The release marks an important milestone towards integrated SBTs for climate, freshwater, land, ocean and biodiversity.
- Few companies understand their true impact on nature, leaving themselves exposed to a variety of risks.
- SBTN has released its first science-based targets for nature to help companies address their most urgent impacts and dependencies.
- The release includes technical guidance for assessing and prioritizing material impacts and locations and setting targets.
- Specific guidance is now available for setting science-based freshwater targets, and land targets are available for piloting.
Nature underpins the economy and our society, providing essential ecosystem services and the raw materials needed to produce the products and services we depend on. But few companies understand their true impact on nature, leaving themselves exposed to a variety of risks. To help companies confidently address their most urgent impacts and dependencies, and put businesses on the path towards sustainable transformation, the Science Based Targets Network has released its first science-based targets for nature, including technical guidance for companies to assess and prioritize their material impacts on the environment across the value chain and set targets.
A first step towards integrated science-based targets
This release is an important milestone toward integrated SBTs for climate, freshwater, land, ocean and biodiversity. It focuses on the first three steps of SBTN’s five-step process: 1) Assess, 2) Interpret & prioritize, and 3) Measure, set & disclose.
It includes integrated technical guidance for companies to assess and prioritize their impacts for all topics, along with more advanced guidance for setting science-based targets for freshwater and land.
The new guidance will enable companies to:
- Understand their key dependencies and the impact of their business activities on nature
- Map and prioritize risks and opportunities
- Develop more comprehensive sustainability strategies that align with planetary boundaries
- Integrate nature impacts into decision-making
- Anticipate new reporting requirements and regulations
- Focus efforts and maximize impact
Assessing + prioritizing impacts
The first steps in the process of setting science-based targets for nature are 1) Assess and 2) Prioritize. These steps are not issue specific and thus apply to all topics (biodiversity, climate, ocean, land and freshwater).
The first step in setting SBTs for nature requires companies to assess where their sector drives impact on nature and how much their own activities contribute to that impact, creating a list of potential issue areas and locations for target setting. Water availability is often highly material for the upstream supply chain, depending on the irrigation needs for different commodities. Companies will be able to estimate the pressures of their purchases and prioritize where they have supply in water-stressed or water-scarce locations. Direct operations will also be prioritized based on the amount of water they withdraw and where they operate.
Companies already taking action to address their impacts on nature, this step will help them identify any gaps in their approach.
While SBTN’s approach to target setting will require companies to set targets for all material impacts, the SBTN recognizes that acting simultaneously on all issues across all value chains, especially in the first round of target setting, will be a significant challenge for companies. Though it expects companies to eventually act on all issue areas, it has provided guidance to help organizations prioritize key issues and locations for taking action.
Assessing and prioritizing impacts and locations is critical for setting meaningful targets. Unlike climate change, nature-related impacts are highly contextualized and must be addressed at the local level, which makes setting targets complex. Freshwater issues related to quantity or quality require basin-level interventions, for example. The same is true of land. Setting targets for nature therefore requires a more tailored approach, which is facilitated by these two steps.
Companies will need to consider where to focus their efforts and by how much they’ll need to reduce their impacts in prioritized locations. For example, a dyeing facility in Dhaka, Bangladesh must reduce water withdrawals by 44% in February, 52% in March, 55% in April and 48% in May to avoid significant disruption to the natural variability of river flows and thus local ecological integrity. Once companies manage to reduce impacts in these priority areas, they will need to think about taking further action to restore and regenerate nature.
After identifying priority locations for target setting, companies can begin measuring their baseline impacts and setting targets for the issue areas and associated locations on their “shortlist.”
In addition to setting science-based targets for climate through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), companies can now set science-based freshwater targets through SBTN’s freshwater methodology to reduce impacts on freshwater quality and quantity. (Read more about SBTN’s science-based freshwater targets.) A beta version of SBTN’s method for setting science-based land targets to protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems is also available for piloting. A first version of these targets is expected to be released in early 2024.
Quantis helped shape and pilot the methodology underpinning the freshwater targets, and developed a tool to identify hotspots across different impacts for the pilot land method: land transformation, land occupation, species loss, and land pollution.
In addition to setting targets, companies will need to develop a monitoring plan and disclose their baseline.
What is the Science Based Targets Network?
The Science Based Targets for Nature is a collaboration of global nonprofits and mission-driven organizations aiming to have the world’s major companies and cities adopt science-based targets and act on all aspects of nature by 2025. It expands upon and complements the work of the SBTi, by working to equip companies with the guidance and tools needed to set effective, science-based targets for nature and reduce their impacts beyond climate.
What are SBTs for nature and why should companies set them?
Environmental impacts go far beyond climate change, and companies are increasingly expected to report and act on a broad range of nature-related risks. Managing and mitigating nature-related impacts will require businesses to take a holistic and integrated approach that considers all of Earth’s systems.
SBTs for nature are measurable, actionable and time-bound targets that allow companies to reduce their impacts and dependencies on nature and operate in alignment with planetary boundaries. They aim to address the key drivers and pressures fueling the loss of nature and address freshwater, land, ocean and biodiversity.
SBTN’s methodologies are rooted in the best available science and have been designed to optimize synergies and trade-offs across issue areas and between factors of safety and justice to help companies drive meaningful change that builds economic resilience and contributes to a nature-positive future.
SBTN has laid out a five-step process that companies can follow to supplement their current strategy for addressing environmental issues or begin exploring them for the first time:
- Screen for material issues
- Estimate pressures
2. Interpret and prioritize
- Determine target boundaries
- Interprety and rank
- Evaluate feasibility and strategic interest
3. Measure, set, and disclose
- Measure baseline
- Develop monitoring plan
- Disclose baseline
- Set targets
- Avoid impacts from happening in the first place
- Reduce impacts
- Restore ecosystems & regenerate ecological productivity
- Transform by taking actions that contribute to system-wide change and alter the drivers of nature loss
How can companies prepare to set SBTs for nature?
Companies are now able to set science-based freshwater targets and pilot science-based land targets. While methodologies are being developed for other nature topics, businesses can start taking action by implementing SBTN’s no regrets actions. These include assessing and prioritizing their impacts on nature using SBTN’s new integrated technical guidance.