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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Gaining leadership buy-in for the switch to renewable fuels 

Business leaders are uniquely positioned to bring about change, and climate action must be part of their operational planning.

Gaining leadership buy-in for the switch to renewable fuels 
[Photo credits: agnormark / Adobe Stock]

The recent United Nations’ climate change report sent a clear signal that we need climate action now. Wildfires, heat waves, and hurricanes, which are already causing billions of dollars in economic damage and disrupting lives, will become more frequent and intense as our society keeps pumping new greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

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Business leaders are uniquely positioned to bring about the change we all want and demand to see in the world, and there are optimistic signs across the corporate landscape. Change is happening. Change is accelerating. And change is taking place across all industries.

But in some areas, the pace of change is not fast enough. From aviation to commercial trucking to chemical manufacturing, these hard-to-abate sectors still rely heavily on fossil fuels. Climate action must be part of operational planning, and companies need to embed low- and net zero-emission thinking into their current supply chains today.

CLIMATE ACTION NOW

There is no silver bullet. The size of the climate challenge and the volume of fossil fuels still being burned both mean our planet needs low-carbon and zero-emission solutions deployed faster. Addressing this challenge means accepting one key truth: different vehicles serve different purposes. What works for a passenger car, for example, may not make sense for a big rig or an airplane.

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There are more than 11 million diesel-powered commercial trucks in service right now, and most will likely be on the road for 15-20 years. These vehicles, and the millions more that will enter service, need to emit less greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Recently, United ordered 270 new aircraft and Delta ordered 30 more. These aircraft have long lifetimes, lasting several decades. To put it bluntly, that’s several more decades that hundreds of aircraft will still rely on liquid fuels.

(Full disclosure: Neste provides renewable fuels to Delta.)

These two examples show why it is essential to embrace today’s solutions while supporting the development of tomorrow’s zero-emission technologies.

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To reduce direct emissions from aircraft, companies can look to sustainable aviation fuel, and renewable diesel can transform existing diesel-powered vehicles to eliminate new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and cut pollution right now. Both are renewable solutions that the growing biofuel industry produces to enable businesses and cities to achieve their climate goals faster. Among companies in this industry is Neste, where I serve as president of the U.S. market.

These solutions offer real, lasting, and meaningful climate benefits. Switching to renewable fuels can help future-proof supply chains for a world that will increasingly regulate carbon emissions, as well as position brands to thrive as a new generation of consumers, workers, and voters choose to engage with corporations that are showing clear climate action.

Of course, electrification or hydrogen can also help solve this problem, but it will take time for the vehicles and supporting infrastructure to come online and for costs to come down. These are needed long-term solutions, but to start making an impact today, we can’t wait to make a change.

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Simply put, taking a wait-and-see approach or making incremental investments in small-scale pilot projects is delaying meaningful action and enabling more fossil fuel use. The way I see it, the choice is to spend a dollar today to burn fossil fuel or to switch to an available, renewable alternative for immediate climate action.

THE WAY FORWARD

As the country continues on its journey to combat climate change, business leaders face the challenge of delivering real, meaningful, and lasting climate action that is also good for shareholders. This can be achieved fast and affordably by choosing to use and support proven solutions like sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), renewable diesel, and advanced diesel engines. Companies can operate a fleet of fossil-diesel-powered trucks or fly planes efficiently and safely.

Given the climate and pollution benefits of renewable fuels, it may seem like a no-brainer to make the switch. However, gaining the needed leadership buy-in can be challenging. There are a few practical actions to make this process easier.

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First, reach out to the engine manufacturers that endorse the use of renewable fuels. Cummins, Caterpillar, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and many others support the use of renewable diesel or sustainable aviation fuel in their engines.

(Full disclosure: Cummins and Caterpillar use Neste’s renewable fuels, and Rolls-Royce is testing Neste’s SAF.)

When speaking with these manufacturers, they’re likely to say two things, broadly: 1) renewable fuels work safely with their existing engines, and 2) renewable fuels do not void the engine’s warranty. Speaking with the manufacturers is an opportunity to ask questions and gain an honest perspective on making the switch.

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Second, talk with some of your peers who have made the switch. For example, many cities across the U.S. West Coast power their fleets with renewable diesel. Private sector companies that we work with are also seeing positive impacts to their bottom line and social license to operate from renewable diesel. The positive experience fleet managers have with the fuel is, often, a story they are happy to share. It’s also an opportunity to learn of any challenges they encountered when making the switch. When it comes to air travel, engage with airlines to determine how your company can reduce carbon emissions from business travel by supporting the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

Finally, the best option is to try it. A commitment to fight climate change today will enable society to reduce carbon emissions in challenging sectors like commercial road transport, aviation, and chemical manufacturing — and create a better world for tomorrow.


Jeremy Baines is president of Neste US, a leading producer of renewable fuels refined from waste and residue materials. 

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