LONDON - When it comes to offsetting carbon footprints, European companies seek offsets sourced from far off, romantic countries, while North American firms prefer those generated by local clean energy projects, a survey found.

Sixty percent of North American companies polled said they preferred U.S.-sourced offsets, while European industry sought to buy from projects in Africa, India and South America. Our corporate social responsibility department wants sexier offsets from more romantic locations to present to the board, Greger Flodin, an executive director at Dutch bank Rabobank International, told Reuters on Tuesday.

We want projects that have a wider sustainable impact on the surrounding community than just clean energy.

The least desirable offset projects were located in Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the Carbon Management and Offsetting Trends showed. This is probably due to their limited participation to date in the carbon market, it said.

The unregulated voluntary carbon market allows companies to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by buying carbon credits from clean energy projects elsewhere.

The survey of nearly 300 global companies was published late on Monday by offset aggregator EcoSecurities.

It found that despite the global economic slowdown, two-thirds of companies are contemplating buying offsets in the next three years.

However, one third of companies that have never bought offsets before said they are unlikely to buy them before 2012.

Until it's clear which offsets will be valid under regulated schemes, a large portion of the market will hold off purchasing them, said Hassen Bali, vice president of Markit Environmental Registry.

A new U.S. climate bill passed by the House of Representatives in late June will allow industry to use both domestic and international offsets to meet emissions reductions targets. But the bill is currently incubating in the U.S. Senate, and experts say it is unlikely to be voted on this year.

Although the regulatory uncertainty is keeping potential offset buyers on the sidelines, the survey found that most firms are moving ahead with their carbon management strategy.

It showed that solar and wind power remain the preferred project types while large hydro dams and projects that capture methane gas from coal mines are the least desirable.

(Reporting by Michael Szabo; Editing by Keiron Henderson)