Science-based targets ‘critical’ to achieve 2C world, BITC survey finds

The adoption of science-based-targets and the engaging with the supply chain are two of the biggest challenges facing sustainability professionals in the next decade, according to new research from Business in the Community (BITC).

A ‘smart growth’ report released by the outreach charity today (27 April) investigates the role businesses are now playing in addressing climate change by moving towards carbon-neutral operations.

Based on in-depth interviews with sustainability experts from major UK companies such as BT, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer (M&S), the study examines the key areas businesses will need to consider in the next 10 years.

The adoption of science-based targets are viewed by the majority of businesses as one of the biggest challenges that must be overcome over the next few years, according to the report.

Quoted in the report is M&S’s sustainability and reporting manager Rowland Hill, who said: “Understanding what targets to set and how these ratchet-up every few years as the need to reach zero emissions is accelerated, is critical.”

Using science-based targets to reduce emissions in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase below 2C is seen as a critical step in the low-carbon transition, and is especially relevant following the recent enforcement of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Science Based Targets initiative – a partnership between CDP, UN Global Compact, WRI and WWF – now has 262 companies, representing almost $5trn in market value, signed up to the scheme, just 18 months after its launch.

So far, just six of the FTSE100 firms have set science-based targets – including Land Securities, which last month announced the approval of its plan to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. And more companies are planning to follow suit.

A recent edie survey conducted on members of the edie Leaders Club – an exclusive, membership-based group of professionals that are responsible for leading their company’s sustainability strategy – revealed that more than half (55%) of the survey’s 31 respondents were either beginning to apply science-based targets, or that the methodology was already fully embedded in their strategy. Just over a third (35%) or respondents said the adoption of science-based targets was on their radar, while less than 10% said they were not considering them at this stage

As a case in point, global hospitality company Hilton Worldwide recently told edie the option to pursue science-based targets was “on the table”.

Challenges & opportunities

The BITC smart growth report goes on to state that, in order to reach the 2C global warming limit set out in the Paris Agreement, the annual reduction in global carbon emissions will need to quadruple from 1.3% to 6.5% per year, the report adds.

BITC chief executive Amanda Mackenzie said: “Leading companies have made substantial progress: measuring and reducing carbon emissions, engaging customers, suppliers and employees, rethinking lifecycles of products and starting to plot a path towards net zero carbon.

“However, the journey towards a 2C economy still has a very long way to go, and the journey isn’t getting any easier.”

Sustainability professionals surveyed in the report identified a sustainable energy supply as one of the most crucial long-term consideration to decarbonise the UK economy. Companies such as Land Securities and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) are cited as shining examples of firms that have made the switch to 100% renewable electricity.

Another key challenge identified is extending emission reduction and targets along the value chain to scope-three emissions, which cover all indirect emissions. Indeed, less than half of FTSE 1000 firms currently report on scope-three emissions beyond business travel. The report reserved praise for telecoms firm BT for its proactive work with suppliers to reduce emissions and lower climate-related risks throughout the supply chain.

The report goes on to note that innovation will be a key component of business leadership on climate change in the digital era. With digital solutions set to reduce global carbon emissions by 20% in 2030, BITC highlights the increasing opportunities to capitalise on new technology. The report cites Unilever and Costain as two sustainable innovation leaders, with the latter having launched a revolutionary new tool designed to reduce the environmental impact of the construction and infrastructure sectors.

George Ogleby & Luke Nicholls

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