General Motors’ Chevrolet brand was the leading corporate purchaser of carbon offsets in 2012 and 2013, buying credits representing the reduction of 4.6 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in projects outside their own businesses, according to a report from an environmental research group.
The report by Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace tracks carbon-offset activity by more than 250 global companies. Forest Trends is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to maintain, restore and enhance forests.
By the end of this year, Chevrolet will have spent $40 million to purchase 8 million tons of carbon dioxide offsets, said David Tulauskas, GM director of sustainability.
The second-largest purchaser was the bank Barclays (2.1 million metric tons), followed by Pacific Gas & Electric and Brazil-based Natura Cosmeticos (both at 1.4 million metric tons).
A carbon offset is a reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas made in order to compensate for an emission of carbon dioxide somewhere else.
Last fall, Chevrolet launched a program with owners of 11,000 acres of North Dakota grasslands that will remain in production for cattle ranching because the automaker purchased offsets for 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Tulauskas said the idea of buying offsets came from a 2009 brainstorming session on how to make Chevrolet the industry’s first carbon-neutral automaker.
“Our thoughts were that people who are interested in this probably were not buying Chevrolets at the time,” Tulauskas said. “Now it’s part of what Chevrolet is.”
While Chevrolet won’t be completely carbon-neutral, the initiative has built the brand’s reputation among environmental organizations that track the offset market.
The most common type of offset project involves renewable energy, including wind farms, biomass energy or hydroelectric dams.
In one project, Portland State University in Oregon is selling carbon credits to Chevrolet to pay for sustainability projects.
Since 2013, more than 1,800 companies publicly disclosed climate-change information to the CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Companies buying carbon offsets tend to be large emitters of greenhouse gases, but the report disputes the perception among some environmentalists that they are “buying their way out of the problem.”
“Across all categories, offset buyers are more engaged in direct emissions reductions activities compared to companies that don’t offset,” the report stated.
Companies buying offsets spent $41 million in 2013 to make their buildings and processes more energy-efficient, install low-carbon energy, switch to cleaner transportation and design more sustainable products, according to the report.