What Every Leader Needs to Know About Carbon Credits

Do you know the difference between a high-quality carbon project and one that risks your reputation?

December 15, 2023

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  • Many companies have begun to look into credits to offset their emissions as a way to support their net zero goals as their target years get closer and closer. As it stands, the carbon credit market is too small to bear the brunt of reducing companies’ impacts on the environment. However, the voluntary carbon market has the potential to drive billions of dollars over the coming decade into climate solutions. Here, the authors offer a primer for leaders to learn about the carbon credit market. What’s the best way to participate in the market? Which types of credits are considered to be the highest quality, and thus carry the least reputational risk? Who are the players when it comes to standards and regulation? The authors answer these questions and outline the characteristics of high-quality carbon credits.

    In the absence of government regulations requiring dramatic reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are causing climate change, a growing number of companies are adopting “net zero” targets. More than one third of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly held companies have declared net zero targets according to Net Zero Tracker, a database compiled by a collaboration of academics and nonprofits. These targets typically entail public commitments to reduce GHG emissions through measures such as process modification, product reformulation, fuel switching, shifting to renewable power, investing in carbon removal projects — and a pledge to zero-out their remaining emissions by purchasing carbon offsets, also known as carbon credits. Carbon credits are financial instruments where the buyer pays another company to take some action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and the buyer gets credit for the reduction.


    • VW


      Varsha Ramesh Walsh is the Founder and CEO of Offstream, a platform for seamless carbon compliance management, and has worked on carbon removal solutions at Indigo Agriculture and Patch.


    • Michael W. Toffel is the Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management at Harvard Business School, host of the HBS Climate Rising podcast, and co-lead of the HBS Online Business and Climate Change course.


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