The planet loses more than 24 million acres of forest annually, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. It’s akin to losing a forest roughly the size of Indiana each year. It’s estimated less than half of those trees get replanted. Given the crucial role forests play in the fight against climate change, the loss is devastating.

The voluntary forestry carbon market is a critical way to close that gap, but a crisis of confidence is hindering the full impact of what this market mechanism can do for the planet. These concerns around—and complexities of—the voluntary carbon market, though, can’t be a justification for companies to avoid getting involved. In fact, corporate leaders can play a more pivotal role than they likely assume in driving the market toward greater integrity and transparency.

It’s a role humanity needs them to embrace. And they can work together to make it happen.

The voluntary carbon market is designed to incentivize the protection and restoration of forests and other ecosystems. For some corporations, carbon credits help them comply with local regulations to lower their emissions. Others are interested in reducing the risk to their business by helping maintain the natural resources their supply chain is dependent upon. Some just want to make a positive impact. Regardless of the motivation, corporate investment fuels the voluntary carbon market and jump-starts critical forestry projects that might not otherwise have had the resources to thrive.

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At their best, we’ve seen forestry carbon credit projects create sweeping transformation in communities around the world. The trees planted don’t just pull carbon from the air. They offer co-benefits like improving air and water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, and transforming the livelihoods of landowners. There’s a tangible effect of the work and it happens at a fraction of the cost of technological solutions. These projects also help companies tackle their emissions footprint. According to a 2023 report from the Ecosystem Marketplace Initiative of Forest Trends, 59% of voluntary carbon market buyers report lower rates of greenhouse gas emissions year-over-year, compared to companies not participating in the market.

But as an emerging space, the voluntary carbon market has historically struggled to establish firm guardrails for projects that easily weed out bad actors and create confidence for buyers. Pretenders have exploited loopholes in evolving practices and manipulated the market, sometimes harming the environment and the communities that depend on it. Consequently, these actions have shadowed the market as a whole, triggering the current collapse in faith that has left this powerful platform woefully underutilized.

To be fair, market leaders are already responding with action. Major entities like the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative (VCMI) and the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA) have instituted principles and frameworks to guide developers and standardize what constitutes a high-quality project. Their work makes great strides toward strengthening the integrity and credibility of the market.

But it’s not enough.

Corporate leaders have a shared responsibility to utilize their significant financial resources to restore trust in a system that is intended to rebalance the extraction from which businesses have benefited. By leveraging their platform of influence, companies have a unique power to chart a path toward substantial contributions to wider economic, environmental, and social objectives.

Read more: Can We Fix Carbon Offsets?

Investment serves dual functions. Obviously, immense funding can fuel immense progress. But signing off on an investment is just step one. Participating companies also act as a sort of validator. The voluntary carbon market benefits from the affirmation of a company’s brand and its ability to signal confidence to other corporate peers. Of course, some companies find that aligning their brand with a forestry carbon project is more intimidating than the financial commitment. Amid waves of ‘greenwashing’ accusations, many corporate leaders have turned to ‘greenhushing,’ content to keep silent about their involvement in the market.

It’s true that stepping into the voluntary carbon market comes with some uncertainties. Naturally, companies would want to protect their investments as best they can and assure long-term permanence. But more options, like carbon insurance companies, are coming online to help private sector leaders limit their liabilities when events like wildfires, floods, or poor forestry management, put a project at risk. Some rating agencies are also making the terrain easier to navigate by assessing projects and scoring them based on their likelihood of successful carbon reduction or removal and creating legitimate climate, environmental, and social impact. Meanwhile, some environmental experts are helping companies by crafting their own system of due diligence and matching private sector leaders with high-quality products.

So while there may be a well-intentioned nobility in carrying on with important work without seeking congratulations for it, it does little to move this critically important market forward. It’s important for corporate leaders to consider communicating with the public, and with each other. Post on social media, hold meetings, answer questions, develop reports. Engaging in the market is a bold climate action. Don’t hide it. Without a doubt, it can be scary. A company’s reputation is attached to every dollar it spends, and it can make their business a target for public criticism. But we hope companies can push past this fear. We hope corporate leaders are ready to stand up and meet the moment with courage.

Read more: Carbon Credits Should Be One of Our Best Tools to Fight Climate Change—If We Use Them Right

As individuals, we are often inclined to trust the opinions of those who are like us. A similar concept applies here. Market leaders and environmental experts can constantly encourage corporations to get involved in the market, but our plea will never hold as much weight as the endorsement of a peer. To really create momentum in the market and draw new players to the space, corporations have to be open and honest about their contributions. It supports a culture of transparency and trust.

The responsibility of companies engaging in environmental solutions isn’t just about checking boxes on the path to a net-zero goal. It’s about engaging with solutions that aim to improve the health and wellbeing of the planet now. Trees are healing. They help slow climate change and support our global community in a way no other technology can. Investment in the voluntary forestry carbon market is an act of true stewardship and a commitment to a more hopeful future.

Dan Lambe is CEO of the Arbor Day Foundation and author of the book Now is the Time For Trees.

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