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What are Science-Based Targets (SBTs)?

Article Overview

Science-Based Targets refer to emission reduction goals that align with the necessary level of decarbonization to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The increasing urgency of climate change has led businesses to seek more sustainable practices and reduce their carbon emissions. Companies around the world are adopting Science-Based Targets (SBTs) to help them take meaningful climate action. 

In this blog post, we explore what Science-Based Targets (SBTs) are and how they can help companies reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a sustainable future. We will cover the definition, importance, and process of setting and validating targets in accordance with Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) guidance and criteria.

What are Science-Based Targets?

Science-Based Targets refer to emission reduction goals that align with the necessary level of decarbonization to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. Additionally, there is an encouragement to strive for efforts to limit the global temperature increase to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Science-Based Targets initiative

The Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that aims to provide guidance and validation for companies setting these targets. They are the leading organization for providing detailed guidance on how to set SBTs and validation of proposed company targets.

Importance of Science-Based Targets 

SBTs are essential as they provide a clear, science-backed framework for businesses to align their emissions reduction goals with global climate objectives. 

They ensure that companies contribute to a sustainable future by reducing their carbon footprint while remaining competitive in their respective industries. In 2021 alone, the amount of companies setting science-based targets doubled, and 27% of high-impact companies – meaning the largest companies by market capitalization and emissions — set science-based targets. 

Not only are they becoming increasingly common in the market, but science-based targets are also critical in driving companies toward a sustainable future. By setting targets that align with the Paris Agreement, companies can contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change, reduce their carbon footprint, and achieve long-term sustainability goals.

The SBTi is and will be critical in ensuring companies have the tools, strategies, and capabilities to meet their climate goals.

Who Can Join SBTi?

The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is open to companies of all sizes and from various sectors and industries to join and commit to setting science-based targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, with the exception of the oil and gas sector. 

As of June 2023, the number of companies with approved Science-Based Targets (SBTs) has surpassed 2,700, reflecting a significant increase (+157%) compared to 2021. This substantial growth highlights the rising interest and engagement of companies in aligning their emission reduction efforts with scientifically established targets.

annual cumulative number of companies with approved targets and commitments, 2015-2021

Participating companies commit to setting science-based targets and gain access to resources, tools, and methodologies that assist them in establishing ambitious emission reduction targets aligned with the global objective of limiting temperature rise to well below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. As of 2021, more than two-thirds of the SBT companies with approved targets were aligned with the more ambitious 1.5°C target.

science based targets initiative annual report 2021

Sector-Specific Guidance

The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) recognizes that different sectors face unique challenges and opportunities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To address these variations, the SBTi has developed sector-specific guidance tailored to the specific needs and capacities of each sector.

SBTi offers sector-specific guidance to companies, enabling them to set ambitious, achievable targets that align with the latest climate science. This guidance covers setting targets for scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. It takes into account sector-specific differences to ensure that each company's target is relevant and aligned with the ambition expected for their sector.

Currently, there are sector-specific criteria for aviation, finance, apparel and footwear, power generation, and information and communication technologies. However, several others are under development or in the scoping stage. For more detailed guidance on specific requirements and/or guidance for sectors, please visit the Science-Based Targets official website.

How Can Companies Set Science-Based Targets?

The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) provides a five-step process to guide companies in establishing science-based targets:

  1. Commit: The company publicly commits to setting a science-based target by submitting a commitment letter to the SBTi. This commitment demonstrates the organization's dedication to aligning its emissions reduction targets with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  2. Develop: The company develops its target using approved methodologies and tools provided by the SBTi. The target should cover scope 1 and 2 emissions at a minimum, and scope 3 emissions if they represent a significant portion of the company's total emissions.
  3. Submit: Once the target is developed, the company submits it to the SBTi for validation. The SBTi reviews the target to ensure it meets its stringent criteria, which includes alignment with the level of decarbonization required to limit global warming to well below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  4. Communicate: Once the target is approved, the company announces it publicly and shares it with stakeholders. SBTi provides guidance on how to communicate your new target. If targets are not made public within six months of approval, revalidation will be required to ensure it is in line with the latest science-based criteria.
  5. Disclose: Once your company's emissions reduction target has been approved, it is important to annually disclose your emissions and track your progress towards achieving the target. It is recommended to report this information through channels such as CDP, annual reports, sustainability reports, and your company's website.
how to set up science based targets

Benefits of Setting Science-Based Targets

By joining the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), companies can unlock a wide range of benefits that contribute to their long-term success and sustainability. This includes:

  1. Enhancing reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to reducing emissions aligned with a widely accepted standard can enhance a company's reputation, brand perception, and trust with customers, investors, and other stakeholders. 
  2. Cost savings: Implementing emission reduction strategies can lead to significant cost savings for companies. By adopting energy-efficient practices, optimizing resource usage, and improving operational efficiency, organizations can reduce their energy consumption and emissions—and associated expenses.
  3. Competitive advantage: Companies with science-based targets may have a competitive advantage over those without such targets, as investors and customers increasingly demand sustainable practices.
  4. ESG performance: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors are increasingly important considerations for investors when assessing a company's performance. Meeting science-based targets showcases a company's commitment to addressing climate change and its environmental impact. This can lead to improved ESG performance ratings and rankings, which can enhance access to capital and investment opportunities.

