What Are Science-Based Targets?

By Jennifer Cantero, Director of the Center for Sustainability at Sensiba

Science-Based Targets (SBTs) are emissions reduction objectives aligned with latest climate science as well as the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

These targets are intended to help companies reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Companies that set science-based targets demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and willingness to lead in addressing the climate crisis.

The Science Based Targets Initiative Explained

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), is a collaboration between several organizations including:

  • Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)
  • United Nations Global Compact (UNGC)
  • World Resources Institute (WRI)
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

The SBTi provides a framework for companies to set specific targets and independently verify their goals are consistent with the Paris Agreement objectives. It offers guidance, tools, and resources to help companies determine and achieve their emissions reduction targets.

What Is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is an international accord adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015 to address climate change. By bringing countries together to collaborate on a common goal and approach, the agreement has created a framework for collective action to address the impacts of climate change.

The Agreement’s Goal

The Paris Agreement sets an ambitious target to reduce global warming. Limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (with a further target of 1.5 degrees) is critical to preventing the worst effects of climate change. Some examples of climate change effects are rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and loss of biodiversity.

Paris Agreement Requirements

The agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and progress toward their targets, providing transparency and accountability for their actions. This reporting helps to ensure countries are taking meaningful action to address climate change and tracks progress toward meeting the agreement’s goals.

Financial and technological support is available to help developing countries transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies, as these countries are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Why Are Science-Based Targets Important?

Companies adopting SBTs demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and addressing the climate crisis. Companies that set and achieve SBTs are seen as responsible and credible. This can enhance their reputation and build trust with stakeholders, including customers, investors, and employees.

SBTs can help companies stay ahead of regulations, reduce their exposure to compliance and policy risks, and benefit from new opportunities and technological advancements in the low-carbon economy.

Science-Based Target Examples

There are several types of science-based targets that companies can set. A company’s specific targets will depend on its operations, emissions profile, and other factors.

Here are a few examples of science-based targets that organizations have set:

  • Renewable Energy: Source 100% of energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, and hydropower, by a specific date.
  • Energy Efficiency: Improve energy efficiency by reducing energy use per unit of production by a certain percentage.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), over a specific timeframe. These targets may be set in absolute terms, such as reducing emissions by a certain amount, or as a percentage reduction relative to their baseline emissions.
  • Zero Deforestation: Eliminate deforestation from supply chains by ensuring that sourced commodities, such as palm oil, soy, and beef, are produced in a way that does not contribute to deforestation.
  • Circular Economy:  When everything becomes healthy food or building blocks for something else.


How to Set Science-Based Targets

Setting science-based targets is a challenging yet rewarding process. Having a step-by-step plan and following it is critical for being able to hit those targets.

Step One: Benchmark the Company’s Current State

Your company needs to benchmark where it is in its sustainability journey to know where it wants or needs to go. Start by determining your company’s current emissions and establishing a baseline. This will serve as the starting point for measuring progress against your target.

Step Two: Select Which Elements of the Company to Include

Decide which parts of your operations and supply chain you want to include in your target. For example, you may choose to focus on direct emissions from your operations or on emissions from your entire value chain. Determine the reduction pathway you want to use to achieve your target. Several paths are available, including sector-specific and economy-wide reduction pathways.

Step Three: Determine the Targets and Put a Plan in Place

Use the selected reduction pathway to calculate your science-based target. This will involve considering your company’s emissions profile, historical emissions trends, and future growth projections. Once you have set a target, you will need to implement a plan to achieve it. This may involve changing business processes, investing in new technologies, or engaging with suppliers and other stakeholders.

Step Four: Regularly Monitor and Report

Regularly monitor your progress against your target and report on your emissions and other relevant data. This will help you identify areas for improvement and demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

The Science Based Targets initiative provides a step-by-step guide with tools and resources to support the process. The SBTi also verifies companies’ targets to ensure they are aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Companies Using Science-Based Targets

There are over 4,500 companies worldwide with approved science-based targets. They span across various sectors such as energy, consumer goods, retail, finance, and more.

Some well-known companies include:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Unilever
  • Nestle
  • Traditional Medicinals
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Walmart
  • General Motors
  • Califia Farms
  • Beautycounter
  • Ikea

The Science-Based Targets initiative provides a publicly accessible database of companies with approved science-based targets. It can be searched by sector, company name, and country. This list is constantly expanding as more companies adopt SBTs, demonstrating the growing recognition of the importance of reducing emissions.

Setting and Achieving Your Science-Based Targets

Science-based targets are crucial for companies to address the pressing issue of climate change, plan for a sustainable future, and enhance their reputation and competitiveness. The Sensiba Center for Sustainability can work side-by-side to guide you through this process. Starting from measuring and identifying your targets to implementing your plan and monitoring your progress. If you are considering setting science-based targets for your organization, contact us to learn more about how they can help.

About the Author:

Jennifer Harrity-Cantero brings more than 20 years of business and marketing experience to her role as the leader of the Sensiba Center for Sustainability. She leads the firm’s core sustainability efforts and B Corp Certification. In 2020, she launched the firm’s Sensiba Center for Sustainability to help companies move to a purpose-driven, sustainable business model that includes social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. In addition to her sustainability practice, Jennifer hosts the Rebooting Capitalism podcast that digs into why traditional capitalism is broken and what people are doing to fix it. She was also honored in 2021 by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Businesses and again in 2022 as a Forever Influential Woman.