Impact investing and socially responsible investing has been growing in popularity in recent years, and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
Investing in a carbon-free future is one of the most powerful ways for individuals to help restore the climate. Studies have shown that investing in climate mitigation and adaptation now will prevent trillions of dollars in future losses from disaster relief, GDP decreases, and property losses, and it will cost far less to act now than to deal with future damages.
Another reason to start investing in a carbon-free future now: Since there will be a worldwide focus on the transition to a carbon-free economy in the coming years and decades, some investors might consider investing in green stocks to be one way to build a strong long-term portfolio. As with all investing, it’s essential to carefully consider the risks involved in your chosen investment strategies. Some, all, or none of the below strategies may be appropriate for you.
How Carbon Impacts Our Planet
Current carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in at least 800,000 years, and likely higher than they have been in the past 3 million years.
Human activities ranging from automobile use and building construction to agriculture results in greenhouse gas emissions. Over millions of years prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon was removed from the atmosphere naturally through plant photosynthesis and other processes—but by fossil fuels like coal and oil, humans have put that carbon back into the atmosphere in just a few hundred years. Once emitted, that CO2 stays in the air for centuries.
Changing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere changes the Earth’s carbon cycles and results in global climate change. Some effects of climate change are already visible: rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes and fires, disappearing glaciers, and more. Around half of the CO2 emitted since 1850 is still in the atmosphere, and the rest of it is in the oceans causing ocean acidification, which interferes with the ability of marine life to grow skeletons and shells.
Currently, CO2 emissions continue to increase yearly—so it’s just as important for us to scale up the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere as it is to continue working on reducing emissions.
There are ways companies can do construction, agriculture, and all other industrial activity without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but scaling up these solutions will require a massive amount of investment. That’s where individual investors can make a difference—by putting money behind companies that are working to create a carbon-free planet.
Climate-Friendly Industries and Companies to Invest In
Ready to make a difference by supporting climate visionaries? Here are 25+ ways to invest in a carbon-free future.
1. Carbon Offsets
Individuals and companies can purchase carbon offsets to zero out their carbon emissions. How they work: You can calculate your estimated emissions from air or car travel or other activities, and invest in local or international projects that contribute to the reduction of emissions. For instance, an individual could invest in a solar energy project in Africa to offset their annual emissions.
Although carbon offsets are controversial because they don’t directly work to reduce one’s emissions, they do help to build out renewable energy infrastructure, regenerative agriculture, and other important initiatives. They are also helpful for offsetting certain activities that are often unavoidable and have no carbon neutral option, such as flying in a plane.
2. Carbon Credits
Carbon credits give a company the right to emit only a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.
They create a cap on the amount of emissions that can occur, and then the right to those emissions can be bought and sold in the market. Caps may be placed on nations, states, companies, or industries.
Carbon credits are controversial because larger companies can afford more credits which they can either use or sell for a profit, and some believe the program may lower the incentive for companies to reduce their emissions.
However, companies may be incentivized to reduce emissions in two different ways:
1. They can sell any extra credits they don’t use, thus making money.
2. Generally, limits are lowered over time, and companies that exceed their limits are fined—therefore, transitioning to lower emissions practices is in their best interest.
Although carbon credits are used by companies, individuals can invest in the market through ETFs, or consider carbon emissions alternative investments.
3. ESG Indices and Impact Investing ETFs
Individuals can invest in ESG (environmental social governance) and impact investing ETFs, which are funds made up of companies focused on socially and environmentally responsible practices. Companies included in these funds may be working on renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, plastics alternatives, or other important areas.
4. Climate and Low-Carbon ETFs
Within the impact investing and ESG investing space, there are ETFs specifically focused on climate change and carbon reduction. These exclude companies that rely on fossil fuels, focusing exclusively on companies deemed as climate-friendly.
5. Carbon Capture, Sequestration, and Storage
There are many ways that carbon can be removed from the atmosphere, including through trees and other plants, or by machinery. CO2 can also be captured at the source of emission before it is released into the atmosphere. Once captured, the carbon needs to be stored in the ground or in long-lasting products, so it doesn’t get leaked into the air. Interested investors might want to consider buying stocks in companies that sequester millions of tons of CO2 each year.
6. Products and Materials Made from Captured Carbon
Once removed from the atmosphere, carbon can be used to make many products and materials, including carbon fiber, graphene, and cement. The construction industry is one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, so replacing standard materials with ones made from sequestered CO2 would have a huge impact. All of these materials industries are poised to see huge growth in the coming years, and investing in them helps promote market growth, which can lower the cost of materials and make them more accessible to customers.
7. Tree-Planting Companies and Sustainable Forestry
The business of planting trees is growing. Newer tree planting companies are currently private, but investors can buy stocks, REITs and ETFs in companies that practice sustainable forestry and land management, as well as companies that allow investors to purchase a tree.
8. Regenerative Agriculture
The way the majority of agriculture is currently practiced worldwide depletes the soil and land over time. This not only makes it harder to grow food, it also decreases the amount of CO2 that gets removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. But with regenerative agricultural practices, the quality of soil improves over time. Spreading the knowledge and use of regenerative farming is extremely important to both food security and greenhouse gas management. Individuals can invest in regenerative agriculture through REITs, or even by investing in individual farms.
9. Green Bonds and Climate Bonds
Green bonds function the same way as other types of bonds, but they are specifically used to raise money to finance projects that have environmental benefits. Projects could include biodiversity, rewilding, renewable energy, clean transportation, and many other areas in the realm of sustainable development. In addition to buying individual bonds, investors can buy into bond funds.
10. Blue Bonds
Blue bonds focus on protecting the oceans by addressing plastic pollution, marine conservation, and more.
