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24 May 2019
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Setting science-based targets can help organisations become more environmentally responsible and forward-thinking, as well as enhancing their reputation, explains Paul Lewis.

Eco Target
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04 September 2018 | Paul Lewis

Science-based targets (SBTs) are a clear demonstration of a company’s commitment to a low-carbon future. They reflect the level of action needed globally to help the world align with the Paris Agreement commitments, where global warming remains well below 2°C, and translate this down to a corporate level.

This provides businesses with a roadmap to make the necessary cuts in greenhouse gases to transition to a low-carbon economy.

At least 400 companies worldwide have now committed to setting SBTs, and these organisations are regarded as responsible leaders, innovators, and influencers who are also reaping the rewards of improved brand reputation and competitive advantage.

One such company is Tesco, which worked with Carbon Credentials to become the first corporate worldwide to align SBTs with an ambitious 1.5°C target to become zero carbon by 2050.

Within 12 months the supermarket giant revealed that it had already reduced emissions by 13 per cent in 2017 against its 2016 baseline.

So how do you go about implementing science-based targets? Here are five key tips to build into an action plan.

1) Learn what’s involved 

Do your research on the topic to make sure you understand what’s involved. Check out what your peers are doing in the area, or perhaps some of your key customers or suppliers. Setting and achieving your ambitious SBT requires high levels of quantitative analysis, stakeholder engagement and strategic thinking. 

2) Engage stakeholders

Achieving your science-based targets will require participation from all areas of the business, so it’s important to get early input and buy-in from key stakeholders.

Consult closely with colleagues, senior decision-makers, suppliers, investors and customers from the outset. When you finally present your proposal to leadership, you’ll find they are more prepared to commit.  

3) Understand SBTi criteria and emissions boundary

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi – sciencebasedtargets.org) has rigorous criteria that must be met for your target to be recognised as science-based. You must have compiled a full greenhouse gas emission footprint in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, looking at your Scope 3 value chain (upstream and downstream) emissions.

Most organisations find addressing Scope 3 emissions their biggest challenge because of the potentially vast, complex nature of the calculations.

It’s the reason why about 39 per cent of organisations did not pass SBTi validation. It is important to approach Scope 3 in a practical manner that addresses the hotspots in your value chain.

4) Develop a target

Select a methodology that fits your organisation’s strategic objectives. Will you aim for the minimum SBT requirement to align with a global warming limit of 2°C or set a more ambitious target in line with 1.5°C?

Consider the Tesco example. To develop SBTs, we used a combination of methodologies to model absolute and intensity targets under both 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios in comparison with Tesco’s previous 2050 zero-carbon ambition.

With rigorous assessment, robust analytics and practical recommendations, Tesco fully understood the costs, benefits, and feasibility of setting its SBTs, which enabled it to set credible, realistic and achievable targets. 

5) Build a practical strategy

Building a practical strategy for developing your SBTs is important for gaining senior management buy-in. Assess emissions reductions from current and potential projects to understand if there is a gap in your plans that will prevent you from achieving your target.

When you present your proposal to the business, be clear on the risk and level of investment, as well as the business benefits. Demonstrate how SBTs align with the company values and consider how targets can also help mitigate business risk.

Encourage the business to be visionary; setting long-range targets can help your organisation to adapt to future business challenges.

Presenting your case to the business for setting SBTs will pose challenges, but if you use reliable and accurate data that you trust, and present it within a well-defined strategy to show how the target can be achieved, you’ll soon win the confidence and support of the leadership team.  

Paul Lewis is CEO of carbon performance and management business Carbon Credentials.