Frequently asked questions on SBTN and setting corporate science-based targets for nature
Who is Science Based Targets Network?
To enable a global economy in which companies and cities operate within environmental boundaries on a socially equitable basis, through implementing science-based targets (SBTs) that reduce and improve their impact on nature and society.
- Equip companies and cities with the guidance they need to set integrated science-based targets across all Earth systems. Note SBTN’s current focus is on developing corporate science-based targets.
- Build on the progress of establishing corporate science-based targets for climate to achieve widespread adoption of corporate science-based targets on water, land, biodiversity, and ocean.
- Demonstrate significant progress in line with key global policy milestones like the SDGs, and goals and targets under the UNFCCC, UNCCD, CBD, by developing an indicator framework that tracks how SBT setters deliver progress.
- Work to embed adoption of science-based targets for nature within capital markets by partnering with policy makers, financial institutions and service providers such as benchmarkers and credit agencies.
- Consolidated approach: The methods and targets designed by SBTN are being built on existing sustainability tools, approaches, and platforms, providing an efficient and effective resource for business users.
- Practicality: We are working with end users to “road-test” draft methods and ensure that SBTs are practical and intuitive for companies, irrespective of industry and where they sit on the value chain.
- Credibility: The guidance is being developed by experts from the world’s leading environmental NGOs, governmental organizations, purpose-driven consultancies, ambitious businesses, and society-minded business coalitions. The guidance is grounded in the best available science defining what is necessary for business and cities to do their part to stay within Earth’s limits.
- Stability: While the science will continue to evolve, SBTN’s framework for setting SBTs will be designed for long-term use. In SBTN’s Initial Guidance for Business, we provide a series of principles that we are using for selecting indicators and best practices for target implementation that can underpin ambitious corporate action for nature. These can ensure that resources invested by companies have a lasting impact.
- Prioritization: The SBTN approach to target setting will help companies prioritize places and issue areas for action, using the best available science, so that companies can confidently address their most urgent impacts and dependencies.
- Communication and alignment: The approach to setting SBTs lends itself to straightforward communication about the corporate target-setting journey. Using the terminology of the five-step process (see following “What are SBTs” section), companies can say “I am at Assess: Step 1” or “I am on Act: Step 4 and Track: Step 5.” This is helpful for internal stakeholders, as well as stakeholders like investors, NGOs, and third-party monitors. Given that the targets companies can set using SBTN’s methodologies are explicitly aligned with global societal frameworks for action, SBTs can be used to quickly communicate which issues they are contributing toward resolving (e.g., land and sea use change, ocean and freshwater resource exploitation). SBTN’s guidance on indicators will help ensure companies are measuring the right indicators and are able to assess how these contribute toward their desired outcome. By aligning with society’s long-term goals, companies can ensure their business is moving in the right direction.
- Controlled tradeoffs and increased co-benefits: A key advantage of integrated SBTs is that they are being designed to recognize the interconnection of issue areas. This allows companies to take action on multiple issues at once and not create new problems. When designed and implemented correctly, SBTs can help resolve interrelated climate and nature risks, including:
- creating resilience to climate hazards like heat waves, floods, and droughts
- conserving freshwater resources and increasing water security
- regenerating land systems
- supporting healthy, diverse oceans
- conserving biodiversity and preventing species extinction
- ensuring equal opportunities for societies to sustain a decent living and to access the benefits of the transition toward a zero emission, nature-positive future.
SBTN is a network of 80+ NGOs, business associations, and mission-driven consultancies contributing their expertise to collectively define what is necessary to do “enough” to stay within Earth’s limits. SBTN’s Network Council, comprised of our core partners, guides our strategic decision-making. SBTN is part of the Global Commons Alliance, a growing coalition of scientists, philanthropists, businesses and innovators, inspiring new ideas and action to safeguard what’s common and precious to us all: the global commons.
There are four different hubs that sit within SBTN: the biodiversity hub, the freshwater hub, the land hub, and the ocean hub, with SBTi as our external climate hub. These hubs are developing the different methods that feed into SBTs for nature. Various NGO partners either lead or engage directly in those hubs. The cross-cutting technical team from the core Network team sits across these hubs. Partners and team members involved in the hubs can be found here.
To achieve a balance between scientific rigor and feasibility, over 200 organizations have helped to road-test the initial corporate methods, tools and guidance including 115 companies; the majority of whom participate in SBTN’s Corporate Engagement Program – representing 20+ sectors in 25 countries with over $4 trillion in market cap.
In addition, an initial group of seventeen global companies, selected for their readiness and applicability, are already preparing to set their first science-based targets for nature this year. These companies include AB InBev, Alpro (part of Danone), Bel, Carrefour, Corbion, GSK, H&M Group, Hindustan Zinc Limited, Holcim Group, Kering, L’OCCITANE Group, LVMH, Nestlé, Neste Corporation, Suntory Holdings Limited, Tesco and UPM. An initial pilot will be undertaken with this group of companies, with a full roll-out to all companies in early 2024.
What are science-based targets for nature?
We define science-based targets (SBTs) as measurable, actionable, and time-bound objectives, based on the best available science, that allow actors to align with Earth’s limits and societal sustainability goals.
We are working on science-based targets for a wide variety of environmental issues, centered around the key drivers of nature loss as identified by the IPBES: land/sea use change, resource exploitation, pollution, climate change, and invasives. IPBES has identified that these drivers (or what SBTN calls “pressures”) of nature loss occur across three main domains: terrestrial, freshwater, and marine. SBTs for nature will help companies and cities reduce their contribution to these drivers, across all three systems, and ultimately mitigate threats to biodiversity, at the levels of species, ecosystems and nature’s contributions to people (NCPs).
We define nature as all non-human living entities and their interaction with other living or non-living entities and processes (IPBES Global Assessment 2019). This definition recognizes that interactions bind humans and nature, and nature’s subcomponents (e.g., species, soils, rivers, nutrients), to one another. This definition also recognizes that air pollution, climate regulation, and carbon cycles are part of “nature” more broadly, and therefore, when we talk about acting for nature, we are talking about acting on issues related to climate change, as well.
