Across the voluntary and compliance markets, carbon offsets are purchased by countries, institutions, and individuals. The prioritization of climate change has inspired hundreds of businesses to take carbon-neutral pledges or just reduce internal emissions. Major companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all announced plans to go carbon-neutral. Individuals have also kick-started volume in the market as more people decide to offset their carbon footprints.
While they don’t make up the majority of trading volume in the market, individuals, or the “retail” sector, play an important role as carbon offset buyers. Everyone in the world emits pollutants in one way or another every day. We drive cars, use electricity, and fly on planes. By offsetting their emissions, individual buyers pioneer a significant ethical movement that influences how people think and act about sustainability in the modern world.
The largest purchasers of carbon offsets are institutions, which also make up most of the emissions. Some of the most significant institutional buyers of carbon offsets include prominent corporations, universities, governments, and nonprofits. For example, Google recently spent almost $1 billion on carbon offsets. Microsoft has also purchased offsets to compensate for emissions from its cloud computing services. The University of California system has offset emissions from its campuses and research facilities. The government of the United Kingdom has used offsets to help meet self-imposed climate targets.
Carbon offsets are a popular way for institutions to reduce their emissions because they are used to finance projects that would not otherwise get funding. Offsets are also popular among philanthropies and NGOs. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has used them to fund projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. The Clinton Foundation has used them to support clean energy projects in Africa.
In addition to meeting sustainability goals and philanthropy, many large institutions are motivated by self-interest to use carbon offsets. All parts of the world today are connected. Large institutions benefit from this, but it also means that they are more at risk if something affects many parts of the world. The climate crisis will affect everyone on the planet. Since large institutions have such widespread influence, they’re facing the biggest challenge of not having their operations get affected.
Starbucks is responsible for a large number of emissions in its supply chain, but its business model is relatively climate-neutral apart from the transportation of goods. So, even though they aren’t contributing to climate change like an oil company, Starbucks finds itself with an equal level of business-threatening risk due to the climate crisis. As a result of the problem, coffee bean and tea leaf production will be significantly hindered, with the UN predicting up to a 50% reduction by 2050. These reasons entice Starbucks to aid in the climate crisis battle before it is too late. Their recent long-term climate pledge includes supporting carbon offset projects.
Many large institutions are in the same position as Starbucks. The risk factors of climate change motivate some of the world’s largest companies, governments, nonprofits, and universities to support voluntary carbon markets.
It’s important to note that not all companies use the carbon offset market to reduce emissions. The compliance markets regulate some companies, which are a slightly different form of environmental accounting. Since these companies already have environmental costs purchasing carbon credits, many do not buy carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets satisfy the needs of a diverse group. The purchasers range from large institutions like Google to your close friends and family. The one thing that all these groups have in common is a desire to mitigate their environmental impact and contribute to a sustainable future. We all impose costs on the planet, and buying carbon offsets is how groups and individuals take responsibility.
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