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How Carbon Offsetting Works, and What Investors Should Know

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How Carbon Offsetting Works, and What Investors Should Know

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Carbon Offsetting: What Investors Should Know

In 2016, an international treaty known as the Paris Agreement was negotiated by member nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The long-term goal of this agreement is to limit the increase in global temperature to below 3.6°F (2°C) over the next century. Achieving this target will require the world to develop cleaner solutions across all areas of the economy, from energy to transportation.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we introduce carbon offsetting, an activity used by both businesses and investment funds that has the potential to accelerate the development of a more climate-friendly economy.

What are GHG Emissions, and Where do They Come From?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are a family of gases known to trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The most prevalent among them is carbon dioxide (CO₂), which accounts for 80% of America’s GHG emissions. Common sources of CO₂ include fossil fuel consumption and deforestation.

Businesses are often significant emitters of CO₂, but due to the complexity of their production chains, emissions can be difficult to track. To combat this, a company’s carbon footprint is measured across three scopes:

  • Scope 1: These are direct emissions from a company’s operations. An example would be the CO₂ emitted by company-owned factories.
  • Scope 2: These are indirect emissions from a company’s operations, such as the pollution generated from purchased electricity.
  • Scope 3: These are indirect emissions from the company’s supply chains. Common sources include the extraction of raw materials and business travel.

Although we understand that GHGs are harmful to the planet, our ability to eliminate them is limited by technology and costs. Fortunately, this is where offsetting can help.

How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

Carbon offsetting is a method of neutralizing one’s emissions by investing in GHG-reducing projects. The benefits of these projects are measured by the amount of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) that they avoid or absorb. Then, the company or fund that is engaging in the carbon offsetting project will then receive one carbon credit for every tonne of CO₂e negated.

Below are the three common types of GHG reduction programs.

1. Energy efficiency projects

These projects reduce energy consumption. One example is the distribution of energy-efficient cookstoves in Rwanda, a country where many people rely on firewood and charcoal. By distributing 10,800 cookstoves throughout the country, nearly 60,000 tonnes of CO₂e can be avoided each year.

2. Forestry projects

These projects nurture and protect our CO₂-absorbing forests. One notable example is the Garcia River forest protection program, which ensures the longevity of California’s redwood forests. The program oversees over 9,600 hectares which has been estimated to store almost 80,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually.

3. Renewable energy projects

These projects reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. They are especially effective in economies such as Taiwan, where 75% of electricity capacity relies on fossil fuels. Thanks to its strong coastal winds, Taiwan is able to remove 328,000 tonnes of CO₂e per year with just 62 wind turbines.

How is Offsetting Regulated?

Carbon offsetting in America is primarily a voluntary activity, but some state governments have made it mandatory for significant polluters. Here’s how both markets are regulated.

The Voluntary Market

The voluntary market is regulated by a variety of third-party organizations such as Verra, Gold Standard, and American Carbon.

They conduct audits on GHG reduction projects to ensure each one meets four broad criteria:

  • Measurability: The GHG savings of the project must be measurable
  • Verifiability: The results of the project must be verified on an annual basis
  • Sustainability: Each project should have a minimum lifespan of seven years
  • Additionality: GHG reductions of project must be considered in reference to a baseline scenario

Carbon credits are only issued after a project has passed this verification process.

The Mandatory Market

Some U.S. states have introduced carbon offsetting schemes to meet their climate goals. One of the largest is California’s Cap and Trade program which was introduced in 2013.

The program is targeted at businesses that emit over 25,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually, and works by setting a “cap” on total annual emissions. This cap is reduced each year, and overpolluting businesses must acquire carbon credits to offset their excess pollution. These can be purchased from state-administered auctions or from other firms.

Revenues generated from California’s carbon credit auctions are used to fund various GHG reduction projects, including:

  • 690,000 acres of land preserved or restored
  • 287,000 rebates issued for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid cars
  • 108,000 urban tree plantings
  • 150,000 energy efficiency projects installed in homes

By 2030, California’s emissions cap is intended to reach 200.5 million tonnes of CO₂e, marking a near 50% reduction from its 2015 level.

What Role can Investors Play?

A majority of U.S. investors consider themselves to be values-based, meaning they care about the societal and environmental impacts of their investments. This mentality is increasing the demand for ESG investing and placing pressure on corporations to become more sustainable.

For example, the percentage of S&P 500 firms that publish sustainability reports has risen from just 20% in 2011 to 90% in 2019. More importantly, a growing number of U.S. firms are cooperating with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to report their emissions and set formal reduction targets.