For further definitions, see the SBTN Glossary.
The definition of nature used by SBTN includes both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components. Hence, SBTN uses indicators for the State of Nature (SoN) that cover both of these types of components. In the first release of SBTs for nature in 2023, for example, SoN indicators such as those measuring water availability, water quality, land degradation, natural ecosystem extent, and species extinction risk are used. These help contextualize the importance of corporate impacts (Assess: Step 1), guide the definition of the target boundary (Prioritize: Step 2), and to determine ambition levels for targets (Measure: Step 3).
The high level process is as follows:
To understand our foundational guidance for setting corporate SBTs for nature, we recommend you read our Initial Guidance for Business.
For an overview of SBTN’s 5-step framework to setting corporate targets, visit our website.
The key steps companies should get started on today are “Assess” (Step 1) and “Interpret & Prioritize” (Step 2). Companies can use our guidance to assess their potential impacts on nature and determine where these occur throughout their value chain(s). This may be an involved process and is best started early.
For “Measure, Set & Disclose” (Step 3), once a company has gone through the above steps and understands where they have material impacts on nature, they can set initial freshwater and land targets through SBTN and climate targets through Science Based Targets initiative. It is not possible for companies to have their targets validated by SBTN until early 2024, when the target validation process will be available to all companies upon conclusion of SBTN’s target validation pilot.
For “Act” (Step 4), we suggest a hierarchical approach to action (The AR3T Action Framework) which calls for first avoiding, then reducing impacts where avoidance is not possible, followed by regenerating natural capital stocks and restoring ecosystems. Protecting nature is about ensuring a public “good” – thus, how we act must include not only reduction of “bad” actions (e.g., mitigation of pollution), but also increasing the “good” (e.g., restoring and regenerating nature). Though listed last, transform is not the final step; instead, a company should be constantly working to transform its business model and practices to enable its own transition toward positive impact and to unlock broader systemic change to deliver on society’s goals for nature and people throughout the entire process.
For “Track” (Step 5), initial guidance on how companies can monitor, report, and get verification on progress on their targets can be found in the Initial Guidance for Business and on our website.
Some adjustments in the above process will need to be made for companies who have already done (significant) sustainability work. This process is not linear but rather has feedback connections between many steps.
Please see our onboarding materials here that will be helpful in engaging your stakeholders.
We will be looking to develop further supporting resources over time and will update this list as more become available.
Companies will set separate targets for each pressure material for their business. This means that companies will have separate targets for freshwater use, freshwater pollution, land use change, climate change, etc. Having separate target setting methods allows companies the flexibility to work on different sets of issues, depending on the outcomes of their materiality assessment.
For internal reporting and external communications, companies may communicate about these as “targets for freshwater,” “targets for land,” and also as “targets for nature” when grouping these together. The distinction between pressures is essential, however, for the process of setting targets (Step 1-3), for planning action plans (Step 4), and tracking progress against targets (Step 5).
The first release of SBTs for nature in 2023 has integrated guidance on impact assessment and prioritization (Step 1 and Step 2 of the target setting process) and independent target-setting methodologies (Step 3) for pressures on land and freshwater systems. Within these methodologies companies are assessing and then taking action on the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss. To enable companies to understand how their targets contribute to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity, the first release will also include a short paper on biodiversity.
The process of validation currently being piloted by SBTN will check that companies have set targets for each of the material pressures for their business, for which SBTN has methods or requirements, before they can make claims about having set “SBTs for nature” as an integrated and comprehensive milestone.
SBTN has developed a set of validation criteria designed as safeguards to guarantee companies have correctly and completely followed the methods. These validation criteria must be met before targets are accepted and companies are approved to make claims associated with those targets.
A validation process to guide companies through the required process to prepare and submit its targets for validation will also be provided. An initial group of companies are piloting the target validation process in 2023 with a full roll-out to companies in early 2024 once the pilot concludes and learnings have been incorporated. For more information on validation, please see the “Overview of first release” section in these FAQs.
Initial guidance on how companies can monitor, report, and get verification on progress on their targets can be found in the Initial Guidance for Business as part of “Track” (Step 5). SBTN is also developing additional guidance, which is forthcoming.
In addition to drawing from the scientific expertise of the organizations comprising SBTN, SBTN works with the Earth Commission, a group of leading scientists (with key authors of the IPCC and IPBES) convened by Future Earth, the world’s largest network of sustainability scientists. The Earth Commission’s mission is to assess the latest science and define, for the first time, safe and just Earth system boundaries for people and planet. SBTN and the Earth Commission are core components of the Global Commons Alliance.
A number of Earth Commissioners are experts in the Planetary Boundaries framework, including one of Earth Commission’s co-chairs, Johan Rockström. The Earth Commission’s work improves upon the Planetary Boundaries framework by mapping out the interconnections between different systems or boundaries, adding a focus on equity and improvements in the quality of life for the most vulnerable. The first assessment has been submitted for peer review and will be published shortly.
The long-term goal of SBTN’s collaboration with the Earth Commission will be to contribute to our understanding of: a) biophysical thresholds relevant to target setting, b) the integration of social safeguards into our methods, and c) the interconnections between targets and response options.
A safe and just operating space for humanity entails staying within planetary boundaries of multiple Earth systems – not just one. Action on climate change that ignores the other planetary boundaries cannot ensure we are able to reach and stay in a safe operating space (Lade et al. 2019).
Action on climate change reduces one of the key drivers of nature’s loss and degradation (IPBES 2019), but we must also explicitly take action to curtail the other drivers and pressures (e.g., resource exploitation, land and sea use, and invasive species) pushing nature towards irreversible tipping points. Otherwise, we jeopardize nature’s capacity to deliver key functions for the climate system, such as carbon absorption. If instead we link action on climate and nature, we will design solutions which have greater overall positive impact for the Earth – and its people – and avoid shifting the burden from one subsystem to another.
