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Companies everywhere are taking a new approach to managing their carbon footprint-focused on deep reductions in emissions rather than cheap offsets. This is difficult: companies must consider all emissions, and reduce them deeply.

The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

When a company sets an SBT, it starts by picking a temperature target, and then works backwards to the emissions reductions consistent with that goal. SBTs must count down from your most recent emissions inventory-meaning no credit for prior reductions.SBTi only gives credit for true reductions in your carbon footprint, not carbon offsets or avoided emissions.

SBTs must incorporate 95% of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and all Scope 3 emissions if they equal 40% or more of the whole.

Scope 1 and 2. These are the emissions that a company controls. 

Companies must set targets for Scopes 1 and 2 that result in a steep reduction in absolute emissions.

Companies have three choices for reductions here:

Scope 3. This is where it gets tricky. Companies have three choices for reductions here:

  • Absolute reductions: cutting total Scope 3 emissions each year
  • Intensity targets: a reduction in emission per unit of business activity, which can be measured relative to specific units like items manufactured or total dollars earned.
  • Supplier engagement: a target for how many of a company’s vendors set their own SBTs. This is the magic of the SBT framework, enabling ambitious targets to cascade down supply chains.

These options are popular for fast-growing companies who expect their emissions to grow in absolute terms, but who want to get greener as they scale.

These options can be mixed-and-matched, as long as they collectively cover two-thirds of Scope 3 emissions.

Net zero

Traditionally, science-based targets focused on emissions reductions; net zero targets go a step further to remove whatever carbon remains.

The four key requirements:

  • Set a short-term science-based target for reducing emissions in the next 5-10 years
  • Set a long-term science-based target for reducing emissions in the long term
  • Permanently remove whatever carbon remains in your target year
  • Fund projects in the meantime that accelerate decarbonization

How to create an SBT

Step #1: Commit

Submit your official commitment to SBTi.

Your letter of intent must reflect one of two commitments: either reducing your emissions consistent with a 2°C global target, or the more ambitious 1.5°C. Though SBTi is phasing out the 2ºC option, since it’s increasingly clear that we need to stay below 1.5°C to avoid the worst of climate change.

Step #2: Develop

Once your letter of intent is acknowledged by SBTi, a 24-month countdown begins for you to put together a detailed plan on how much you’ll reduce emissions, by when.

Validation typically takes 30 days, and may involve a “Revise and resubmit” request before a final answer is reached-most commonly because the submitter failed to account for all their Scope 3 emissions in their initial inventory.

Step #3: Submit

Once you submit your target, the SBTi team will validate them to ensure they meet the SBTi criteria.

Step #4: Communicate

Once your target(s) have been officially validated, let your stakeholders know that it’s game on.

Step #5: Disclose

With your official SBT and ongoing measurements in hand, the final step is to share it all publicly—both to promote transparency and to meet increasing disclosure requirements.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). (source: wikipedia)

Since 2015 more than 2336 companies joined the initiative to set a science-based climate target (source: at March 2022).

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