YearCompanies with active emissions reduction targetsAll other companies reporting to the CDPTotal
2013322166488
2014335164499
2015365143508
2016378124502
2017385123508
2018389117506
2019419138557

Source: CDP 2020

Some of the world’s largest oil producers are also taking action—a testament to the significance of these shareholder concerns. Royal Dutch Shell announced earlier in 2020 that it intends to fully offset its Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Does Offsetting Really Help?

Carbon offsetting programs such as the one implemented by California have the potential to generate revenues and encourage innovation. Critics, however, have suggested it has a number of design issues.

One such issue is the fact that California’s carbon credits do not expire. This could allow companies to stockpile credits and ignore future cuts to the emissions cap. Another concern is that the companies covered by California’s cap and trade will simply pass their higher costs to the consumer, although this claim didn’t seem to hold up in a 2016 study conducted by UCLA.

Other inefficiencies within the program may exist, but its benefits are hard to ignore. By the end of 2019, the revenue generated from California’s carbon credit auctions totaled $12.5 billion. Of this amount, over $5 billion has been invested in GHG reduction projects to date.

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Infographics

Visualizing the Attributes of the Best Financial Advisors

What makes the best financial advisors a cut above the rest? We break down how advisors rank on five defining attributes.

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Best Financial Advisors

This infographic is available as a poster.

Visualizing the Attributes of the Best Financial Advisors

What sets the best financial advisors apart?

New research from Founder and President of SHOOK Research R.J. Shook, renowned performance coach Dr. Kevin Elko, and NYL Investments examined the core attributes of those at the top:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Creating purposeful work.
  • Boldness: Committed to a clear vision.
  • Resiliency: Being prepared for setbacks.
  • Connections: Building lasting relationships.
  • Goal-Setting: Documenting, articulating, and accomplishing goals.

Going one step further, they showed how a random selection of financial advisors compared to the top advisors. Across an ongoing assessment of roughly 400 advisors, this infographic from NYL Investments looks at where they align the most with top advisors, and where they fall short.

The Strongest Alignment

Here are the areas where surveyed advisors aligned the closest to the best financial advisors.

Connections

More than any other attribute, financial advisors were most aligned on the connections attribute. For instance, of the 400 respondents, 78% say that they take note of important events in their clients’ life. Expressing interest in them is an important part of the success of their business.

When it comes to the human interaction side of their job, 76% said that connecting with clients and colleagues is vital for their business.

Do you enjoy the human interaction side of this job?% of financial advisors
I enjoy intentionally connecting with clients and colleagues. It's key to my business.76%
I enjoy talking to a client, yet I find myself putting it off.21%
I find myself hiding behind my emails.2%
My time is better spent otherwise—studying the markets, etc.1%

An even higher number (81%) said that clients can call them anytime if they need help with issues outside of financial wellness, while 86% said that helping colleagues serves as a key opportunity to grow.

Intrinsic Motivation

Like the best financial advisors, the vast majority of advisors believe that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. By contrast, just 8% believe luck will fall in their lap if they work hard enough.

Additionally, most financial advisors stick to their guns. Almost 80% said that while they may find themselves on the same path as others, they won’t hesitate to create a new one that follows their goals and values.

Do you find that you often follow the path as set by others as opposed to creating your own path?% of financial advisors
I sometimes find myself on the same path as others, yet if it's not aligned with my values or goals, I don’t hesitate creating my own path.79%
Once in a while, I will create my own path, yet I find myself jumping back to the path others are on out of comfort.10%
I seem to follow others more than anything, yet I'm not afraid to create my own path and stay the course.10%
Creating my own path is so risky. I’m most comfortable following others.1%

This suggests that many advisors are often motivated from within as opposed to extrinsic, external factors.

Resiliency

Finally, 77% of financial advisors say they enjoy taking on new challenges as it makes them feel more valued and accomplished. Feeling a sense of value extends to their clients, with 78% saying they make a positive impact on their clients’ lives.

Do you feel what you do makes your clients' life better?% of financial advisors
What I do creates a positive difference in the lives of my clients. They often express so.78%
I believe my work makes a difference in my clients' life, yet I don't know to what extent.20%
I'm sure what I do makes some impact, but I can't imagine it's a whole lot.1%
I don't think my work makes a clients' life better.1%

The Biggest Gaps from the Best Financial Advisors

Where do surveyed advisors show the biggest differences from the best financial advisors?

Goal-Setting

Across all attributes, advisors had the most room for growth in the goal-setting attribute. What the researchers found was that just one in three advisors stick to their daily activity goals. At the same time, under 30% reread their goals after writing them down.