To accomplish this goal, we are drawing on the best available science and collaborating with the Earth Commission on its Earth System Boundaries science, which uses integrated assessment models and scenario analysis to develop pathways toward a safe and just future that creates more co-benefits and minimizes tradeoffs between impacts on different systems.
For climate, the goal to which targets correspond (1.5C) addresses a single driver: GHG emissions. Actors must reduce their contributions to emissions, but have freedom in determining the ways in which to do so. SBTs for nature must account for several additional complexities:
- There is currently no singular, overarching global goal around which we can organize ourselves to take action for nature.
- The drivers of nature loss are multiple, varied, and interlinked.
- For climate, the key indicator to track is (reduction or increase in) GHGs; for nature, we need to track indicators related to biodiversity, water, land, and the ocean.
- Whereas action for climate change can happen anywhere, nature’s loss and degradation are location-specific, both in the drivers and consequences; we must therefore ask where to act to attain critical outcomes.
Climate is the fifth pillar of SBTN’s framework (following land, freshwater, oceans and biodiversity) and all companies with material contributions to greenhouse gasses are expected to set a climate target via SBTi as part of their science-based target for nature. Companies who have already collected emission data and set targets for climate are a step ahead.
While setting SBTs for nature, using SBTN’s holistic guidance, companies should be able to identify opportunities for meeting their climate targets (set using SBTi methods) and their targets for other aspects of nature at the same time.
Operationally, as part of SBTN’s technical development, we are working to align with the SBTi process where possible to ensure companies receive guidance that is aligned across the organizations. A number of technical experts are working across both SBTi and SBTN to facilitate this. Two clear examples of alignment include the application of the GHG Protocol framework within the land methods and the collaboration between Land Hub members and the team behind SBTi’s Forest, Land and Agriculture-Related Sector (FLAG) Standard.
A core goal of SBTN’s work is mitigating biodiversity loss through ensuring companies contribute to the protection, restoration and sustainable use of natural ecosystems. It is therefore essential that all actions developed through the setting of science-based targets for nature effectively support biodiversity.
The first release of science-based targets for nature in 2023 directly support biodiversity by addressing some of the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss.
- In Step 1, companies assess their environmental impacts against five direct drivers (known as pressures in the SBTN methods) of biodiversity loss as defined by The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (the world’s most authoritative scientific body on nature) that directly impact biodiversity. Companies are required to use biodiversity data to contextualize pressures, along with state of nature data. SBTN also recommends the use of complementary biodiversity metrics at the species and ecosystem levels during the assessment in order to have a more complete understanding of biodiversity importance in each location.
- In Step 2, biodiversity is incorporated in the spatial prioritization for target setting. This informs target setting strategy to ensure that companies are addressing their environmental impacts in the places where it is most urgent for nature. To inform this prioritization, companies must use biodiversity metrics and recommendations provided in the Step 1 and 2 methods. As the biodiversity needs are different across locations, companies must incorporate biodiversity data to reflect the different dimensions of biodiversity within their target-setting strategy.
- Step 3 methods also address aspects of key biodiversity pressures.
- While the science is not ready for the first corporate land targets to support species specific or genetic diversity targets, they positively address ecosystem conservation, restoration and reduction pressures on biodiversity. For example, the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss are land use change and habitat loss. SBTN’s land methods focus specifically on these drivers, including reducing pressures of negative land use change and emphasizing sustainable management approaches and ecosystem restoration.
- The freshwater methods encompass the major drivers of biodiversity loss in their scope, including the reduction of over exploitation of freshwater resources and pollution in freshwater systems, both of which support water availability (for human and non-human life) in the context of biodiversity at the species level, as well as healthy ecosystems.
In addition, the achievement of land and freshwater targets can contribute towards many of the components of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed to by nearly 200 countries in 2022, and help to monitor their progress.
As part of the first release in 2023, we have provided an overview of our biodiversity approach. We acknowledge that further technical advances to ensure full coverage for biodiversity are needed as the scope of science-based targets for nature expands. For that reason, the SBTN Biodiversity Hub is complementing the work of the Land & Freshwater hubs – which focus on ecosystem scale protections for biodiversity – with a detailed coverage analysis paper written to inform the full inclusion of species extinction risk indicators and ecosystem integrity measures in the methods, including pressures not currently addressed like overexploitation and invasive species, based on advancing science.
We are designing science-based targets for nature to address the needs of both the environment and people. We do this in a few ways:
- By applying an environmental and societal materiality lens in the process of setting science-based targets for nature. Companies setting targets are required to look beyond issues which are financially material in the short term, and to issues which are significant for the well-being of the people with whom they share the landscapes they inhabit.
- By encouraging companies setting targets to work with local stakeholders directly. In recognition of the importance of stakeholder engagement, particularly for communities and stakeholders affected by company actions, companies are strongly recommended to follow SBTN’s Stakeholder Engagement Guidance when applying methods for setting science-based targets for nature.
- We directly reference and cite the work of the Earth Commission on defining a safe and just corridor for humanity within our Stakeholder Engagement Guidance. The level of ambition that companies are asked to exhibit aligns to this safe and just corridor, including what’s needed to ensure humanity enters and stays within it.
- By determining how much action is needed, and by tracking progress against targets, with indicators used in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Reference our POV on nature positive in a blog post published in June 2021 but to summarize, we believe it is most important to understand “nature positive” as it relates to system-level change; it is a system-level goal for all society, with business playing a role as part of the broader system. It means halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 and a full recovery by 2050. For companies this will require collaboration along value chains and between sectors to contribute to a nature positive world.
We are designing methods which can be used to set science-based targets, both for nature and for climate, which will help companies and cities contribute to building a nature positive world.
