Inventor Award from the European Patent office, and has consistently been included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices. 

© Neste

“Innovation is in Neste’s DNA,” says Jorrian Dorlandt, Global Communications Manager at Neste. “We were one of the first to produce and supply SAF in 2011 and ever since, we have been exploring new raw materials and new production technologies we can use to produce renewable fuels and increase the impact of using these fuels. Just think about the potential of power-to-liquid, or e-fuels, as a future next generation of SAF with great decarbonization potential towards reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.” 

In January 2024, Neste announced the conclusion of their three year long project accelerating the commercial scale production of their carbon neutral synthetic e-fuel. Synthetic e-fuels, or electrofuels, are made from captured CO2 and renewable hydrogen produced from green electricity. The carbon reduction potential is impressive because e-fuels minimize land use, utilize CO2 that’s been removed from the atmosphere and use renewable electricity in production. Amidst these groundbreaking developments, Neste’s currently available SAF is a biodiesel made from 100% renewable waste and residue raw materials like used cooking oil and animal fat waste. It is considered a drop-in fuel, meaning it can be used in existing jet engines alongside regular jet fuel, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%.

However, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the use of sustainable aviation fuels was only 0.1% of the total jet fuel demand in 2022. Despite purchases from discerning buyers like Boeing, Airbus, Boston Consulting Group and ING, Jorrian highlights that regardless of SAF’s unequivocal ability to reduce the carbon emissions from flights, “the average traveler either for business or leisure will probably not be aware that with SAF there is a solution available to reduce their travel emissions today, and that many airlines offer the opportunity to replace fossil fuel with SAF.” 

Innovation cannot catalyze climate action without widespread understanding, cultural shifts, and consumer demand. “Partnerships like the one Neste has with Tomorrow’s Air can play a key role in raising that awareness and include using SAF for reducing your travel footprint as a normal part of traveling today,” comments Jorrian. Tomorrow’s Air is a platform dedicated to promoting climate conscious travel through education and outreach and helps decarbonize travel by directing funding to innovative climate solutions like carbon dioxide removal technologies and sustainable aviation fuel. In 2023 Tomorrow’s Air announced their partnership with Neste

Travel Company Innovations

Within the tourism sector, which accounts for 8% of global emissions, and engages more than one billion people, travel presents a compelling opportunity to catalyze innovation and inspire cross-sector collaboration. Companies like Terres d’Aventure, an outdoor adventure travel company based in France specializing in tailor-made bicycle or walking trips, has been working to decarbonize travel emissions for the past 20 years. 

© ATTA / Tomorrow’s Air – Terres d’Adventure

Terres d’Aventure implemented its first forest ecosystem restoration project in 2005, and has been carbon neutral since 2018. “
Beyond these major programs of which we are proud of,” states Eric Balian, Managing Director at Terres de Adventure, “the future is made of these small, continuous improvements: our electricity suppliers are 100% renewable, we have eliminated plastic from our trips and our offices, we provide non-plasticized water bottles and containers to our customers and our employees, we reimburse our employees’ bicycle trips in the same way as public transport trips and we do not reimburse car trips.”

Compared to Neste, which has 25% of its staff working in engineering and research and development, innovation looks a little different in travel businesses; however, the concept of finding time to adapt and make incremental changes remains the same. Terres d’Aventure’s 2024 goal is to increase communication with their guests about how their money is allocated across sustainability initiatives, and community projects.

“Responsible tourism is not only a question of climate,” Balian shared. “Our ambition is to put all our actions into perspective in relation to the 17 UN sustainable development goals. Innovation in this area lies in the desire to always do better, always seek to optimize our practices not only for the climate but more generally for sustainable development.”  

This October, Eric Balian from Teres d’Aventure and Susanne Bouma, Head of Partnerships and Renewable Aviation programs at Neste will attend Innovate for Tomorrow: Climate Action Summit in Norway. The event, hosted by Tomorrow’s Air, the Adventure Travel Trade Association and Innovation Norway, will convene leaders across industries to discuss and commit to greater investments in climate action and implement climate positive strategies and business models. It is this kind of collaboration that will help bridge the gap between sectors and forge diverse pathways towards climate action. As individuals, businesses and communities we hold the power to shape a future where innovation serves as a catalyst for positive change, where every action, no matter how small, contributes to a more resilient and sustainable world for generations to come. 

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