Written by Daniel Hill

Climate innovation is more than climate tech. And we must recognize that if we’re going to get anywhere near achieving net zero.

I’ve worked on several sides of climate innovation throughout my career, as an entrepreneur, at a tech startup, within corporate sustainability, and as a nonprofit intrapreneur. And what I’ve come to realize is that when people hear climate innovation, they assume it is climate tech. Yes, climate tech is absolutely part of the climate innovation ecosystem, and fortunately, it is seeing a tremendous amount of growth.

The risk of seeing climate innovation and climate tech as synonyms is that we assume companies will have to wait for missing solutions to be engineered by startups (not just engineered, but also funded, scaled, and market-ready).

As of early 2024, about half of the world’s largest 2,000 publicly listed companies have set a net-zero target, a commitment to cut their net emissions to zero. Many, if not most, of these companies are now struggling to achieve net zero. This is partly because of something called an ‘innovation gap’. Meaning that even if they implemented today’s existing climate solutions, they would still fall short of achieving net zero - leaving a gap where new solutions are needed.

If companies are waiting to be saved by climate tech, that means they’re less likely to put resources towards other mechanisms of climate innovation now. Many of which they can do within their own walls. For example, engaged employees are an incredible source of innovation. 

It’s a misconception that innovation happens by chance. In fact, innovation is something that comes from structure and culture. I’ve learned from designing and running an internal innovation lab that if employees are given space and resources to collaborate and bring forward new ideas, they will solve incredible challenges. 

Another mechanism companies have access to is collaborating with their industry. 

Climate change isn’t the first issue that has faced an ‘innovation gap’. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was a huge need for a new vaccine. Like climate change, there is a tremendous amount of risk when developing a new technology or solution at that scale. 

In order for companies to make the investment, they needed people (in this case, governments) to say “Yes, we’ll buy this if you can make it.” This innovation mechanism is called “advanced market commitments” and was pivotal to companies investing resources into making vaccines.

That same mechanism of advanced market commitments is currently being used for new climate solutions. Companies are coming together to collectively commit to buying green steel or sustainable aviation fuel or other needed climate solutions and help to derisk research and development. 

We need to recognize that climate innovation is more accessible than we think.

Which is why I created the Climate Innovation in Corporations course with Terra.do. It’s a chance for anyone working or wanting to work in corporate sustainability to demystify climate innovation. And beyond learning about the ecosystem and the mechanisms that can be used in companies to accelerate climate innovation, it’s a chance for people to see that they themselves can be a climate innovator. The course will show the tools and skills needed to identify new climate solutions and bring them to life.