Bridget McCormick

27 June 2024
Topics in this article
  • Net Zero | Scope 3

Guide to Setting Science-Based Targets for Scope 3 Decarbonization

Setting approved and validated science-based targets (SBTs) through the SBTi is a structured process aimed at helping companies align their emissions reduction efforts with the latest climate science. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the steps required to set science-based targets, specifically focusing on reducing Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions. 

1. Commit

The commitment stage is the first and critical step in setting science-based targets. It involves formally expressing your organization’s intention to set or verify existing targets with the SBTi.

  • Send a Commitment Letter: Companies must send a commitment letter to the SBTi, signaling their intention to set a new target or verify existing ones. This can be either SBTi’s standard letter or the ‘Business Ambition for 1.5°C’ letter. By submitting this letter, the SBTi will list the company as ‘committed’ on its own and partner websites, including the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).
  • Announcement: Once committed, companies can publicly announce their commitment to SBTi and are given 24 months to complete the subsequent steps (2-4). The SBTi encourages companies to aim for the highest level of commitment, i.e., the 1.5°C target rather than a standard Scope 3 emissions reduction target. This level of commitment aligns with efforts to keep global warming below pre-industrial levels.

2. Develop

Developing science-based targets requires careful planning and alignment with SBTi’s rigorous criteria. This stage involves utilizing various resources provided by the SBTi to formulate robust and scientifically valid targets.

  • Develop Targets: Companies need to develop their targets in accordance with SBTi’s detailed science-based criteria. The SBTi offers a variety of comprehensive resources to assist in this process, including:
    • How-to Guide: A step-by-step guide to setting science-based targets.
    • Detailed Criteria: Specific criteria that targets must meet to be approved by the SBTi.
    • Target-Setting Tool: A tool to help companies calculate and set targets.
    • Target Validation Protocol: Guidelines for the validation process to ensure targets meet the SBTi criteria.
  • Service-Based Emissions Targets: Utilize these resources to develop both direct and indirect emissions targets that align with global climate goals, including service-based emissions targets.
  • Resource Utilization: Ensure the targets are scientifically sound and address all environmental impacts.

3. Submit

Submitting your targets for validation is a vital step to ensure they meet the stringent requirements set by the SBTi. This involves a formal submission process and a review by SBTi’s technical experts.

  • Target Submission: Companies must submit their target submission form and pay a validation fee of $4,950 (or £3,860), which covers the cost of the validation process.
  • Validation Process: The SBTi’s technical experts will review the submission to ensure it meets the established criteria. The final decision and detailed feedback will be communicated to the applicant organization.
  • Variation of Forms: Submission forms vary depending on the target type, such as a long-term science-based target versus a near-term target. It is important to select the correct form based on the specific targets being submitted.

4. Communicate

Effective communication of your approved targets is essential for transparency and stakeholder engagement. This stage involves publicizing the approved targets and ensuring stakeholders are informed.

  • Target Announcement: Companies should announce their targets and inform stakeholders after receiving approval. The SBTi will publish the approved targets on its own and partner websites one month after approval.
  • Public Disclosure: Companies must make their approved targets public within six months of approval. Failure to do so will require re-validation to align with the latest climate science and science-based target-setting criteria.

5. Disclose

Continuous disclosure of progress is crucial to maintain transparency and accountability. This involves regularly tracking and reporting emissions to demonstrate progress against targets.

  • Emissions Tracking: Companies must track their greenhouse gas emissions and disclose monthly progress towards their targets. This helps in maintaining accountability and ensuring continuous improvement.
  • Reporting Recommendations: Companies should disclose their progress through the CDP, annual reports, sustainability reports, and company websites. This not only ensures transparency but also builds trust with stakeholders and the public.


Setting a science-based target to tackle Scope 3 decarbonization is a multi-step process that requires commitment, development, submission, communication, and continuous disclosure. By following these steps, companies can ensure their carbon emissions reduction targets are robust, scientifically valid, and aligned with the latest climate science. This approach not only helps in combating climate change but also enhances transparency and accountability, fostering trust among stakeholders and contributing to a more sustainable future. For more detailed guidance, companies can refer to the SBTi’s resources.

Implementing these steps effectively can lead to significant progress in reducing a company’s carbon footprint and supporting global climate goals by addressing both direct and indirect emissions.


