Behind the scenes of the science-based target movement

Published 8th May 2018 by Lucy Haines

A look behind the scenes

The corporate momentum behind setting meaningful Science Based Targets (SBTs) on carbon reductions is building with the total count of companies that have either publicly committed to or set SBTs now sitting at a healthy and ever-increasing total of 406 organisations. It is great to see progress being made recently, including many large players such as AB InBev, McDonald’s, Ericsson and Suez having had their SBTs formally set and approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

At Carbon Clear we know that the true number of companies investigating and setting SBTs is actually significantly higher than the figure currently stated by the SBTi. There are a great many companies around the world who are working hard ‘behind the scenes’ on their potential SBTs with various reasons why they haven’t yet gone public on their SBT intentions.

Building the business case: obtaining buy-in for SBT

Some companies are still building the case for internal buy-in (at all levels) for what often represents an ambitious and daunting set of climate targets that will require serious commitment and effort to achieve. For others, Scope 3 targets are challenging and require more analysis to ascertain how they can best be determined and managed to meet the ambitious requirements around them.

Measuring up: calculating Scope 1, 2 and 3 targets

Others are simply finding their feet and want to calculate what suitable SBTs would actually mean for their business before deciding whether to set them and announce them to the world. Additionally, we are seeing a trend of some companies carefully investigating suitable Scope 1 and 2 SBTs internally as part of a staged process where they can get the provisional SBTs calculated and in place internally, then move the focus towards attaining more buy-in across the business, and finally looking towards the challenge of setting Scope 3 SBTs.

Waiting in the wings: awaiting sector-specific SBT guidelines

For certain sectors, the current pathway towards approved SBTs is still somewhat murky. At this time, the SBTi has not yet released Scope 3 guidance for financial institutions, the oil and gas sector, and automotive manufacturers. Therefore, these sectors cannot have their SBTs formally validated. However, companies in these sectors are currently encouraged by the SBTi to publicly commit to setting SBTs. At this time, getting on with investigating and setting Scopes 1 and 2 SBTs is certainly a solid option for such companies that are awaiting an overall approved method for their sector.

Avoiding the limelight: Choosing not to announce SBT targets

Finally, there are a few companies that want to set tough, scientifically-led SBTs – and do their best to meet those targets – but have little intention of going public on them in the near future. For such companies it is still seen to be critical that they internally adopt SBTs to manage their climate risks and obligations but being a visible leader on SBTs is less meaningful to their organisation.

While seeking formal SBTi approval of a company’s SBTs is the current ‘gold standard’ on climate leadership in this area, we would encourage any company that’s interested in seeing what SBTs might look like to get in touch. No matter the current level of understanding, leadership ambition, or type of business – we can help your organisation get started on the path to making its contribution to the SBT movement and taking action on climate change.


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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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