By setting SBTs for nature, using methods developed by SBTN, companies can have greater certainty that they will contribute toward positive outcomes. In addition to using SBTN methods, there are a number of criteria that companies should consider as they evaluate whether or not they are contributing towards nature-positive outcomes, or nature-negative outcomes.
Foremostly, companies should ensure they are acting to address all of the key pressures, material to their business, that are driving the loss of nature and fueling nature-negative trends in biodiversity. These include:
- Land and sea use change;
- Resource exploitation;
- Climate change;
- Pollution; and
- Invasive alien species
SBTs for nature will enable companies to avoid and reduce their contributions towards these key pressures, while also identifying locations where companies should invest in regenerative and restorative solutions to improve the state of nature. These response options unlocked through the SBT-setting process are in line with the mitigation hierarchy and SBTN’s Action Framework ‘A3RT’ first introduced in the SBTN Initial Guidance for Business in 2020.
An organization’s alignment with the mitigation hierarchy can also be an indication of whether or not it is contributing toward a nature-positive future. Following SBTN’s Initial Guidance, the hierarchy of actions to take includes:
Avoid: Prevent and impact from happening in the first place; eliminate the impact entirely.
Reduce: Minimize impacts as far as reasonably possible, recognizing total elimination may not be possible within the current business model or due to production practices.
Regenerate: Take actions designed within existing ecosystem use paradigms (i.e. in respect of local needs) to increase the biophysical function and/or ecological productivity of an ecosystem or its components, often with a focus on a few specific nature’s contributions to people (e.g., regenerative agriculture often focuses on carbon sequestration, food production, and nitrogen and phosphorus retention).
Restore: Initiate or accelerate the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity, and sustainability (defined in collaboration with local stakeholders and in consideration of indigenous and traditional knowledge), with a focus on permanent changes in state and partnerships with local stakeholders.
Transform: Take actions contributing to system-wide change, notably to alter the drivers of nature loss, e.g. through technological, economic, institutional, and social factors and changes in underlying values and behaviors.
Please see our perspective on nature positive, and our partner WBCSD’s work on building blocks for nature-positive here for further information. Please see this report from the World Economic Forum on Measuring Nature-positive Outcomes from Business Actions for more detail on how to evaluate company contributions towards nature positive outcomes, in line with the SBTN framework, and a Business for Nature’s discussion paper on how business and finance can contribute to a nature positive future now.
Companies’ dependencies should be considered separately from their impacts. Dependencies are more relevant from a financial perspective of materiality than a societal perspective of materiality, which is the one that we use in the guidance and take as a network. Because of this difference, dependencies are recommended to be considered in the target setting process after prioritizing locations which are most important from an impact perspective. See the Step 1 & 2 methods for more information.
In the later steps of the target setting process, dependencies may be relevant to consider when coming up with the target setting strategy, including ambition levels (e.g. companies may wish to be more aggressive in their water use reductions in order maintain water security for a longer period) as well as action plans (e.g. companies may want to invest more in restoration and regeneration to increase availability of NCPs).
Overview of first corporate SBTs for nature
With the release of the first corporate science-based targets for nature in 2023, we are making available a robust and integrated methodology that offers companies the guidance and tools they need to set validatable targets to directly address their pressures on freshwater, land and biodiversity today. Future releases will increase coverage of corporate impacts.
The full release of the methodology for science-based targets for nature includes the following resources.ll materials can be found in our Resource Library.
- Step 1: Assess – an integrated assessment method to identify key issues and locations to focus on for target setting
- Step 2: Interpret and Prioritize – a method for prioritization of target setting, using a mix of environmental, social, and financial considerations
- Step 3: Measure, Set, Disclose – methods for setting land and freshwater targets, addressing some of the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change
- Biodiversity Paper – short paper summarizing the coverage of biodiversity within the first methods for science-based targets for nature and next steps for SBTN biodiversity methodology
- Stakeholder Engagement Guidance – beta guidance focused on human rights and stakeholder engagement best practices for work with Indigenous Peoples and other affected communities
- SBTN Materiality Screening Tool – tool for a quick screening of all environmental issues covered by SBTN using sector-level data
- SBTN High Impact Commodity List – resource to enable companies to quickly identify priority inputs (upstream) and activities (direct operations) to focus on during target setting, based on known environmental impacts of commodities
- Other tool and data offerings – specialized resources created to enable the implementation of the SBTN methods, such as the Natural Lands map for Step 3: Land and the unified water quantity and quality map layers for Step 2
- Other Resources:
- Ursus Nourishment Case Study – fictitious example of a food and beverage company following the SBTN methods (to be published shortly)
- SBTN Data Needs Table – standalone resource to readily identify step-by-step data needs for companies
- Interim Targets – actions companies can take to round out their environmental strategy, complementing the application of the first SBT for nature methods. Revised interim targets will be published shortly.
To complement this technical content, later this year we will release a Corporate Manual, a document which will serve as an executive summary to guide companies through method implementation, a summary document of the Validation Criteria embedded in the methods, and Claims Guidance to help companies accurately and transparently communicate validated targets.
For more information on the scope of the first release, view our Guide for Readers.
For cities, guidance to set climate SBTs is available using SBTN’s guide and flowchart tool. Cities setting these targets should disclose them through existing reporting platforms, e.g., CDP/ICLEI or MyCovenant. For cities, guidance on nature SBTs is to follow, pending capacity.
In 2020, the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) released its Initial Guidance for Business. This foundational guidance introduced readers to the process of setting science-based targets (SBTs) for nature and the essential elements of the conceptual framework that underpins the Network’s approach to developing target setting methods. Companies that are interested in learning about SBTN’s conceptual framework are recommended to consult the Initial Guidance.
Building on the Initial Guidance, SBTN developed technical guidance to provide the methodological detail to set targets. As technical guidance is released, it supersedes the Initial Guidance. Companies should use the technical guidance published in 2023 on Steps 1: Assess, 2: Interpret & Prioritize, and 3: Measure, Set, Disclose found in the first release of science-based targets for nature. Companies are suggested to refer to the Initial Guidance on Steps 4 and 5 in addition to resources provided with the first release, until future guidance is released.
