The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) was established in 2015 by several of the world’s leading environmental groups, including CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Designed as a unified, science-based response to the urgent need to tackle climate change, the initiative’s primary goal was to establish a standardized definition for net-zero—which was previously lacking. It also set out to create a consistent sustainability framework that all companies could follow, regardless of size or sector. By setting uniform guidelines, the SBTi ensured everyone could be held to the same standard.
But what does this entail? This guide provides an overview of the SBTi.
What is the Science Based Targets initiative?
As an organization, the Science Based Targets initiative has four stated primary objectives:
- Define and promote best practices in emissions reductions and net-zero targets in line with climate science.
- Offer technical assistance and expert resources to private businesses that seek to establish science-based targets in line with the latest climate science.
- Gather the world’s leading experts and policymakers to provide companies with third-party audits and validation of targets.
- Act as the lead partner of the Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign, which urges the UN agencies and business and industry leaders to mobilize their companies on a pathway to net-zero.
Thus far, more than 4,000 major organizations have enlisted in the cause and begun taking steps to reduce their GHG emissions.
What does the SBTi cover?
The SBTi provides much more than simple emissions reduction target setting. It also offers guidance on a number of relevant topics, including:
Net-zero Standard guidance
The Net-Zero Standard was the first official blueprint businesses could use to align their net-zero plans and GHG target reduction goals with science. It provides guidance and targets for businesses to achieve net-zero by a specific target year, in line with the Paris Agreement.
The Net-Zero Standard compels companies to address their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions across the entire value chain and includes four primary requirements of the Net Zero-Standard:
- Focus on rapid, deep emissions cuts – The priority of the Net-Zero Standard is to make sweeping emissions cuts across the entire value chain. To achieve this, most companies must undergo deep decarbonization of at least 90%.
- Set near- and long-term targets – Companies adopting the standard need to set immediate and big-picture targets, halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050.
- No net-zero claims until long-term climate targets are met – To prevent greenwashing, a company may only claim net-zero when it has achieved its long-term science-based targets.
- Go beyond the value chain – Science-based targets should just be a baseline. SBTi encourages companies to go beyond the initial scope of their value chain with their investments.
Sector level guidance
Every industry and business within a sector has unique emissions and compliance requirements and recommendations. What works for one may not apply to another. This is why businesses should have proper emissions management software to help them track their reduction goals.
Companies in the vast majority of sectors will use one of two methods to develop science-based targets: either the Absolute Contraction Approach or the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA).
The Absolute Contraction Approach is a one-size-fits-all method that involves a direct and absolute reduction in emissions, such as cutting emissions by 50%, using 2015 as a baseline.
On the other hand, the Sectoral Decarbonization Approach is a subsector-level approach and global least-cost mitigation perspective that focuses on intensity reduction, where emissions are reduced relative to a specific metric, like production or revenue. This second method empowers companies—particularly those in homogeneous, energy-intensive sectors with well-defined activity and physical intensity data—to decarbonize while accounting for sector-specific growth and efficiency improvements.
Currently, some of these sectors include:
- Apparel and footwear
- Financial institutions
- Fossil fuel exploration, extraction, mining, and production
- Fossil fuel sale/transmission/distribution
- Fossil fuel infrastructure/services
- Information and communication technology providers
- Industrial sectors (iron and steel, cement, aluminum, pulp and paper)
- Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)/Automakers
- Power generation
- Services/commercial buildings
- Transport services
Specific guidance for SMEs
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—defined as non-subsidiary, independent companies with fewer than 500 employees—may wonder where they fit into this emissions-reducing equation and how they, too, can demonstrate their commitment to a net-zero pathway.
Not sure how to set a science-based target? The SBTi provides specific guidance that streamlines the route SMEs can take to reach net-zero by bypassing the science-based target and standard target validation processes. SMEs have the following target options:
- Near-term science-based climate targets – These are absolute scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions reduction targets to achieve by 2030.
- Long-term science-based targets – These are absolute scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions reduction targets to achieve by 2050.
In addition, SMEs are expected to commit to neutralizing any unabated emissions after they achieve long-term science-based targets.
Dashboard of progress to goal
The SBTi also provides a progress dashboard that businesses can use to gauge their progress at a glance. This dashboard includes several categories:
- Company temperature alignment
- Target timeframe
- Target type
- Target value
- Scopes covered
- Target completion
- Elapsed time frame
Pursuing SBTi with Sustain.Life
The SBTi initiative was designed to encourage and support companies to set GHG emissions reduction targets in line with the latest climate science. With time running out to prevent the worst possible impacts of climate change, companies must ensure a sustainable future.
If you’re ready to embark on the path toward net-zero, Sustain.Life can provide support. As the ultimate carbon accounting solution, our sustainability management software makes it possible to measure, manage, and report your sustainability initiatives as you embrace an SBTi framework. Get a free demo today.
1. SBTi, “Introduction to the Science Based Target initiative Aluminum Sector Project,” https://sciencebasedtargets.org/events/introduction-to-the-science-based-target-initiative-aluminum-sector-project#:~:text=The%20Science%20Based%20Targets%20initiative,dangerous%20consequences%20of%20climate%20change Accessed April 13, 2023
2. SBTi, “What We Do,” https://sciencebasedtargets.org/about-us Accessed April 13, 2023
3. SBTi, “Sectoral Decarbonization Approach (SDA),” https://sciencebasedtargets.org/resources/files/Sectoral-Decarbonization-Approach-Report.pdf Accessed April 13, 2023
4. SBTi, “Small And Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) Faqs,” https://sciencebasedtargets.org/resources/files/FAQs-for-SMEs.pdf Accessed April 13, 2023