What is the Science-based Target Initiative (SBTi)?

The SBTi is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It aims to help companies set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that are in line with the latest climate science to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. The initiative focuses on promoting scientific rigor and robust methodologies.

Why should companies set science-based targets for Scope 3 emissions?

Setting science-based targets for Scope 3 emissions ensures that companies are addressing the full extent of their carbon footprint, including indirect emissions from their supply chains and product use. This comprehensive approach is crucial for meaningful climate action and helps companies mitigate the negative impacts of climate change, including temperature rise.

What are Scope 3 emissions?

Scope 3 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. They include emissions from purchased goods and services, business travel, employee commuting, waste disposal, and the use of sold products. Addressing these emissions is essential, particularly for companies in the highest-emitting sectors.

What is the first step in setting science-based targets?

The first step is to commit to the process by sending a commitment letter to the SBTi, signalling the company’s intention to set or verify existing science-based targets. This letter, known as the SBTi commitment letter, is a formal declaration of intent.

How does the SBTi support companies in developing their targets?

The SBTi provides various resources, including a how-to guide, detailed criteria, a target-setting tool, and a validation protocol, to assist companies in developing robust and scientifically valid targets. These resources ensure that companies use robust methodologies and address the differences between business areas effectively.

What is the validation process for science-based targets?

After developing targets, companies must submit them to the SBTi for validation, along with a validation fee. The SBTi’s technical experts review the targets to ensure they meet the established criteria. The final decision, along with detailed feedback, is communicated through a target validation email and an official target validation notice. Companies can choose between the standard target validation route and the target validation services, which include a comprehensive target validation report.

How important is communication in the process of setting science-based targets?

Communication is crucial for transparency and stakeholder engagement. After approval, companies should announce their targets publicly and inform stakeholders. The SBTi provides communications guidance to help companies effectively communicate their commitments and progress.

What are the requirements for disclosing progress on targets?

Companies must track their greenhouse gas emissions and disclose progress towards their targets on an annual basis. This helps in maintaining accountability and ensuring continuous improvement. Recommended disclosure channels include the CDP, annual reports, sustainability reports, and company websites. Using a target dashboard can help track target progress efficiently.

What role do private sector companies play in addressing the climate crisis?

Private sector companies play a critical role by setting and achieving ambitious science-based targets, contributing significantly to global efforts to mitigate climate change and move towards net-zero emissions. Their actions can influence entire supply chains and create a ripple effect of positive environmental impact.

What is the significance of setting a 1.5°C-aligned target?

Setting a 1.5°C-aligned target demonstrates a high level of ambition and commitment to keeping global temperature increase well-below 2°C, aligning with efforts to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change. It reflects the level of decarbonization required to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Can financial institutions and cities also set science-based targets?

Yes, the SBTi provides specific guidelines and resources for financial institutions and cities to set science-based targets, helping them align with global climate goals. These targets can address unique aspects of emissions from these sectors and contribute to comprehensive climate action.

What is a GHG emissions inventory, and why is it important?

A GHG emissions inventory is a comprehensive accounting of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with a company’s activities. It is essential for accurate target setting and tracking progress towards emissions reduction goals. Companies should regularly update their inventories and use them to inform target recalculation when necessary.

What is the ‘Target Dashboard’ mentioned in the article?

The Target Dashboard is a tool for companies to track and communicate their progress towards their science-based targets on an annual basis, ensuring transparency and accountability. It helps companies monitor their emissions reductions and make necessary adjustments.

How does setting science-based targets benefit companies?

Setting science-based targets helps companies mitigate climate risks, improve operational efficiency, enhance reputation, meet stakeholder expectations, and contribute to global climate action efforts. Adopting targets based on scientific rigor and robust methodologies ensures that companies make meaningful progress in reducing their carbon footprint.

What is involved in the Net-zero target submission process?

The Net-zero target submission involves submitting detailed plans for achieving net-zero emissions to the SBTi. Companies need to follow the SBTi’s guidance and complete relevant forms to ensure their targets are aligned with the latest climate science.

What happens after a target is validated by the SBTi?

Once a target is validated, companies receive an official target validation notice and may be provided with a comprehensive target validation report. They must then communicate their targets and start tracking progress. Continuous improvement and reporting are key, and companies may need to engage in a target validation service contract to maintain their commitments over time.

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