How Burberry joined the business elite in setting a 1.5C science-based target

EXCLUSIVE: As Burberry became the latest corporate to set a science-based target aligned to the Paris Agreement's most ambitious pathway, the company's vice president of corporate responsibility outlined how the goal was set, and what happens next.

How Burberry joined the business elite in setting a 1.5C science-based target

For Burberry

Last month, luxury fashion giant Burberry joined a handful of companies in setting a science-based target aligned to the 1.5C trajectory of the Paris Agreement, in a move that built on an existing goal to become a carbon-neutral operation by 2022.

The new commitment, approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), will see Burberry strive to reduce its operational emissions by 95% by 2022, alongside a targeted 30% absolute reduction in scope 3 emissions by 2030 against the same baseline.

According to Burberry’s vice president of corporate responsibility, Pam Batty, the new targets have generated positive responses amongst media, stakeholders and employees alike. But the targets follow years of work which have seen the company’s sustainability, finance departments and board reach new heights to “drive positive change”.

“These are long-term pieces of work,” Batty told edie, speaking about the confirmed science-based targets. “We’ve been working on [the sustainability] agenda for about 15 years now, it really does seep to the fact that we’re really passionate about driving positive change across the organisation.

“We started working on these in 2017, where we did all the ‘behind the scenes’ work, such as looking at baselines. It required involvement from all areas and our chief executive is very engaged with this and was involved with the process of getting this approved – as were our chief operating and chief financial officers.”

Back in 2017, when Burberry began exploring science-based targets, the number of companies to have set a goal aligned with most ambitious pathway of the Paris Agreement could be counted on one hand. While all science-based targets are necessary and commendable, the SBTi offered two verifications, a 2C or 1.5C goal; BT, Tesco and Carlsberg were considered the leaders in climate targets, all setting reduction targets aligned to the latter.

But as climate change evolved into front-page issue in the media, the business community has responded. Companies such as Pukka Herbs, the Co-op and Carbon Credentials have since set 1.5C targets, and many more are expected to join this exclusive group, especially given the ever-evolving context; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report was published in October 2018 outlining the severe need to curb global warming to 1.5C. This report has formed the crux of major public-led protests from the like of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion that focus on climate change.

But for Burberry, 1.5C was the intended target from the outset.

“We were responding to the science,” Batty said. In December 2017, 1.5C was very much the topic of conversation so that was part of our plan from the outset.

“It just made sense and builds on our existing carbon-neutral ambitions. Having the goals approved by the SBTi is really nice way to formalise and gain an external view on our plans, which we hadn’t had to that extent.”

The road ahead

Burberry’s first environment strategy was launched in 2012, and then updated in 2017 when a five-year plan was launched, which included the carbon-neutral ambition.

Regarding the latter ambition, Burberry has already achieved carbon-neutral status across the Americas region, EMEIA retail stores and its UK operations. The company is also a member of the Climate Group’s RE100 initiative to encourage corporates to transition to 100% renewables; Burberry currently obtains 58% of its energy and 68% of its electricity from clean energy sources.

The company has made decent progress to reduce its market-based emissions compared to the 2016/17 year, having recorded a 43% over a two-year period, which has pushed them almost halfway to the 95% target for 2022.

Batty noted that a combination of energy efficiency projects, LED lighting upgrades and a greater focus on procuring renewables had driven progress to date. However, a few challenges do need to be overcome in the near future, notably in the Asian retail market, which is at risk of being stifled by policy. According to Batty, collaborative groups like the RE100 give corporates the chance to lobby for change.

“Asia retail is a challenge and it’s a reason to partner with the RE100,” Batty said. “The group can go and meet with Governments and articulate the demands from businesses. There are a few ways to approach these issues, sometimes it’s a direct intervention and sometimes it’s to collaborate with our peers. Both approaches have their uses.”

Innovation, including some technologies that may not be market ready, will also help drive Burberry towards its science-based targets. In a bid to react to unknown future shocks – whether they be price or energy related – the company has also signed up to Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures‘ (TCFD) and implemented some of the body’s recommendations.

Batty has worked with the finance department, for example, to undergo “scenario analysis” – where businesses map their performance and resilience up to 2040 across a variety of global warming trajectories. Batty claimed that the analysis results would be put to the board later this year, enabling the business to see how prepared it is for any potential climate-related disruption.

The burning question

While Batty has spent much of 2018 liaising with the SBTi to finalise the industry-leading targets, news coverage of Burberry that year depicted the firm in a completely different light.

In late July 2018, Burberry made national headlines after revealing that it had burned more than £28m worth of stock over the past 12 months. The “finished goods physically destroyed during the year” line was tucked away in an annual update and soon spread through the media to highlight some of the notable, systemic issues plaguing the fashion industry.

The company has since announced it will stop destroying products deemed unsaleable with immediate effect, and the more recent announcement of the science-based targets serves to highlight that contrary to that high-profile revelation, the company has a long history of commitment to sustainability.

The company is a core partner of the Make Fashion Circular initiative from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a project to create business models which will keep garments in use, utilise materials which are renewable and find ways of recycling old clothes into new products.

Another key pillar for the company’s 2022 goals is to ensure that 100% of Burberry products have at least one “positive attribute”. The attributes can range from using cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, leather from certified tanneries, or ensuring the person who made the garment is paid a living wage. To date, 14% of Burberry products have more than one positive attribute while 28% have one.

A goal to impact one million people positively is also in its infancy. So far, 125,000 people across the globe have benefitted from various Burberry programme.

Batty suggested that the stock story highlighted how the media and public are more engaged on the topic of sustainability, and believed that Burberry had put “positive steps” in place to rectify the issue.

“I hope the conversation has moved on,” she added. “We did respond to the criticism really positively and I hope it’s going to start to be seen as a positive response. We have a long history of working on sustainability; it’s part of what we do, but we have probably haven’t talked about it enough.”

If the conversation has moved on, then it is arguably now focused on the youth climate movement driven by Greta Thunberg.

Batty and Burberry have also taken steps to engage with the topic. A recent “kids for climate” event was held internally at the company’s headquarters, where staff were invited to bring their children along to quiz the sustainability team amongst others.

A “real appetite and interest” on sustainability internally has also seen Burberry work with the Big Clean Switch to help staff switch to renewable energy at home. edie has also worked with Big Clean Switch to outline how corporate tenants can work with retail landlords to increase the procurement of renewable energy. Read the report here.

Matt Mace

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