Science-based targets

Module four

A growing number of large businesses are measuring their carbon footprint and then setting climate science-based reduction plans via the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

But what is a science-based target? It’s when you set your carbon reduction targets to keep in line with limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with efforts placed on keeping it to below 1.5°C (the goals set out in the Paris Agreement). This translates to, on average, every business setting targets to halve their emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 (the latest climate science). Science-based targets show you how much and how quickly you need to reduce your emissions by. That’s a carbon reduction pathway in line with the climate science.

The targets have been identified by climate scientists for Earth to remain a habitable planet for humans and avoid irreversible damage to the planet.

Science-based target initiative (SBTi)

The SBTi is a partnership between the Carbon Disclose Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). They promote best practice in carbon emissions reduction targets in line with the climate science and validate businesses reduction plans that align to science-based targets.

Setting a science-based target: the business case

Setting targets via the SBTi means working towards global best practice as reduction targets are aligned with the latest climate science. This, joined with the fact the SBTi is a globally recognised standard, means that lots of large businesses have used them to set their net zero targets and reduction plans.

Large businesses are increasingly starting to look at their supply chain emissions as part of their Scope 3 measurement and reduction plans. Many are asking their suppliers to join them in setting science-based targets. They’re also including it as a metric in tenders as a way to meet their own net zero targets and distinguish their sustainable suppliers. Setting a science-based target via the SBTi can help you stay relevant to your customers and win new business.

SME route

The SBTi knows that SMEs need to play their part in reducing emissions but recognise that they don’t have the same resources as large businesses. That’s why they developed an SME route to give them more time to measure their Scope 3 emissions (the largest and hardest Scope).

The SBTi defines SMEs as independent businesses with up to 500 employees.

It requires SMEs to measure and reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions and commit to measure and reduce Scope 3 emissions from a 2018, 2019 or 2020 baseline, in line with the climate science.

How does it work?

SMEs complete the SBTi’s target setting application form:

  1. Fill in your company information
  2. Commit to a target, aligning to either a 1.5°C or 2°C pathway (The percentage you’ll need to reduce your emissions by will vary depending on the baseline year you’ve used)
  3. Enter your total Scope 1 and 2 emissions in tonnes of CO2e
  4. Confirm that you’ll measure and reduce your Scope 3 emissions
  5. Enter billing information for the $1,000+VAT validation fee
  6. Submit the application form
  7. SBTi will validate your targets and take payment
  8. SBTi, CDP and We Mean Business will publish your commitment on their websites
  9. SBTi will send you a welcome pack and a logo to use
  10. SBTi require you to publicly report your Scope 1 and 2 emissions annually and your progress against your reduction targets

What’s next? 

Now that you’ve set your science-based target, you need to continue measuring your carbon footprint annually and review your reduction targets. This’ll help you assess how close you are to meeting them and see what other initiatives you could include in your reduction plans.

You also need to start, or continue, measuring your Scope 3 emissions. You only need to measure your material Scope 3 emissions, but why not be ambitious and see how many you can measure?

Make sure to be transparent and publish your annual carbon footprint report. It builds trust with stakeholders, from customers to employees.

Let people know you’ve set a science-based target and are working to reduce your emissions. It’s likely to help you win new business as lots of big businesses are asking their supply chains to have a target set through the SBTi.

Finally, reduce! The single most important thing you can do is continually work to reduce your emissions.

This was last updated in March 2022 by Heart of the City. 

Climate for SMEs: 4 Steps to Action is funded by the City of London Corporation in support of its Climate Action Strategy targets for a net zero and resilient Square Mile.