4 things to consider before setting a science based target

Published 18th May 2017 by Lucy Haines

Science-based targets (SBTs) are fast becoming the only realistic method to fulfil the global ambition to limit catastrophic climate change.

Over 260 companies have committed to setting an SBT through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTI), with many more developing SBTs without publicising their intent. It is likely that the recent surge in uptake is predominantly due to the change in CDP scoring methodology, with companies holding an endorsed SBT gaining extra leadership points. We also hear from our clients an increased interest in developing long term environmental strategies to make them competitive and appeal to their stakeholders – from their shareholders to their customers. Building resilience against climate regulation and policy, providing a platform for innovation and improving reputation remain fundamental drivers to setting an SBT.

However, it is important to remember that setting an SBT is only the start of the journey towards ensuring corporate and industry level responsibility for emissions reductions. The main challenge lies in achieving this long-term goal while keeping to the designated carbon reduction pathway and interim targets. It is these interim targets that form the backbone of the SBT and ensure their alignment with global carbon budgets. So, what are 4 things to consider before setting a science-based target?

1. Strategy

A plan is key. This plan should be as detailed as possible, splitting the carbon reductions down by Scope and region/business unit if applicable. Additionally, companies need to be mindful to build flexibility into these plans, allowing for business growth and operational change.

2. Data Collection

With an ambitious target set, data collection and quality is vital. Collection of actual consumption data is required not just so actual energy reduction can be quantified, but also so inefficiencies can be highlighted and acted upon.

Data collection is also fundamental to Scope 3 targets and supply chain ambition if applicable to the business. Gaining a full understanding of the supply chain through collaboration and engagement with suppliers and collecting actual data are the first steps to achieving ambitious Scope 3 emission reductions.

3. Innovation

Without innovation, energy efficiency improvements, and energy/carbon reductions are unlikely to keep pace with those defined by a SBT. Energy monitoring and assessment of projects provide the opportunity to identify focus areas and make meaningful energy reductions. In addition, prioritizing energy reduction initiatives that also deliver high carbon savings by considering carbon reductions alongside monetary payback can provide a useful mechanism in defining an investment strategy.

4. Review and Monitoring

Finally, it is important to review and monitor progress against a SBT annually. As some SBT methodologies are inherently changeable due to their relation against global GDP growth, an annual assessment is required to analyse performance and confirm future emission reductions. In addition, to truly align with climate science, cumulative carbon emissions need to be assessed to ensure alignment with global carbon budgets.


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Science-based targets (SBTs) are emission reductions targets aligned with the rate of decarbonisation required by science to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees. SBTs are a rapidly growing initiative with the number of companies publicly declaring theirs growing by the day.

The factsheet will provide you with a 5-step journey to setting your targets and ensuring success with your ambitious new goals including:

  • Laying solid foundations
  • Identifying your target-setting approach
  • Setting the target
  • Mapping your reduction trajectory
  • Gaining SBTi validation
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