Setting Science Based Targets for Sustainability

Updated: Oct 5

Why setting science based targets is important for apparel brands to track progress on sustainability.

What are Science-Based Targets?

The term science-based targets may seem like a broad concept before you know much about it, but it is in fact, rather niche. A science-based target such as those we are discussing in this article is one that is adopted by companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Science Based Targets, 2016). A corporate target is considered “science-based” if it is in line with the level of action that the latest climate science deems necessary to keep global temperature increase below 2° Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels (Science Based Targets, 2020). At a minimum, science-based targets for sustainability must meet the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase to 2°C, however companies are encouraged to aim towards a 1.5° Celsius limit (Science Based Targets, 2016).

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is part of World Resources Institute Centre for Sustainable Business and a collaboration between World Resources Institute, CDP, World Wildlife Fund, and the UN Global Compact (World Resources Institute, 2020). The science for science-based targets is described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Science Based Targets, 2016). In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures to avoid the most disastrous impacts of climate change (World Resources Institute, 2020).

For a target to be considered science-based it does not only need to align with the Paris agreement limitations; the target must also extend over a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years from the date of announcement. Having said this, companies are also encouraged to develop long-term goals, for example, targets which have a deadline of 2050 (Science Based Targets, 2016).

Why are science-based targets important for textile businesses?

Businesses play a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a level where the climate will not reach a 2° Celsius increase, and textile businesses are no exception. In fact, fashion is often considered the second most environmentally destructive industry in modern economies, second only to oil (Moorhouse & Moorhouse, 2017). The key to a sustainable future is a resilient, zero-emission economy that is based on and guided by science (World Resources Institute, 2020). In short, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the latest climate science as determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is good for the planet and good for business (Science Based Targets, 2020).

Setting science-based targets future-proofs the growth of a business, saves money, and boosts investor confidence (Science Based Targets, 2020). Investors are increasingly using sustainability as a benchmark of a business’ prospects. Science-based targets demonstrates to investors that a business is serious about tackling climate change and acting as a forward-thinking, sustainably minded company would (Galvin, 2018).

Science-based targets also provide resilience again future regulations or tightening of restrictions that may occur as the climate crisis continues (Galvin, 2018). If a business has already set, and is actively working towards, science-based targets in sustainability then they may already be operating within such regulations (Science Based Targets, 2020).

Setting science-based targets demonstrates sustainability commitments and traceability to increasingly environmentally conscious consumers (Science Based Targets, 2020). Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the effects their choices have on the environment and thus a brand’s reputation for sustainability is paramount. Moreover, 79% of executives in a survey found strengthened brand reputation to be one of the most significant business benefits that arose from committing to science-based targets (Galvin, 2018). This is particularly true for textile businesses as consumer awareness of the impact of their purchases and avoidance of “fast fashion” increases (Moorhouse & Moorhouse, 2017).

Innovation is high on every company’s agenda and setting science-based targets can help achieve this both within individual businesses, and within whole sectors as competitiveness increases (Science Based Targets, 2020). Science-based targets have helped companies drive the development of new technologies for the manufacturing process and their final products (Galvin, 2018).

How to achieve science-based targets

To ensure that performance can be consistently tracked over time, science-based targets must be recalculated as needed. These re-calculations are necessary to reflect significant changes that would affect the relevancy of the target. Triggers that indicate that science-based targets need to be recalculated include a business’ projected growth, significant changes to the data or business, and the emission factors used in the inventory process. Due to all of these variables, companies must check the validity of their science-based targets annually, and their progress against them more often (Science Based Targets, 2016).

Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of science-based targets, and indeed the science they are based on, science-based targets can be time consuming and easy to get wrong. The management of science-based targets requires one to have their “finger on the pulse” of not only climate science, but also politics, and corporate social responsibility. This knowledge and its associated competencies can include those such as R&D, environmental knowledge, building knowledge on measuring environmental performance of products. These may be developed internally or can be integrated through external networks. A scientific study into developing sustainable new products in the textile industry showed that external knowledge plays a key role in the integration of environmental sustainability issues into business processes (Dangelico, Pontrandolfo, & Pujari, 2013). Textile companies should look to consulting companies to confidently and capably lead their charge towards sustainability.


Dangelico , R., Pontrandolfo, P., & Pujari, D. (2013). Journal of Product Innovation Management. Developing Sustainable New Products in the Textile and Upholstered Furniture Industries: Role of External Integrative Capabilities, 642-658.

Galvin, D. (2018, Jul 9). Six business benefits of setting science-based targets. Retrieved from Science Based Targets:

Moorhouse, D., & Moorhouse, D. (2017). Sustainable Design: Circular Economy in Fashion and Textiles. The Design Journal, 1948 1959.

Science Based Targets. (2016). Definition of Science Based Targets and Eligibility Criteria . Science Based Targets.

Science Based Targets. (2020). FAQs. Retrieved from Science Based Targets:

World Resources Institute. (2020). The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Retrieved from World Resources Institute:

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