Certain SBTN targets can be applied to most types of companies, no matter the sector, geography, or size. This includes the freshwater quantity target and the landscape engagement target. However, other targets (e.g. the water quality for nitrogen and phosphorus, land footprint reduction, and no conversion for natural lands targets) have a narrower applicability. If there are pressures you assume to be material for your company, but for which SBTN does not currently have methods available, companies are recommended to use the interim targets suggested by SBTN to make sure their pressures are managed. We will be publishing revised interim targets shortly.
To set and implement science-based targets requires companies to have these first reviewed and validated by SBTN. This is an independent process involving expert review to validate the integrity of the target(s) ensuring they meet the required criteria and methods of science-based targets. Alongside the launch of the first science-based targets for nature in May 2023, an initial group of pre-selected companies will pilot the underlying target validation process. This means only a handful of pre-selected companies can submit their targets for validation while SBTN pilots the validation process.
After distilling lessons learnt from the validation pilot test, all companies will be invited to submit targets for validation in Q1 2024 (timing depending on pilot outcomes).
SBTN accepted applications from 55 companies across 26 countries in the first quarter of 2023 to be part of the target validation pilot. There were three main criteria for selection: 1) Readiness – degree to which company has appropriate data as specified in the methods, technical capacity, and C-Suite and internal business support, 2) Representativeness – in terms of sector, geography of target-setting, value chain position., 3) Impact on nature.
After a thorough review process, the following companies were selected: AB InBev, Alpro (part of Danone), Bel, Carrefour, Corbion, GSK, H&M Group, Hindustan Zinc Limited, Holcim Group, Kering, L’OCCITANE Group, LVMH, Nestlé, Neste Corporation, Suntory Holdings Limited, Tesco and UPM.
Companies in this group will:
- Assess and prioritize their impacts on nature (Steps 1 & 2) and setting targets on freshwater and/or land (Step 3) including submitting targets for official validation to the SBTN; helping the SBTN pilot its target submission and validation process.
- Use SBTN’s claims guidance for communicating validated targets and disclosure guidance, and commit to reporting progress on an annual basis. SBTN will publicly disclose progress with respect to target boundary coverage and characterization (e.g. “water quality target in water basin X”) for each company. This is part of Step 2: Prioritize, which allows companies to map their target-setting journey over time, starting setting targets for locations where nature action is urgently needed, until covering all material impacts with targets as determined in Step 1.
- Begin creating action plans for achieving targets for all targets set.
- Support SBTN with distilling lessons learned from the initial validation phase, which will become an anonymized public report.
When the validation process is available to all companies in 2024, companies can submit their targets for validation. Once their targets are validated, meaning the targets meet the methodology criteria, companies will be able to make claims in accordance to SBTN’s Claims Guidance (version 1 expected by Q1 2024 after completion of the target validation pilot). The SBTN Claims Guidance will focus on communications based on factual information confirmed by the validation team that the methods have been correctly implemented. Other claims related to progress against validated targets should follow future SBTN guidance. SBTN is now in the process of developing guidance for Step 4 (implementation of targets) and Step 5 (tracking progress) of the SBTN framework.
We want to ensure the validation criteria for companies to set targets is robust, feasible and clear and have the ability to make any necessary optimizations before a full roll-out. We also want to gain an understanding of anticipated process times for companies and required SBTN resources to scale and respond to demand. The pilot will also inform SBTN’s investigation of alternative validation models that best fit the complexity of the methods, the plans to scale, and the evolution of methods. SBTN will distill lessons learned from the validation pilot into an anonymized public report and revise the validation process if needed.
An independent validation team within SBTN will be responsible for validating the targets of the initial group of companies. The team will also design validation materials and processes, and document learnings throughout the pilot.
The validation pilot will help inform best practices for target assurance, for example, on standardization of validations, development of guidelines to ensure rigor and impartiality, creation of policies for documentation, etc. SBTN is committed to follow relevant guidance, such as ISEAL’s guidance for sustainability systems and assurance providers, and explore governance and management structures that could support an alternative validation model for companies submitting targets in 2024.
Integral to SBTN’s development process is ensuring the optimal balance between scientific rigor and feasibility for companies to take action. The technical documents published by SBTN have been developed through rigorous review and piloting involving SBTN’s NGO and corporate partners, as well as a public consultation process. SBTN guidance is developed iteratively, constantly evolving with feedback from partners, stakeholders, and experts in our multi-stakeholder review process. All methodology within the first release of science-based targets for nature has undergone the following stages of review: internal technical consultation, corporate engagement consultation, public consultation, and an external expert review panel. The first release of SBTs for nature endeavors to address that feedback while balancing rigor with end-user feasibility. SBTN will release the themes raised in these consultations and SBTN’s related responses as a supplementary document following the first methods release.
The first release of science-based targets for nature represents the first significant step in our multi-year plan to provide companies of all sizes and sectors with comprehensive SBTs for nature across freshwater, land, biodiversity and ocean. Subsequent releases of SBTs for nature, beyond 2023, will increase the scope of issues and other dimensions that we can cover with our guidance, in line with the latest science and development within the Network. The roadmap includes expanded freshwater (e.g. pollutants beyond nitrogen and phosphorus) and land targets, additional biodiversity coverage, the first ocean targets, integration of social metrics into methods, detailed guidance on implementing targets (Step 4) and tracking progress (Step 5), as well as custom guidance for sectors and small-to-medium enterprises.
Throughout the process of acting on science-based targets for nature, companies will track and report on their progress (Step 5: Track in SBTN’s 5-step framework). This is critical to ensure the integrity of the targets and accountability of the company. The technical guidance in the first release focuses on the first three steps of the 5-step framework: assessing and prioritizing the company’s environmental impacts and setting targets on freshwater, land and climate. Detailed technical guidance for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of science-based targets for nature will be available as part of SBTN’s next release.
