Setting a corporate emissions reduction target

Whether it's net zero or science-based, here's the next steps to set your target

Lucy Piper
November 16, 2021
Professional woman at computer - Photo by Anthony Da Cruz via Unsplash

Taking the first step to setting your target

If your business is ready to start reducing its carbon emissions, and you have a clear idea on which route is best for your corporation – a net zero or a science-based target – the next steps to lock in your goal will vary depending on which path you choose:

How do we set a net zero target?

Committing to a net zero target is simple: set to a date as your goal and agree to achieve net zero emissions before then. Many businesses and organisations are committing to a net zero 2050 timeline, but some scientists are urging for more ambitious targets if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees; businesses who are taking progressive action on climate are committing to net zero much sooner, with many setting a target date of 2030.

Your net zero target should be set with integrity, putting rapid emissions reduction targets at the core of the commitment, using offsets only where reduction is impossible. Your net zero target is then simple to communicate, and can act as a stepping-stone to align and adapt to the SBTi framework.

How do we set a science-based target?

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) provides comprehensive guidance and support on setting your target, and there are stringent criteria to meet within the framework. The process comprises of the following steps:

  1. COMMIT: Your company must submit a letter to the SBTi, establishing your intent to set a science-based target. 
  2. DEVELOP: This is the complex part of the process, where you work with the SBTi to prepare an emissions target in line with their comprehensive criteria.
  3. SUBMIT: Once the plan is developed, you must formally submit your target to the SBTi for approval and validation.
  4. COMMUNICATE: Formally announce your target to your employees, customers and stakeholders.
  5. DISCLOSE: Annually track and report on all emissions, and map progress against your target.

When developing your plan, you will have to prepare a thorough emissions inventory (covering your scope 1 and scope 2 emissions) and decide which are the most ambitious decarbonisation scenarios to achieve the earliest reductions and least cumulative emissions. The pathways available are:

  • Efficiency improvement
  • Renewable energy
  • New low carbon business models
  • And/or other company solutions

Understanding your corporate emissions

To really understand where your emissions are coming from, you will need to look at all three scopes:

Scope 1: These are your direct emissions that come from your organisation’s activities (this is directly addressable by a combination of improving energy efficiency, and electrifying your energy in order to move it into scope 2, below)

Scope 2: These are your upstream electricity emissions, caused by how you consume energy (this is directly addressable by purchasing renewable energy, so any of your scope 1 emissions that can be electrified, and then powered by renewables will produce much lower emissions)

Scope 3: These are your value chain emissions and cover all your indirect impacts (any outsourced services and logistics), and these usually represent the largest portion of corporate emissions. If your scope 3 emissions contribute to more than 40% of your overall emissions, SBTi requires that you set ambitious reduction targets for these.

When setting a science-based target, the two methods recommended by the SBTi are the Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach and Absolute Emissions Contraction:

  • Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach: Uses the International Energy Agency sectoral modelling (to limit warming to below 2 degrees), and accounts for projected growth in market share. 
  • Absolute Emissions Contraction: Uses a carbon budget approach, and requires a business to reduce its emissions on an absolute basis (in accordance with IPCC guidelines)

Where to go for more information

There are many complexities associated with setting a science-based target, but the SBTi exists to provide businesses with the support and technical expertise to help them set and achieve ambitious targets. If you want begin your corporation’s journey to a net zero target that is compatible with the Paris Agreement, find out more at 

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