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Is the Science Based Targets Initiative ‘greenwishing’?

SBTi is often thought to be the most effective way of measuring organisational environmental impact and identifying reduction measures. A new whitepaper begs to differ. 

a close up of a dart on a wall

Sustainability consultancy Eight Versa argues that the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) adopts an ‘absolute contraction’ approach to cutting emissions by 90% in the next three decades, which is unsuitable for SMEs. Instead, they should be allowed to adopt the ‘Intensity Metric’ approach to cutting carbon and other climate-negative outputs. 

Developed by the CNP, UN Global Compact, WRI and WWF, SBTi sets out to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5C and has been adopted by countless large organisations across the world. However, it makes a distinction for those with more than 500 members of staff, who are permitted to set scope 3 emissions targets relative to economic or operational value. For example, kgCO2 per £1000 turnover. 

In contrast, SMEs are not allowed to do the same. According to the whitepaper, this lack of flexibility renders SBTi unworkable for most employers of less than 500 people, as it will stifle their ability to grow. Using Tesla as a large scale example, the researchers suggest that the EV giant’s £1trillion market capitalisation reflects its position as the expected market leader in years to come, with sales in the tens of millions.

Due to the nature of its business, the firm will also save tens of millions of tonnes of carbon in the process. If it is to become an SBTi aligned company, it would need to continue increasing production to meet its own market value, while also cutting down on 90% of its greenhouse gas emissions. This, apparently, would be unfeasible, even for companies with huge resources.

‘The SBTi methodology is simply not suitable for today’s dynamic and disruptive business environment. To tackle climate change, we obviously must slash our greenhouse gas emissions. However, for example, we must allow companies making innovative green technologies space to breathe. Under the current SBTi framework, that is simply not possible.’ 

The whitepaper concludes that Net Zero will move from a prescriptive approach as more organisations understand the economic impact. This calls into question the perspective that SBTi is the ‘de-facto definition of decarbonisation and net zero’. 

More on SBTi and emissions reduction: 

AI climate reporting leaves nowhere to hide corporate net zero failures

After greenwashing: A guide to effective environmental and offsetting targets

Record-breaking number of companies set science-based climate targets in 2021

Image: Engin Akyurt

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