11. Refrigerant Management and Alternatives
Refrigerants used for cooling are among the top five highest emitters in the world, according to nonprofit org Project Drawdown . There are several ways to invest in improvements in the refrigerant industry:
• Invest in alternative refrigerants such as ammonia and captured carbon dioxide.
• Invest in companies making new types of cooling devices.
• Invest in refrigerant management companies that reclaim refrigerants.
Other companies are working to retrofit old buildings and provide new buildings with more efficient HVAC systems.
12. Plant-based Foods
Raising livestock for food has a huge environmental footprint: It leads to huge amounts of deforestation, and cows emit methane when they burp, which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Raising cows also uses a lot of water, transportation, chemicals, and energy. Replacing meat and materials with plant-based options can significantly reduce emissions and resource use.
13. Food Waste Solutions
Food waste in landfills does not biodegrade naturally—instead it gets buried under more layers of refuse and biodegrades anaerobically, emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for centuries. Landfills are one of the biggest contributors to global emissions, with food waste contributing 8% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Some companies are heavily investing in waste-to-energy and landfill gas-to-energy facilities, which turn landfill waste into a useful energy source—essentially making products out of food ingredients and byproducts that would otherwise have gone to waste. One has developed a promising food waste recycling unit that could help reduce the amount of waste that sits in landfills as well.
14. Biodiversity and Conservation
Protecting biodiversity is key to creating a carbon-free future. Biodiversity includes crucial forest and ocean ecosystems that sequester and store carbon while also maintaining a planetary balance of nutrient and food cycles.
Interest in biodiversity investments has been growing, and there is even an ETF focused on habitat preservation.
15. Sustainable Aquaculture
The demand for fish rises every year, in part because eating fish is better for the planet and emissions than eating livestock. But a lot of work goes into making sure fishing is done sustainably to avoid overfishing and species depletion, and prevent widespread disease and wasted seafood. Investors may choose to support sustainable aquaculture by seeking out new and established businesses in the industry, or by investing in ETFs that include companies involved in responsible use and protection of ocean resources.
16. Green Building Materials
Creating construction materials such as steel and concrete results in a significant amount of CO2 emissions. There is currently a race in the materials industry to develop new materials and improve the processes of making existing ones. Both new and established businesses are part of this race. Besides steel and concrete, other key building materials that can contribute to a carbon-free future include bamboo and hemp.
Clean water systems are essential to the health of the planet and human life. As the population grows, there will be more demand for water, which requires increased infrastructure and management. Proper water management can have a huge impact on emissions as well.
There are three main ways for individuals to invest in the future of water. One is to invest in public water stocks such as water utilities, equipment, metering, and services companies. Another is to invest in water ETFs or in ESG funds that focus on water.
18. Green Shipping
The transportation of goods around the globe is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In order to improve shipping practices, a massive shift is underway. The future of green shipping includes battery-operated vessels, carbon-neutral shipping, and wind-powered ships. Other technologies that play into green shipping including self-driving vehicle technology and AI. Investing in any of these areas can help the shift towards a carbon-free future.
19. Electric cars and bicycles
The use of electric cars and bicycles can significantly reduce the amount of CO2 emissions that go into the atmosphere. Interested investors might want to research stocks in the electric vehicle, charging, and battery space.
As has been proven during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reduction of work-related travel can significantly reduce global CO2 emissions. Video conferencing and telepresence tools continue to improve over time, which reduces the need for people to fly and drive to different locations for business meetings. Investing in companies working on these technologies may help solidify and continue the trend of remote work.
Bioplastics include plastics that are completely biodegradable as well as plastics that are made partially or entirely out of biological matter. Currently bioplastics make up a very small portion of global plastic use, but increasing their use can greatly help to reduce waste and emissions.
22. Energy Storage
One of the biggest hurdles to scaling up renewable energy is creating the technology and infrastructure to store the energy, as well as reducing the costs of energy storage to make it more accessible. Investing in energy storage can help develop and improve the industry to help hasten the transition away from fossil fuels.
23. Green Building
Making the construction industry carbon-free goes beyond the creation and use of green building materials to include LED lighting, smart thermostats, smart glass, and more. These technologies can drastically reduce the energy used in buildings. There are many companies to invest in in the green building industry, as well as ETFs that include green building stocks.
24. Recycling and Waste Management
As the world’s population grows and becomes more urbanized, waste management and recycling will become even more important. Preventing waste from going to landfills is key to reducing emissions, as is the reuse of materials. For interested investors, there are many companies to invest in within waste management.
25. Sustainable Food
Food production is heavily resource-intensive, with many moving parts. In addition to companies working to improve soil health, refrigeration, plant-based foods, and food waste, there are also companies working on sustainable fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, seeds, and other areas. One way to invest in sustainable food is through an ETF.
26. Sustainable Fashion
The fashion industry is one of the world’s worst polluters. In fact, the fashion industry produces about 10% of global carbon emissions, in addition to its huge water use and polluting the ocean with plastics. Several of the world’s most well-known sustainable fashion brands are privately held, but increasingly, public companies are also making big strides in sustainability. Individuals can also support sustainable fashion by investing in material companies and agricultural producers that make bioplastics, bamboo, hemp, and sustainable leather alternatives.
27. Renewable and Alternative Energy
Energy is another important area to invest in for a carbon-free future. Within the renewable and alternative energy space, individuals can invest in companies working on wind, solar, biomass, hydrogen, geothermal, nuclear, or hydropower. There are countless companies and ETFs to invest in within renewable energy.
Every industry around the world needs to make big shifts in the coming years to reduce emissions and build a carbon-free future. As an individual, investors can make their voices and their choices heard with their dollars, by investing in companies leading the way in sustainability.
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