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How to set science-based targets for your business

Small businesses
Carbon management





Lucy O'Connor

Small businesses
Carbon management
How to set science-based targets for your business





Lucy O'Connor

Want to align your business with global climate goals and stay ahead of the curve? Setting science-based targets can be your roadmap to a sustainable future and business success. Keep reading to find out how.

What are science-based targets?

Science-based targets are carbon reduction goals grounded in scientific data and aligned with globally agreed national emissions targets. By adopting science-based targets, organisations can confidently contribute to global emissions reduction efforts at the necessary scale and pace required to combat climate change. 

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) 

The SBTi is an initiative that helps companies set credible carbon reduction targets. It provides methodologies, resources, and verification procedures to ensure targets are both ambitious and achievable. 

The business case for setting science-based targets 

  • Stay ahead of regulations: Adhering to science-based targets helps companies anticipate and prepare for future regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, therefore reducing regulatory risk.
  • Cost savings: Implementing the measures required to meet science-based targets can lead to more efficient operations and cost savings, especially through energy efficiency.
  • Competitive advantage: Companies that take the lead in setting and achieving ambitious targets can position themselves as leaders in sustainability.
  • Reputation and brand value: Setting goals and making progress toward them can enhance a company’s reputation and brand value, attracting both customers and top talent. 
  • Attract investors: Investors are increasingly looking to allocate capital to sustainable and responsible businesses. Companies with credible science-based targets could attract more investment.
  • Market opportunities: Transitioning to more sustainable operations opens up opportunities for innovative products and services. 
  • Access to business opportunities: Many companies want to work with suppliers who are committed to sustainability and are requesting suppliers to have committed to science-based targets to access tenders and RFPs.

How to set science-based targets

Step 1: Make a public commitment 

Make a public commitment to demonstrate your business is engaged in reducing emissions. The SBTi and the SME Climate Hub are two prominent international organisations that help SMEs make credible carbon reduction commitments.

Step 2: Develop a short-term target

To stay on course to achieve global targets, emissions need to be reduced immediately to have enough ‘carbon budget’ left to limit harmful impacts. Companies that sign up for the SBTi or SME Climate Commitment are required to set near-term targets. At a minimum, it is recommended to set a target to halve your emissions before 2030. 

If you set an earlier deadline, your business will have to make changes faster. To give a sense of scale, halving emissions means:

  • 9% annual reduction over 7 years
  • 13% annual reduction over 5 years
  • 21% annual reduction over 3 years

Step 3: Set a long-term target

The ultimate goal for emissions reduction is to reach ‘Net Zero’. This means that a company's operations and entire value chain should have zero net impact on the climate. 

SBTi and SME Climate Hub’s commitments both require companies to reduce their emissions across Scopes 1, 2 and 3 by at least 90% by 2050. Only after achieving this should companies consider offsetting any remaining emissions. As with the short-term target, you can adopt an earlier target year to achieve this level of reduction.

Step 4: Choose your base year 

A base year is the reference point from which you will measure your reductions from and demonstrate progress. Companies setting targets for the first time are encouraged to use the most recent year with available data as the base year. 

Step 5: Calculate your emissions inventory 

In order to achieve your targets, companies first need to measure their emissions. This involves collecting data on direct and indirect emissions sources and converting this into a standardised carbon metric using carbon emissions factors. 

For more information on how to calculate your company’s carbon emissions inventory, check out our carbon accounting guide

Step 6: Validate your target 

Companies have the option to get their targets validated according to relevant standards, like the SBTi or SME Climate Commitment. This signals to buyers that your target is in line with the latest science.

To have your targets validated by either organisation, you will need to take additional steps like creating emissions reduction plans and disclosing your emissions reduction journey annually.

Step 7: Communicate your commitment 

Once your target has been validated, you can announce it to your stakeholders. 

Ready to take the first step? Join the forward-thinking companies that are not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Sign up for our carbon accounting software today.

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