June 13, 2024

Q&A: ZEERO co-founder Nico Nicholas

Trees4Travel CEO Nico Nicholas answers key questions about ZEERO, a new investment venture to help the travel industry tackle climate change

Why have you decided to launch ZEERO?

We recognise that the carbon credit market alone will not solve climate change. While they are still an important transitionary tool to get us from where we are today to our net zero targets in the future, carbon offsets alone are just not enough. Furthermore, not all credits deliver the climate benefits they claim, and many projects are too costly for most people to get involved with, offering no remuneration, connection, or tangibility.

Many sustainable fuel projects receive investment from large oil companies, but they also have a responsibility to deliver profits to their shareholders, so they have a conflict of interest, no matter how much they want to be sustainable these investments are misaligned with their core values – they simply can’t drop what they do and focus everything on creating sustainable fuels and renewables quickly. This became apparent only recently when Shell announced that they were abandoning plans to cut oil production by 1-2% each year for the rest of the decade, a shift in their approach that firmly targets fossil fuels and increases payouts to shareholders.

How will it work?

The basis of ZEERO is a new additional option through Trees4Travel. Nothing changes except that instead of carbon credits, Trees4Travel and its partners – companies and travellers – will earn shares in ZEERO with every tree planted. It’s a mix between a sustainability sharing economy and a crowdfund. As ZEERO grows, there will be the potential to increase value for existing shareholders through share splits to maintain static pricing. These micro-investments will fund the research and development of innovations and solutions to produce clean energy for our world, enabling everyone to take part. By taking this collective approach, we hope to scale and fast-track solutions that are urgently needed and which are already being created by brilliant innovators in the sustainability space.

How will projects be selected?

Projects can be put forward and then will ultimately always be voted for by partners. There will be complete transparency through shared ownership and shared decision making through a digital voting platform, ensuring continued engagement with all stakeholders. Board membership will be offered for associations and for any shareholder holding over 5% equity. One of the initial key projects which we are proposing is the production of saltwater algae sustainable fuels. The travel industry’s biggest carbon footprint comes from air travel and cruise therefore producing sustainable fuels that can work in existing engines that will be around for a very long time, is in our view a good investment.

What is special about saltwater algae?

Saltwater algae is a versatile resource which can be converted into biofuels/sustainable aviation fuel. Algae grows 10 times faster than land plants, needs 10 times less land area and no fresh water. Most SAF is currently being produced through used cooking oil, animal fat and agricultural waste, and in 2021 less than 0.1% of aviation fuel use globally was attributed to sustainable aviation fuels. However according to IATA, that number was tripled in 2022.

Flying is also one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases, so it is clear that we need to vastly increase the scalability of alternative cleaner fuels. Viridos is one such company that has been developing and creating algae oil, a sustainable biofuel – a scalable resource that can be grown without impacting the food supply chain, and which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, commercial trucking, and maritime shipping by nearly 70%.

What about reforestation? Is that still part of your long-term offering?

Most definitely. We must continue to grow trees. There used to be 6 trillion trees on earth and now only 3 trillion remain. Trees are still one of our best carbon technologies and play a vital role in helping to bring back the natural balance to our planet. Trees absorb harmful pollutants, store carbon emissions, then release oxygen into the air. Scientific research estimates that a worldwide tree planting programme could remove two-thirds of all CO2 emissions, but reforestation can also help restore eco-systems, biodiversity and supports communities.

Many don’t realise that deforestation is the second largest emitter of CO2 after energy generation. This is mainly because of land clearing for animal rearing and agriculture. Therefore, planting trees is non-negotiable with every Trees4Travel package, allowing us to also support up to 15 of the 17 UN SDG’s, which are crucial if we are to reach our targets by 2030 and 2050.

Whilst we recognise that this would be practically impossible, and thankfully there are many solutions being worked on and developed, but if every airline passenger planted just one tree with the hybrid ZEERO solution, we estimate aviation could be decarbonised in 12 years – plus 49 billion trees could be planted, covering 500 million hectares of land. But we will never achieve this if we just rely on traditional investments. We all need to be on board.

Have you tested the appetite for this kind of venture?

Yes. We can’t disclose names at this stage, but we have been speaking with corporates, some TMCs and associations and they have all said they would welcome and support the concept. Trees4Travel is turning ‘sustainability’ on its head; instead of being a cost centre it will be a potential profit centre, an asset on the balance sheet. Incentivising climate action on a global scale is a massive challenge, but we believe ZEERO could create the climate investment required to help accelerate change – the catalyst that finally scales up action in an industry where emissions are hard to abate and currently still increasing.

How can travel companies and corporates get involved?

They can register their interest at www.zeero360.com