As an interim solution, SBTN will be testing the use of ‘Action Plans’ with the companies in the initial target validation group. In these plans, companies will be required to provide information to SBTN on how they will monitor and report on the progress against targets. It is anticipated that companies will publicly disclose their target progress.
Once SBTN has an established MRV system in place, we will begin to formalize requirements about corporate reporting (e.g. to SBTN or other parties), as well as share results of progress gleaned through monitoring (e.g. through satellite or other technologies) and through verification (e.g. through third-party actors engaged by companies to assess their progress).
Methodologies to assess the impact at downstream sites – which themselves are tools to identify what activities may fall within the organizational sphere of influence and responsibility in the downstream part of the value chain – are under development. Downstream impacts are thus not a part of the first release of science-based targets for nature in 2023.
Please see “How do people fit into SBTs?” question for a general overview of SBTN’s approach. Part of SBTN’s first release includes Stakeholder Engagement Guidance (beta version) to help businesses effectively collaborate in the implementation of science-based targets for nature, particularly with those who may be significantly affected on the ground with a focus on traditionally under-represented groups such as Indigenous People and local communities.
Our methods also include guidance for companies to work with other stakeholders in the places where science-based targets are set including nonprofits, community organizations, academics and local governments. We want to ensure companies are building on existing environmental knowledge, setting targets that are aligned with local ambitions, and establishing the basis for a collaborative relationship during target setting, implementation and beyond. This is our first step in ensuring a just implementation of the targets and helps us take the next step towards targets which more fully represent the needs of different local stakeholders.
This is part of what SBTN hopes to answer with its 2023 validation pilot.
No company has formally set targets using our guidance so we don’t have a clear picture of how much time and resources this could take, although we do have some indication from companies within the Corporate Engagement Program who have been road-testing SBTN’s guidance. For more advanced companies who have already gathered the necessary data, it has taken around 1-2 months to complete Steps 1 and 2. These companies usually work with external consultants to complete these steps – if you are interested in exploring that route, you can find a list of trusted experts here. We encourage companies to look at the data requirements in Steps 1, 2 and 3 for Freshwater and Land to see how much more work your company will have to do in order to get the targets completed.
In general, costs and time-line will vary, depending on: size and complexity of the company; the data on material impacts and dependencies the company currently has on hand and needs to collect; the extent and rigor of action companies have previously taken or are currently undertaking; and the availability of data for a given impact area and/or location. As many companies using SBTN’s guidance are working with external consultancies, costs can also vary. Cost estimates for the validation of SBTs for nature will not be available until 2024 at the earliest.
Tools will often have different models for use, with some being freely available to all users, some being freely available for certain uses, and some being free at different resolutions. Tools required by SBTN for use in the methods will be freely accessible for companies setting targets, at the minimum resolution required for the methods. Companies and consultants assisting companies may use tools that require subscriptions or other fees for use in order to complete the methods.
SBTN expects companies to eventually set targets to cover the full target boundary. However, this is not the expectation for the methods used in the first release given the limited timeframe for completion. Part of what is being tested with the initial target validation group is how far these companies can get in target boundary coverage – SBTN will then use these learnings to issue requirements on how much of a company’s target boundary should be set and by when. For companies not in the initial piloting group, we encourage you to start with priority sites, then continue working towards full target boundary coverage.
How does SBTN relate to other initiatives?
SBTN is, by design, more detailed and prescriptive than other frameworks in the sustainability space, providing thorough step-by-step guidance at each stage of the process. The purpose of our guidance is to empower companies to deploy a clear, analytical approach, tested and vetted by scientific experts, for assessing and addressing their environmental impacts. For this reason, the methodology builds on existing related frameworks, data and tools to increase efficiency for companies with more sustainability experience. It also aims to create a pathway for companies who are earlier on their sustainability journey, by providing tools, data and models to facilitate target-setting.
SBTN aims to create a streamlined target-setting process for companies that enables progress towards multiple sustainability objectives in tandem. Companies can identify points of connection between SBTN methods and other common sustainability frameworks, standards and regulations in the “Connections to other frameworks” sections of our methods. Companies can use that information to leverage their existing work to set SBTs for nature, and to understand how science-based targets for nature support other related frameworks. In most cases companies will find that science-based targets for nature exceed the ambition of current policy frameworks but if there are exceptions, SBTN encourages companies to adopt more stringent targets in line with the science-based target indicators for freshwater and land and submit these for validation.
Within our documents SBTN connections to other relevant organizations including: Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)*, the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosure (TNFD), the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi), the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), the Natural Capital Protocol (NCP), the Biological Diversity Protocol (BDP), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), CDP, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), United Nations (UN), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ESRS/EFRAG and emerging EU requirements.
*Please note that SBTN methods complement but do not supersede the guidance and requirements provided by SBTi, e.g., for assessing GHG impacts throughout all material value chain activities.
The organizations behind the Science Based Targets initiative are among the core founding partners of the Network. SBTi focuses on SBTs for climate, for companies. Recognizing that more is needed in order to guarantee a safe future, SBTN is developing methods to set targets on all aspects of the environment (not just those related to climate) for companies, and ultimately for cities as well.
WWF’s technical staff are the leaders of the SBTi Forest, Land and Agriculture project (SBTi FLAG) and play key technical roles in SBTN’s Network Hub and Land Hub.
The SBTi Forest, Land and Agriculture (SBTi FLAG) target setting methodology is based on land-related greenhouse gas emissions and removals. The focus is therefore on climate change and the actions companies take to address these emissions will maximize emissions reductions and removals. It also includes a requirement for companies to set a no-deforestation target and a recommendation for companies to set a no-conversion target.
The suite of the land science-based targets have a wider focus on what nature needs, for example, the landscape engagement target requires companies to increase ecosystem integrity within priority landscapes for production and sourcing of high impact commodities and the no conversion of natural ecosystems target more explicitly addresses non-forest natural ecosystems which are critical biodiversity habitats.
