Are Science Based Targets the solution for measuring business contributions to the SDGs?

Companies are struggling to measure their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. Science Based Targets could offer a solution says Priti Hoffman from DNV GL.

Science Based Targets (SBTs) were developed to adopt a more robust and accountable approach to reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Wider sustainability target setting and data reporting vary widely across and within sectors, and there is a lack of comparability of data, despite increasing investor interest in sustainability issues. There is therefore a need for a ‘science-based’ approach to setting wider sustainability targets, including those linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Reporting on the SDGs in some form or the other seems to be the latest trend in sustainability reporting. In some cases, this amounts to little more than sticking a few SDG logos in a company’s sustainability report. This should change in the next few years as companies get their heads around how to report on the SDGs. Robust, comparable reporting on the SDGs, however, will be a challenge.

According to the International Council for Science, of the 169 targets in the SDGs just 29% are well defined and based on the latest scientific evidence. 54% need more work and 17% are weak or non-essential.

This presents an enormous challenge.

GHG emissions-related targets and reported data are more robust and comparable across companies than other sustainability indicators. Most companies have been setting targets and reporting their GHG emissions in line with methodologies such as the GHG Protocol for the past 5-10 years. In addition to the SBT initiative, The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recently urged businesses to voluntarily disclose climate-related information under traditional financial filings, resulting in a high level of scrutiny on GHG emissions reporting. Setting targets for other sustainability indicators, by comparison, has typically been more ad-hoc.

We will never be able to set a quantifiable target for all the SDGs, and there is no doubt that a combined qualitative-quantitative approach is needed for impact valuation. However, for those targets that can be quantified, we need a common currency to quantify these impacts, using a science-based approach that can be replicated across sectors, geographies and companies, enabling investors to comprehensively compare performance on issues beyond just GHG emissions.

 A ‘science-based’ approach to reporting on the SDGs beyond just GHG emissions, would be one step towards ensuring consistency in reporting and evaluating progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At DNV GL we are applying science based targets to the SDGs, please get in touch to find out more.

This blog was first produced for DNV GL by Priti Hoffman.