Are Science-based Targets now coming into their own underpinning Net Zero?
When Science-based Targets (SBTs) first emerged in 2015, I must admit I was slightly cynical. I mean, why stipulate that your organisation needs to, say, cut emissions by 43% by 2030, when you could set a more memorable target of a 50% cut? 43% (or whatever) never felt like a hill to die on.
In the meantime, national and international bodies started setting Net Zero by 2030/40/50 targets. These were much more exciting, ‘zero’ having more of a sexy moonshot-style focus than ‘43% less’. But the ‘Net’ bit started raising eyebrows amongst NGOs, as it implies that at least some of the goal could be met by offsetting. Various reviews found that many companies weren’t making explicit how much of a Net Zero target would be met by direct carbon reductions and how much by offsetting. Comparisons with ‘carbon neutral’ and allegations of greenwash started flying around.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been interviewing Sustainability Leads at a number of major organisations (you’ll start seeing/hearing the results imminently). A small sample so far, but all of them have been adopting Net Zero for their big headline Sustainability public vision thing, but underpinned by SBTs for the NGOs, reporting bodies and geeks who want to know how that target will emerge in practice. There’s an element of Green Jujitsu to this – having different (but coherent) messages too match the need of each stakeholder group. Having those SBTs will also help stop corporate leaders kicking the can down the road and then turning desperately to offsetting to hit a Net Zero target in the deadline year.
However, I would urge caution on a couple of points. First, you need to make sure those SBTs aren’t translated into incremental annual targets or you will stumble into the diminishing returns trap. Secondly, I still use zero emissions as the ultimate strategic goal. ‘Zero’ forces the mind into abandoning business as usual like no other goal (I maintain Sustainability is as much about psychology as anything else). Then when you have an outline strategy co-created with key decision makers, you can measure it against your SBTs and tweak/revise as necessary.
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