While there is a significant overlap in terms of the actions on land that companies would take to deliver against their science-based targets for land-related GHGs and removals (i.e. climate) and nature, the integration of climate and nature at the goal-setting level incentivizes more holistic approaches over singular “silver bullet” approaches that maximize the outcome of one indicator. For example, a climate-only lens might lead to fast-growing, monoculture, non-native tree planting for rapid carbon sequestration where land is relatively cheap (i.e. the biodiversity-rich tropical belt). This may have disastrous impacts on water availability, biodiversity loss and resilience in a region which would likely undermine climate outcomes due to increased wildfires, pests and disease.
The definition of science-based targets emphasizes alignment with societal goals, though as we note in our 2023 technical guidance this does not take precedence of the needs of marginalized communities which may not align with these societal goals. A key framework we center in our work is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which lays out the SDGs. SBTN’s first release, which addresses both nature, biodiversity, and human needs, is also connected to the SDGs. In particular, targets set using SBTN methods will support SDGs 2 (Zero hunger), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns), 15 (life on lands), that as a whole are covering interactions between Biodiversity, food, land and water. Targets set using the connected SBTi climate targets are connected to the SDG 13 (climate action).
Science-based targets for nature are designed to align with and translate global societal goals (including the UN SDGs and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework) and the best available science into measurable and time-bound business action across companies’ value chains. By setting SBTs, companies can bring their operations into alignment with best practice under existing regulatory and voluntary frameworks for environmental impact management.
Science-based targets for nature help companies operationalize the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. They define the business contribution – at company level – towards halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. Aiming directly at the drivers and pressures of nature loss, science-based targets for nature will tell a company if they are taking enough of the right actions, in the right places, at the right time in order to do their part. They will point not just to which impacts to avoid and reduce, such as deforestation and pollution, but also how to increase positive ones, including watershed restoration and rehabilitating degraded land.
The range of targets SBTs directly and indirectly address is broad. A key link between SBTN and the GBF is Target 15, which focuses on the role of business and managing its impact on nature. Target 15 and SBTs for nature are conceptually aligned: this isn’t about incremental impact reduction or damage limitation, this is about companies taking meaningful action – including impact assessment and impact management through setting science-based targets – to put their businesses on a path toward true sustainability and net positive impact.
One important point to note is that nature is obviously placed based so a company’s target ambition needs to be grounded in an understanding of environmental and societal needs in the location where the target is being set.
SBTN, Business for Nature, and the Capitals Coalition are close partners. Business for Nature promotes greater policy ambition to reverse nature loss and counts SBTs for nature as a mechanism for companies to demonstrate the ambition to do their part. The Capitals Coalition enables companies to value nature in their decision making.
The process of setting SBTs can draw on the outputs of the Capitals Coalition Natural Capital Protocol (enabling companies to value nature in their decision-making) where companies have already carried these out.
Nature-based Solutions (NBS) are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits (see IUCN Global Standard, 2020.) When designed correctly, NBS have the potential to deliver key benefits for both people and nature. They are key strategies for companies to consider delivering on their nature and climate goals in unison, and hence they can be part of a suite of potential response options that companies can take to achieve their SBTs for nature (in Act: Step 4 of SBTN’s 5-step framework). As NBS address multiple issues at once, they can help deliver progress on multiple targets (i.e., land, water, biodiversity, etc.) at the same time.
Sustainable or responsible certification standards are widely used mechanisms to increase the sustainability of commodity sourcing. They contain numerous practices and outcome-based metrics to guide the mitigation of negative impacts on the environment (land, water, and ocean) and social systems – on which commodity production depends. Companies can leverage these mechanisms, as they provide value chain visibility and can give insight on the existent production and management practices in the landscape. This can provide companies with better data to use in their target setting journey, instead of relying on general or industry averages. They will also impact baseline values that companies use to set targets. While certifications focus actions on reducing impacts within a commodity supply chain, SBTs will encourage action beyond the company’s direct supply chain to drive restoration and transformation at a system level.
Both the SBTN and Circular Economy initiatives aim to keep companies’ impacts within planetary boundaries and require companies to transform their business models. Many principles and commonly used practices of the Circular Economy can help companies reduce their pressures on the environment. For example, by reducing their material and energy throughputs and eliminating their waste streams, companies can reduce pressures on SBTN indicators such as water use and land use. There is thus a mutually beneficial relationship between circularity principles and actions to achieve SBTs.
SBTN encourages companies to disclose their environmental data to disclosure platforms such as CDP, and according to standards such as GRI, SASB, TCFD, etc. This is a key action companies can pursue while SBTN continues to develop methods. We recognize that we are developing SBTs on top of a well-populated landscape of reporting and disclosure; we are trying to avoid adding to a reporting burden, align as much as possible with existing platforms and standards, and increase ambition level on something companies are already measuring. At the same time, SBTN is working with our partners to ensure that data requested by these disclosure platforms and through their evolving reporting standards are consistent with the indicators and metrics used to set SBTs.
By setting SBTs with SBTN, companies can meet the requirements of disclosure frameworks such as GRI, CDP, TCFD and TNFD (in development), and demonstrate to the investor community that their company is addressing and managing their impacts and dependencies on nature.
SBTN and TNFD share the same vision: transforming business models toward a nature positive economy, based on the best available science. SBTN is equipping companies with the guidance to set science-based targets for nature. TNFD, in turn, is working to create a framework for companies and financial institutions to manage and disclose their nature-related risks. SBTN and TNFD are working actively together (SBTN is one of 16 TNFD Knowledge Partners) to ensure alignment in the way those nature-related risks are understood, framed, and addressed by companies and financial institutions, so they can incorporate nature into their decision-making processes in the most impactful and efficient way.
Specifically, the TNFD beta framework has adopted SBTN’s definitions of impacts and dependencies on nature, reflecting the foundational and methodological parallels between both initiatives. The critical importance of SBTN’s second target-setting step, for companies to prioritize action based on geographic location, is also reflected in the first step of TNFD’s framework.