Joining the SBTi empowers companies to establish themselves as forward-thinking, responsible entities while simultaneously driving positive environmental change.

Case Studies: Companies Driving Change with Science-Based Targets

Several companies have successfully set and achieved science-based targets, resulting in significant emissions reductions, cost savings, and increased competitiveness.

 Here are a few examples:

  • Colgate Palmolive: Colgate-Palmolive is the first major company in its sector to gain approval from The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) for its net zero emissions targets. With a long-standing commitment to climate change initiatives, Colgate aims to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions across its operations. Validated by the SBTi, the goals align with the Paris Agreement's objective and include a 42% reduction in emissions by 2030, 100% renewable electricity sourcing by 2030, a 42% decrease in emissions from Purchased Goods and Services, and Net Zero emissions across the value chain by 2040. Further details can be found in Colgate's 2022 Climate Transition & Net Zero Action Plan.
  • Adobe: Software company Adobe stands as a successful example of setting and achieving science-based targets. In 2019, Adobe accomplished its goal of powering its operations with 100% renewable energy. Furthermore, Adobe has committed to reducing its absolute scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2025, compared to 2015 levels. Adobe's achievements highlight their integration of sustainability into their business strategy and the importance of renewable energy adoption.
  • IKEA: Furniture retailer IKEA has demonstrated its commitment to science-based targets by successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its stores and other operations. In 2020, IKEA achieved a 50% reduction in emissions compared to 2016. The company has also embarked on a journey to become a circular business and aims to achieve 100% renewable energy across its entire value chain by 2030. IKEA's holistic sustainability approach sets a benchmark for other companies in the retail industry.

These case studies illustrate the tangible benefits and positive outcomes that can arise from setting science-based targets. Companies that align their strategies with climate science and commit to ambitious emissions reductions position themselves as leaders in sustainability, contributing to a more sustainable future for all.

How Does Software Help with SBTs?

Incorporating software into the process of setting and achieving science-based targets is a game-changer for organizations aiming to effectively manage and reduce their carbon emissions. Carbon accounting software is crucial for accurately measuring and reporting emissions across an organization's operations, including scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. By streamlining data collection, calculations, and reporting, these tools streamline the carbon accounting process, minimize human errors, and provide valuable insights to support data-driven decision-making.

One key functionality is the ability to develop data-driven decarbonization strategies tailored to an organization's unique needs. For example, Net Zero Navigator, a joint solution developed by Bain & Co. and Persefoni, empowers organizations to make carbon reduction decisions that are aligned with both their business and climate goals. This module helps companies set ambitious, yet achievable, emissions reduction targets that meet the criteria of the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). By providing actionable insights and enabling progress monitoring, the Net Zero Navigator allows organizations to adjust their strategies as needed and maintain accountability toward their sustainability goals.

Implementing software solutions like this not only enhances the effectiveness of a company's SBTi efforts but also contributes to a more sustainable future by ensuring that emissions reduction initiatives are both measurable and achievable.


How many companies have committed to SBTi?

More than 2,794 companies worldwide have committed to setting science-based targets through the Science-Based Targets initiative. This number is expected to increase as businesses increasingly recognize the importance of aligning their emissions reduction goals with global climate objectives.

How long does my company have to set a target after committing?

After committing to the SBTi, companies have a period of 24 months to develop and submit their science-based target for validation.

How do I choose a method for developing my company's target?

The SBTi provides a list of approved methods and sector-specific guidance for setting science-based targets. To choose the most appropriate method, consider your company's size, industry, and emissions profile. Detailed information on each method is available on the SBTi website, and seeking expert advice is recommended if needed.

How do you validate targets as "science-based"?

Targets are validated by the SBTi based on a set of criteria ensuring alignment with global climate goals. These criteria include factors such as the target's timeframe, scope, level of ambition, and consistency with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Sector-specific guidance is also taken into account during the target validation process.

Do you track companies' progress against their targets?

Yes, the SBTi requires companies to report their company-wide emissions and progress toward their targets on an annual basis. This reporting helps ensure transparency and accountability in the emissions reduction process.

Do SBTi targets include scope 3?

SBTi targets can include scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions from activities such as supply chain operations and product use. Inclusion of scope 3 emissions is required for companies with significant scope 3 emissions, typically when they represent over 40% of the company's total emissions.

What is SBTi target validation criteria?

The SBTi target validation criteria ensure that companies' targets are ambitious, achievable, and in line with global climate goals. The criteria include:

  • Consistency with the goals of the Paris Agreement
  • Target timeframe of 5-15 years
  • Comprehensive coverage of scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions
  • Use of SBTi-approved methods and sector-specific guidance

What is the difference between net zero and science-based targets?

Net zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. A net zero target aims for a company to achieve this balance by a specific date. On the other hand, science-based targets focus on setting emissions reduction goals that align with the global climate objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Do Science-based targets allow offsets?

Science-based targets primarily emphasize reducing companies' emissions in alignment with global climate goals. While the use of removal offsets can contribute to achieving net zero emissions, SBTi encourages companies to prioritize emissions reductions within their own operations and value chains before considering offsets. Offsets can serve as a complementary measure but should not replace genuine emissions reduction efforts.

For a complete list of FAQs, please visit the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) official website.

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