Do you write out daily activity goals before the day starts and stick to them?% of financial advisors
I create a couple of to-do's and try to accomplish those.43%
I create daily goals and stick to them for the most part.34%
My days are busy from the moment I open my eyes. I go with the flow.12%
I create daily goals that align with my 90 day goals and stick to them.11%

Here is how advisors connect goals to success, another key area with room for growth:

Do you believe a big part of your success is your focus on goals?% of financial advisors
When I make my goals a priority, I reap the rewards. I just wish I could focus more on them.48%
Focusing on goals eliminates my distractions and increases my success.40%
I don’t take the time to gauge my success. I don't know how goals impact any part of my success.11%
Goals are a waste of time. I, nor others, look at them anyways.1%

Nearly 50% feel they do not focus on their goals enough.

This is important to note, because research has shown that goal-setting has been linked to higher-performance, confidence, and autonomy.

The Power of Goal-Setting

Top advisors are driven by purpose and passion. But often, this can be challenging in the face of burnout. Here are key questions to help guide actions on a daily basis:

  • What did I do today that I liked? In one study, participants completed over 50% more exercise repetitions on activities they enjoyed versus ones that were seen as more effective.
  • What would I have done differently? Research shows that adversity and setbacks were important factors in performance development among Olympic gold medalists.

Creating a feedback loop helps with not only building momentum, but refining your results.

Learning from the Best Financial Advisors

Since the pandemic began, the value of financial advice has increased 52%.

Yet often, what distinguishes the very best advisors is their mindset. Harnessing the above core attributes can help improve the odds of success. To help create greater impact, advisors can take lessons from the best financial advisors and apply them to their own practice.

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Infographics

Visualized: Three Investment Opportunities for the Future

Here are three investment opportunities to consider as the U.S. government proposes a record $6 trillion in budget initiatives.

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Investment Opportunities

This infographic is available as a poster.

Visualized: Three Investment Opportunities for the Future

With proposed government spending initiatives set to reach $6 trillion, the U.S. could be entering a new era of economic potential.

Sweeping measures have been proposed to support the economy—reaching levels of sustained spending not seen since WWII. These include a $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

But how will this affect financial markets, and what investment opportunities does this present? As we look ahead, this infographic from New York Life Investments explores three potential areas of growth.

Three Investment Opportunities

Here are key trends that could shape the future—creating new opportunities for investors—as government spending increases:

1. The Strategic Role of Debt

In 2021, corporate debt sits at roughly 50% of U.S. GDP.

Importantly, COVID-19 relief packages helped offset a wave of defaults. Yet at the same time, a record $1.7 trillion in corporate debt was issued by nonfinancial companies in 2020—$600 billion higher than the previous peak. This rise in debt may offer potential investment opportunities.

In a low-interest rate environment, debt is relatively less expensive for companies to hold than during periods of high interest rates. This means they can invest in their business, make acquisitions, and gain greater market share.

Companies with investment-grade debt, which have stronger ratings from credit agencies, will likely be better positioned to make strategic business moves and mitigate the potential of future default.

2. Digital Infrastructure

There are several core components that underpin technology today:

Semiconductor chips: Key components in electronics such as smartphones, computers, refrigerators, and cars. As electronics proliferate, semiconductor companies may provide windows of opportunity. By 2030, electronics are projected to make up 45% of a car’s cost, up from 18% in 2000.

Broadband: Infrastructure required for internet access, including in rural and remote areas. Across OECD countries, broadband subscriptions per 100 people is just 33.3, illustrating a gap in access to high-speed internet. 5G, fiber optic cable, and internet infrastructure companies could offer the essentials that are needed.

Hyperscale cloud providers: Enable vast amounts of data and computing power to operate on cloud-based platforms, often in real time. With average gross margins of 57% and net debt to equity of 4%, cloud computing vendors could be poised for growth as data expands exponentially.

3. Emerging Markets’ Growing Middle Class

In the last two decades, emerging market (EM) income per capita has doubled. As disposable incomes rise, the consumer landscape is shifting towards more sustainable products.

Willingness to Pay a Premium for the Following Attributes% of Respondents
Contains organic/all-natural ingredients41%
Contains environmentally friendly/sustainable materials38%
Offers/does something no other product on the market provides37%
Delivers on social responsibility claims30%

Source: Conference Board Global Consumer Confidence Survey conducted with Nielsen. Data as at June, 2020.

Notably, the plant-based meat market in Asia is projected to grow 15.9% annually by 2026. In fact, global consumer searches for sustainable products have grown 71% since 2016.

Forces of Change

At this critical juncture in spending lies new investment opportunities. While it’s impossible to predict the future, strong underlying trends provide clues for how investors can think about positioning their portfolio.

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