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This LinkedIn post from Advisory Board member Mark Trexler is emblematic of what I expect to see more frequently as investors – including retail investors – become more willing to jump into carbon markets for profit and capital growth.

“I am intrigued by the growing number of carbon offset investments promising robust returns to investors. This one is based on loaning money to farmers to purchase equipment for no-till farming, which in turn results in carbon sequestration and offset credits that pay back the loan (and more). Heavyfinance is looking to remove a Gigaton of CO2 by 2050. The site seems to promise 12% returns or more (although the small print says that investors ARE taking the risk of lower or no returns). And the economics seem based on an offset price of $35, which is pretty robust for soil carbon credits. 

What’s really notable is 1) there is no discussion of voluntary carbon market and pricing risk, 2) there is no discussion of the additionality of no-till agriculture (which has been a complicating variable forever), and 3) there is no discussion of the permanence of soil carbon sequestration, other than to note that farmers can exit the program at any time without consequence (which actually does say quite a bit about potential permanence!). There is mention of a VERRA methodology being used for the project. 

According to their website, HeavyFinance is funding a bunch of such projects already, is already generating carbon offsets, and is looking to expand bigly (a billion tons by 2050 is a robust goal!). What I would love to understand is how this investment gets past due diligence, and what investors are really assuming when getting involved.”

As with anything, caveat emptor. Mark is right about the need for meaningful, sophisticated and science-based due diligence in the carbon market. But with so much hype and promise of big returns, irrational human behavior may overtake prudence. Earlier this summer, Zach wrote that even the US Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC) is wading into the offsets market due to concerns of “increased risk of fraud and manipulation in arising voluntary carbon markets and plans to focus its efforts on fraudulent statements about the environmental benefits of purchasing carbon credits.”

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile