How to create a Science Based Target (SBT)?

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How to create a Science Based Target (SBT)?

Some of the most frequent questions our clients ask:

“How can I make my business more sustainable?”

“How can I ensure my company isn’t Greenwashing?”

“How can we generate true environmental impact?”

My answer is always the following: Calculate, reduce and offset your company’s carbon footprint. Today’s discussion will focus on reduction.

Emissions reductions come in many forms but should lead to the same result; a carbon emissions reduction target backed by science, with a fixed date and a fully budgeted sustainability strategy with listed carbon reduction initiatives to back it up.

Ideally, the next step in the process is getting your target validated. Our personal favourite way to do this is to set a Science-Based Target through the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi).

The Science-Based Targets Initiative is backed by a variety of environmental NGOs including the UNGC and WWF. See the below video for a brief summary:

So the next question is:

How to create a Science Based Target and what is SBTi? This blog will take you through the basics so you can decide whether or not a Science Based target is suitable for your organization.

What is a Science-Based Target?

Science Based Target definition: A target that aligns with the Paris Climate Agreement in limiting global warming to 1.5C or well below 2C. If all companies were to produce Science-Based emissions targets and successfully reach these targets, the Paris Climate agreement and its goals would be achievable and Greenwashing would be a thing of the past.

Greenwashing is a common theme within business due to the perceived value green credentials can add to a brand and the potential for increased shareholder valuation.

Greenwashing can occur when businesses create sustainability claims and emissions reduction plans that are not realistic, not properly deployed, not budgeted for and not grounded with proper science. 

Setting a Science-Based Target is a great way to battle Greenwashing, it’s also important to check the governments Green Claims Code.

The SBTi have created a strong standard that can effectively battle greenwashing and achieve genuine benefit to the environment based on the following principles:

  • Alignment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The aim of this international agreement is to reduce global emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels or well below 2oC.
  • A linear annual reduction rate of emissions between 1.23% and 2.5% results in a 50% chance of limiting global warming to less than 2oC by 2100. This is no longer accepted within the initiative.
  • A linear annual reduction rate of emissions between 2.5% and 4.2% results in a 66% chance of limiting global warming to less than 2oC by 2100.
  • A linear annual reduction rate of emissions of greater than 4.2% results in a 50% chance of limiting peak global warming to less than 1.5oC between now and 2100.
  • A framework for calculating and reporting scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions in line with the GHG protocol.
  • Tools and a verification processes for setting a target combined with an annual review process to ensure targets remain on track.

The Science-Based method is built around modelling produced and reviewing by the International Panel of climate change (IPCC).


What is the Science-Based Targets methodology?

The goal of this section is not to explain the fine details of the SBTI process. Instead it’s a simple step by step guide to make a decision on whether SBTi will work for you. For more details on how to achieve science based targets certification and for access to the SBTi tools head to the SBTI website.


What are the benefits of SBTi for business?

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is currently a hot topic for investors, with businesses scoring highly seeing greater equity returns. Environment is a key part of this value proposition with sustainability and emissions reductions playing centre-stage.

A recent analysis by the Mckinsey consultancy firm highlighted that in 63% of cases, businesses that paid close attention to ESG saw positive equity returns from this endeavor with only 8% seeing negative returns.

Businesses vary significantly and therefore, so do their journeys on emission reduction. A few key principles exist when reporting and reducing emissions that allow businesses to work on a level playing field and SBTi exhibits many of these.

Standardisation is vital to ensure that companies can operate on a level playing field, especially if investment is required to reach emission reduction targets.

By standardising approaches to emissions reporting and emissions reductions we can protect from greenwashing and ensure that businesses do not get disheartened when competitors flout green credentials without evidence.

Transparency is also useful in the battle against climate change. Transparency supports standardisation but also ensures that public scrutiny of environmental claims can occur.

It's reasonably easy for a business to report their emissions but without a third part verifier or transparent disclosure it is difficult to know how accurate these calculations are.

As a business its beneficial to know your competitor’s claims are verified but there are other benefits associated with developing an approved SBTi. By generating an SBT and sticking to it, you are ensuring that your business is doing its part in mitigating the damage from global warming in a way that is scientifically backed.

This is beneficial to:

Your employees, who can be proud to work for a responsible business. Many millennials are willing to sacrifice a portion of their salary for a business that is sustainable and provide social impact.

Beneficial to your customers, who can ensure they are choosing products and services that are responsibly produced.

Also beneficial to your investors, who can feel safe that their capital is being responsibly utilised.

The UN sustainable development goals.

Governments are currently in the process of developing net-zero pathways which will result in legislation over the coming years that will impact business.

An example of this already happening in the UK is the PPN 06/21 action note for government procurement that came into effect on the 30th September 2021. This legislation dictates that that businesses bidding for contracts of £5 million per annum or greater must report their emissions and have a reduction plan in place, SBTi is referenced as a suitable standard to achieve this. 

It should be expected that more legislation like this will follow in the coming years, having an SBTi in place will ensure a business can be well prepared.

If you are curious which science-based targets companies have already committed to a target, click here.

Frequently asked questions about SBTi:

I have asked Paul Murphy, Climate Action Solutions Lead from ClimeAction some of the frequently asked questions that we receive from clients to get another perspective on the SBTi process. He has supported a number of companies over the past few years develop SBTi strategies.

Is the SBTi process practical?

“Very Practical. It requires a lot of work but the SBTi process provides practical advice and tools to develop a robust sustainability strategy that can match commitment. Some of the companies we work with are already leaders in energy efficiency and decarbonization which can make it difficult to find practical opportunities for reduction on top of what has already been achieved. At the moment carbon credits are not allowed to offset the emissions reduction target but this may change in the future”.

Does SBTi provide true environmental benefit?

“The SBTi itself doesn’t provide true environmental benefit but it is a good framework to enabling companies to drive their emissions down. It can, however, be used as a get out of jail free card for poorly performing companies to switch to renewable energy to easily meet their scope 2 targets. The timing of energy purchase is critical in the shortest, most cost-effective route to decarbonization but it general my advice would be energy efficiency first, then reducing as far as possible before purchasing renewable energy. You can only save a tonne of carbon once!”

Is SBTi an effective mitigation to Greenwashing?

“It is for sure, it doesn’t let companies make claims about like carbon neutral without the evidence to back it up.”

Do businesses benefit from setting and SBT?

“Large businesses in particular do – particularly when considering their scoring on financial sustainability indexes. It may support good share pricing and investment from more sustainability interested funds. For SME businesses who feed into larger business it may support their long term business development as many large businesses who are SBTi committed are starting to look at their supply chains”.

How much effort is it to setup an SBT?


How much does it cost?

“This is highly dependent on scale but for a large business it could be up to £50k in time which would include development of strategy, supporting initial business baseline assessments, developing internal stakeholder support etc.”

How long does it take to setup?

“12-18 months, again dependent on the scale of business and internal drive.”

How easy is it to stick to after having the target approved?

“Difficult unless financial support is committed to by the company over the long term. Climate action projects need to be funded outside of the usual CAPEX processes and longer paybacks accepted. For example, many companies I work with in the larger sectors require payback of 3 years or less, for an SBTi commitment, 7 years or less would be required to achieve long term goals.”

Do you have and other comments about SBTi?

“It’s a good standard and I think many of those who have committed don’t have a practical strategy. Of the available reduction commitments, I believe this is the best”.

If you are interested in setting your own SBTi, please get in touch via our contact page or LinkedIn.

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