Setting Science-based Targets

Some principles for Science-Based Target setting by John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management and Faculty Co-Director, MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative

For the extended version of the SHIFT Science-Based Target curriculum, see: SHIFT SCIENCE-BASED TARGET CURRICULUM


1) Understand what a Science-Based Target (SBT) is and why it is important

Over 300 companies have committed to set greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets that are in line with climate science and over 70 have already set these targets. A transition to a low carbon economy is critical to future proof against the impacts of climate change. The first step to setting a science-based target is to understand how it differs from traditional targets and what the business case is for taking this approach.

Science-Based Targets (SBT)

Science-Based Target Step by Step Guide

Science-Based Target Setting Manual

2) Get internal buy-in

Goal setting and public disclosure of GHG targets, particularly the ambitious targets that may be created through an SBT approach, can be difficult for companies that are new to the process. Therefore, it is important to gain internal buy-in early and often throughout the target setting process.

Chapter 5 of the Science-Based Target Setting Manual

SHIFT comparison set of tools for making the business case for sustainability
General result

Business Case Resources

Resources that will help you make the case for why your organization should get behind a particular initiative.

Breaking Through Gridlock book and articles, for the more challenging conversations

3) Understand the SBT method basics

All SBT methods consist of a carbon budget, an emissions scenario, and an allocation approach. It is important to understand these basic SBT components and how they work before selecting a specific method.

IPCC Emissions Scenarios

International Energy Agency (IEA) Emissions Scenarios

Chapter 3 and Annex 1 of the Science-Based Target Setting Manual

4) Gather the data

For an SBT method to “work”, certain data inputs are required that result in the method’s output. The data needed varies by SBT methodology. Determine how you will gather this relevant data for your company, and to what extent it is even available, before you select an SBT method.

Annex 2 of the Science-Based Target Setting Manual

Table 3-1 of the Science-Based Target Setting Manual

5) Select an SBT method

There are several SBT methods you can use to set an SBT. The SBT Initiative provides useful guidance on how to choose which method to use, based on parameters such as the type data you have available for model inputs, the type of target you want to set, and the sector your company is in. You may need to use more than one method in order to set targets for different scopes.

Chapter 3 of the SBT Setting Manual

Annex 2 of the SBT Setting Manual

Review of SBT Methods

6) Set the target

After choosing a method several steps must be employed to produce the emissions reduction target. Many of these steps are based in the processes described in the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.

Chapter 4 of the Science-Based Target Setting Manual

GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard

7) Validate your target

Setting an SBT can be complicated as there are many steps to follow from gathering the data, to choosing the method, to interpreting the method output. To ensure that your target is scientifically valid, get your work reviewed by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi).

Science-Based Target Step by Step Guide

8) Communicate your target

The next step in the SBT process is communicating your target effectively.

CDP’s Climate Questionnaire
General result

CDP’s Climate Questionnaire

Template / Workbook / Spreadsheet | Free

We Mean Business

9) Implement your target

The last step in the SBT process is to implement your target. There are many options to implement an SBT target, some of which may be specific to your sector. Generally, measures fall into the following categories: energy efficiency measures, renewable and low-carbon energy use; biological sequestration; and Scope 3 measures.

US EPA ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management

Center for Corporate Climate Leadership Supply Chain Guidance

10) Iterate and Improve

Once steps have been implemented to meet your target, iterate and continuously improve your performance towards meeting the targets. Evaluate progress towards the targets, and identify opportunities for greater ambition – that is, faster, deeper cuts in your organization’s total emissions.