Sustainability Unravelled – Science-based Targets: What Do They Mean

When it comes to climate change, it is essential that we balance pledges with proven progress. The saying goes that you cannot manage what you cannot measure, but at times the way we measure things such as greenhouse gas reductions, and the language we use to describe them, can seem complex and full of jargon and data.  

Science Based Targets are intended to be a pathway to turn climate promises into clear actions. So, what are they and why do they matter?  

First, let’s look at the wider climate crisis and its impact on businesses.  

Breaking down greenhouse gases  

Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs), and in particular the burning of fossil fuels that increase carbon dioxide levels, are considered to be the main cause of global warming. 

While carbon-emitting transport and meat-based diets are often hotly debated, the building and construction industry is in fact responsible for around 40% of annual global emissions. 

It’s critical that companies set GHG reduction targets in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement to keep the planet at a safer temperature. However, due to the prevalence of fossil fuels in modern society, it can be challenging for businesses to get a complete picture of where their emissions are coming from.  

To help put things into perspective, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has broken GHG emissions into three categories to help measure a business’ carbon footprint. These are: 

  • Scope 1 – Direct emissions: Emissions that are directly within a company’s control, including manufacturing products, the creation of waste and fuelling company vehicles and equipment. 
  • Scope 2 – Indirect emissions from purchased energy: These emissions are generated from electricity, natural gas, HVAC, refrigeration and other energy consumption needs. 
  • Scope 3 – Indirect emissions from product lifecycle: As defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Scope 3 emissions are “all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.” This covers everything from the emissions produced for purchased parts and materials, to the end user’s use of a product or service. 

Often businesses may not realise that much of their environmental impact comes from outside of their operations and within their supply chain. So, understanding and tracking all emission types is integral in setting realistic GHG reduction goals that are aligned with science.  

Knowing what your impacts are, and where they exist, is critical for businesses to begin tackling their environmental impact. 

Demystifying the data 

Science Based Targets are intended to provide a pathway for companies to reduce GHG emissions, helping to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and spur business growth. 

Targets are considered ‘science-based’ if they are in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and ideally pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. 

Science Based Targets help provide the background for a company to develop a clear roadmap for its sustainability journey. But there are additional business benefits for setting these targets – it futureproofs growth, encourages innovation, provides resilience and demonstrates solid green credentials for increasingly environmentally conscious customers. 

The path forward 

It is best practice for companies embarking on their sustainability journey to ensure that their reduction commitments are consistent with the Paris Agreement. 

This is where the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) comes in. The SBTi is a partnership between the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) that aims to elevate businesses’ commitment to GHG reductions and to recognise companies leading in this area. 

While any organisation can create a GHG reduction goal, SBTi approval offers third-party assessment and validation that a company’s efforts are ambitious enough to limit global warming to well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. 

For a wider sense of the SBTi movement, check out their latest progress report (May 2022).  

A collective goal 

At Interface, we’re passionate about our mission to overcome climate change and we’ve taken a straightforward approach to implementing our own science-based targets.  

We’re committed to reducing our Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50%, our Scope 3 emissions from purchased products and services by 50%, and our emissions from travel and commuting by 30% – all from a 2019 base year. Then we will go beyond this to become a carbon negative company by 2040. 

By partnering with SBTi and having our GHG reduction targets validated as science-based, we know that we’re on track to help keep global temperatures at the required threshold, and we’re encouraging others in the built environment sector to join us on that journey. 

As a community, we must reverse global warming and encourage others to act. Together, with other organisations, governments and companies declaring their own SBTs, we can create a climate fit for life. 

Do you, or your suppliers, have Science Based Targets? We’d love to hear about them. 

Find out more about how we’re implementing sustainable solutions. 

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