Motivating Companies VCO Investments to Reduce Carbon Emissions and Increase Climate Investments


The escalating concern and severity of climate risks have prompted a growing number of companies to intensify their efforts in addressing climate change. As these companies explore diverse strategies to combat this global challenge, gaining a deeper insight into their motivations and priorities for sustainable investments becomes imperative.

A prominent approach adopted by companies in their commitment to combat climate change is the engagement in voluntary initiatives, and a significant aspect of this involves investing in voluntary carbon offset (VCO) projects. VCOs serve as a crucial mechanism for enabling companies to direct financial resources into climate projects while simultaneously offering the potential for sustainable development benefits. However, there exists a substantial knowledge deficit when it comes to comprehending the underlying motivations that drive corporations to invest in carbon offsetting, particularly in relation to their prioritization of local co-benefits. addressing this knowledge gap is essential for unlocking additional climate finance and advancing our collective efforts to combat climate change.

In our analysis recently published in Nature’s npj Climate Action, we have identified that companies engaged in these initiatives are motivated by a diverse array of factors when participating in carbon markets. These may include a genuine commitment to corporate social responsibility, a strong desire to mitigate the impacts of climate change, or the strategic goal of enhancing their public image and reputation. Moreover, our analysis also delves into the less-explored area of how companies prioritize co-benefits at the local communities within their decision-making processes for these projects. Gaining a deeper understanding of these motivations would significantly enhance our comprehension of corporate sustainability strategies, preferences, and their associated implications.

Drawing on case studies of 186 companies across 28 countries with 534 offset projects.

Our analysis identifies three primary motivations driving corporations invest in carbon offsets: 1) company management and efficiency, 2) company market competitiveness, and 3) company values.  Examining the distribution of these offset projects, we've observed disparities among countries in terms of accessing the benefits from projects situated in areas where they are most needed.

 To facilitate effective global climate action, it is crucial that we examine the reasons behind companies' carbon offset purchases and their connection to their motivations and behavior towards co-benefits. Our analysis reveals that companies motivated by the desire for greater market competitiveness and alignment with their core values are more inclined to invest in projects that yield substantial local co-benefits. Conversely, companies primarily motivated by enhancing management efficiency are more likely to invest in emissions reduction projects, often revolving around renewable energy.

Therefore, for companies whose foremost motivation centers around emissions reduction, their purchasing priority lies in selecting cost-effective offset projects that deliver optimal results. In contrast, companies whose motivations are primarily rooted in non-emissions-related impacts, such as bolstering market competitiveness and enhancing overall company value, place a heightened emphasis on high-cost projects. These high-cost projects are particularly appealing due to their capacity to yield substantial local co-benefits, which hold significant value for such companies.

 The choice of project types and offset standards significantly influences companies' readiness to make additional investments.

 We conducted a comprehensive analysis to examine the relationship between project preferences based on different motivations and preferences within the same motivation category. Our research yielded three key findings:

  1. Companies driven by their core values and a desire for increased market competitiveness were inclined to invest in higher-priced carbon offset projects, such as those involving household devices, forestry, and chemical processes.
  2. Conversely, companies motivated by carbon management and efficiency were more drawn to projects with lower price tags. Consequently, lower-cost projects had a higher likelihood of receiving investments from companies with motivations centered around carbon management and efficiency, as opposed to their higher-priced counterparts.
  3. Across different motivations, all companies displayed a consistent preference for investing in renewable energy projects over other project types.

Given the global scale of the climate crisis, it is imperative that corporations allocate their investments strategically to fund climate action in regions with acute needs, such as Africa and other global hotspots. Through corporate investments, national and subnational actors can diversify their portfolio of climate projects, resulting in improved policy design and co-benefits for global communities. By directing their resources toward projects that offer higher co-benefits and lower costs, companies make a substantial positive impact and contribute to the advancement of a sustainable low-carbon society.

Other Contributors to this blog: Jocelyn Lewis-Johnson, Camryn Dahl, Shannon Kennedy

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