One key output of this collaboration is joint target-setting guidance developed as part of TNFD’s beta release.
Following the first release of SBTs for nature, SBTN and TNFD will update this guidance to further expand on the areas of overlap, and differences. The goal is to have as integrated an approach as possible for companies to set science-based targets through SBTN and manage and disclose nature-related risks through TNFD.
Financial institutions (FIs) play a vital role in driving and facilitating transformative system change, actively mobilizing resources towards that goal. For instance,140 FIs have signed the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge (totalling €19.7 trillion in assets under management).
SBTN’s current target-setting guidance focuses on companies and is a necessary precursor to guidance for financial institutions, as was the case with the Science Based Targets initiative. Specific guidance for financial institutions to set science-based targets for nature will be forthcoming pending a sufficient corporate foundation and appropriate resourcing.
Today financial institutions can:
- encourage and support clients and investees to set SBTs for nature (as many are doing on climate targets using SBTi) and prioritize corporates in high-risk sectors where FIs have high exposure and/or sphere of influence.
- assess and disclose impacts and dependencies of portfolios (in line with target 15 of the Global Biodiversity Framework), including working with clients and partners in the value chain to locate impacts.
Public institutions are critical to solving the dual crises of climate change and nature loss.
For companies setting targets, SBTN strongly encourages that as they address their environmental impacts, they also engage with policy makers to push for more ambitious policy where needed. When companies make voluntary commitments to set science-based targets for nature, it will enable and engender stronger voluntary action for nature and climate, in turn enabling stronger policy through positive “ambition loops” (Ambition Loop).
On the whole, direct collaboration on policy and legislation is beyond SBTN’s remit, but our methods and targets seek to contribute to public policy goals. To ensure a regulatory space which is supportive of SBTs, we look to our partners within the Global Commons Alliance, namely the Earth Commission, and our partners within SBTN, namely Business for Nature.
Alignment with public policy is a top priority for SBTN as we strive to develop methods that contribute to societal goals. As the issues driving the loss of nature are location-specific and operate at different temporal and spatial scales, policy alignment needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
In the first release of SBTs for nature, the methodologies for freshwater use and pollution require engagement with local governments, agencies, and other stakeholders to identify policy priorities and objectives related to water flows and nutrient pollution. The methods use scientific models to align a company’s individual efforts with these societal objectives. When local policies are not available (or can’t be linked to the scientific models), the methods use global models to define safe and sustainable targets applicable to most regions.
How can companies get started today?
SBTN and its partners are fully aware that clarity is needed on the variety of tools, frameworks, and methodologies that are currently available for companies to begin – or continue – their journey. We worked with Business for Nature (BfN) and 14 other partner organizations to highlight high-level business actions, Assess – Commit – Transform – Disclose (ACT-D), to simplify the sustainability landscape for companies and serve as an entry point for companies looking to take the more specific step of setting science-based targets for nature.
ACT-D builds on existing action frameworks and guidance, including the Science Based Targets for Nature Initial Guidance for Business, Natural Capital Protocol, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) building blocks “What nature positive means to business?”, Business for Nature’s “Steps to be nature positive,” and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework (currently in beta version). These high-level business actions promote consistency in English language terms used, demonstrate how different tools and methodologies are connected, and focus companies efforts to halt and reverse nature loss.
Understand impacts on nature: Using our detailed Step 1 & Step 2 guidance, undertake a ‘root and branch’ audit of your business that will enable you to identify and learn about your company’s most material impacts on nature – and where they occur in your operations and across your value chain.
- Start with a sector-level materiality screening to get a high-level overview of your organization’s environmental impact
- Then estimate the pressures on nature that your company generates and identify the locations in which these pressures are particularly harmful to the state of nature
- Finally prioritize which targets to set, which locations and economic activities to include within your company’s target boundaries, and where to act first
Measure and set targets: When you have assessed and prioritized areas for your company to take action, use our methodologies to set science-based targets for nature beginning with freshwater and land. Targets can be submitted for validation in 2024 upon completion of the validation pilot with an initial group of companies in 2023.
- To set freshwater targets (version 1), prepare them for validation
- Get ready to set land targets (version 1), available in Q1 2024, by referencing the beta version
- Climate targets should also be set where possible through the Science Based Targets initiative
- Set complementary interim targets (revised ones to be published shortly)
- Get ready to disclose in line with guidance from SBTN and TNFD’s draft disclosure recommendations.
Mobilize Action: If your company wants to take action on nature but is not ready to set science-based targets for nature, these are the actions you can take:
- Start to understand your organization’s environmental impacts with our sector-level materiality screening (part of Step 1 guidance)
- Join our Corporate Engagement Program to lead the way on ambitious corporate action on nature.
- Get expert help from our recommended service providers to guide your organization through the target-setting process.
- Use our onboarding resources to rally internal buy-in.
Start transforming your business
- Commit to an ambitious, high-level goal for nature at your company.
- Support nature-friendly policy by committing to businessfornature.org.
There are currently ~100 companies, 70+ consultants, 16 industry coalitions, and 6 financial institutions engaging directly with SBTN through the Corporate Engagement Program to road-test our guidance. In addition, we have approximately 30 companies working indirectly with SBTN through our partner network.
- Co-create: Give feedback on the design to create more user-friendly and cost effective methods and tools
- Get strategic insight: Gain strategic insight into cutting-edge science and approaches to science-based targets for nature so you can better align your company’s sustainability goals and strategy
- Prioritize: If your company wants to take action on nature and is not sure how to begin, SBTN’s guidance offers tools and approaches to help companies understand and prioritize which issues and geographies to take action on and what types of action to take
- Share: SBTN offers participants a public platform to share use-cases on how you are implementing aspects of the initial guidance
- Indicate alignment: Indicate your organization’s alignment with SBTN’s vision and goals
- Join learning sessions: SBTN conducts webinars on various topics for the participant community to address common