A quick guide to science-based targets

Environmental consultancy Green Element reminds us how important climate change is and why science-based targets could set a solid foundation for action.

What are science-based targets?

Science-based targets (SBTs) are emission reductions targets formed from the latest climate science. They are guided by the aims of the Paris Agreement – to limit our planet’s global temperate to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and can be independently certified by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report was another bracing wake-up call, highlighting impacts and risks to businesses and society if we do not act now.

With the UK committed to its Net Zero Strategy to reach zero emissions by 2050, many businesses are on a path to work to develop and embed decarbonisation plans. This not only protects against future risks but also improves operational efficiency.

To instil best practice in businesses, the SBTi collaboration offers resources and guidance, as well as independent assessment, to encourage leaders to take action.

The benefits of science-based targets

  • Future-proof your business: Working towards targets based on science helps limit climate risks and ensures your place in a decarbonised future. 
  • Cost-effective: SBTs may help your operations to become more efficient in the long term, both under your own roof and along the supply chain. Renewable energy can also cut costs as we move away to a carbon-free economy.
  • Opportunity to innovate: There is scope to innovate your product or service offering, or even your entire business model.
  • Positive for reputation and credibility: Showing your commitment to tackling climate action may increase investment and attract more business opportunities, signalling your position in the market. Both customers and stakeholders are seeking reassurance that these values are instilled inside and outside the workplace.
  • Reassurance and trust: Having targets independently ratified by a science-based organisation demonstrates your commitment to both your customers and wider society, situating your business as a positive force for change.   
  • Regulation and resilience: You will be more prepared to fall in line with the changing landscape of regulation as governments continue to set and meet country-wide pledges.

Setting the right targets

You will need a baseline carbon footprint against which to set SBTs. Do you know your carbon footprint? Sign up to the Carbon Planner  today to find out more and see how your business could potentially reduce emissions. To further clarify your sustainability journey, you could look into implementing an environmental management system.

Company size and target dates

There will be tailored SBTi target-setting guidance depending on the size of your business for both near term (five to 10 years from the baseline) and longer-term net-zero goals. You will be able to access particular goals that are specific to your industry. Many of these goals could also create a positive financial impact on your company, improving efficiency and being part of the future low-carbon economy.


  • The SBTi has an official validation process, which results in your business being listed on its website.
  • For larger companies this may require assessments linked to greenhouse gas emissions aligning with the global reporting standards of ‘Scopes’ 1, 2 and 3 (see below). These range from emissions coming directly from your company to those produced further down its value chain.
  • For SMEs, there is a more streamlined route to SBTi validation that balances the advantages of taking climate action with less intensive data analysis. In these cases, SMEs are not required to set Scope 3 targets in the near term.

What should I know about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

International reporting standards divide carbon emissions into Scopes 1, 2 and 3. These three ‘scopes’ help businesses to categorise and monitor their emissions over the whole value chain.

  • Scope 1: covers emissions from sources that are owned directly by the company, such as gas boilers or vehicles.
  • Scope 2: emissions caused indirectly by purchasing and using energy, for example the electricity to power the heat pumps.
  • Scope 3: emissions produced by companies up and down its value chain.

Five steps to setting your science-based targets

  1. Commit: submit a signed commitment letter to show your intent to set a science-based target.
  2. Develop: for large companies there is a period of 24 months after submitting your letter to work on your emission reduction goals using the SBTi’s criteria.
  3. Submit: a target submission form will be completed and presented to SBTi for official validation. this will generally include mid- and long-term aims.
  4. Communicate: announce your target and inform stakeholders.
  5. Disclose: track and report progress annually.
Download the guide

Download Green Element's guide Science-Based Targets here (PDF, 3.2MB).

Getting started: do you know your carbon footprint?

Sign up to the Carbon Planner today to find out more and see how your business could potentially reduce emissions.

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