A guide to science-based targets and their impact on the building industry

Record-breaking heat in 2023 underscores the urgent need for robust climate action, as highlighted in the Climate Risk Landscape Report 2024. Integrating climate action into strategic planning is just the beginning. Once climate action is integrated into companies’ strategic planning, the next step is actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This involves setting a clear roadmap with specific targets, essential for creating accountability, tracking progress, and achieving tangible results. Science-based targets are crucial in this context, providing a rigorous framework to ensure that emission reduction goals align with the latest climate science and the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Indicators, initiatives, and organisations are progressing on this front. So why do we need more objectives, and how will this add to or benefit the active targets and programmes already in place? 

What are science-based targets? 

Science-based targets (SBTs) provide a roadmap for businesses to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. Companies of all sizes and sectors are encouraged to adopt targets, especially those within the highest-emitting sectors or playing a pivotal role in transitioning to a zero-carbon economy. The only exceptions are fossil fuel corporations awaiting sector guidance development. 

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is a global organisation dedicated to corporate climate action, empowering companies, and financial institutions to address the climate crisis. It develops standards, tools, and guidance for companies to set greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets in line with what is needed to keep global heating below catastrophic levels and reach net zero by 2050.  

Benefits of setting science-based targets 

According to Dexter Galvin, the Global Director of Corporates and Supply Chains at CDP, a survey of initiative participants found advantages to setting science-based targets: 

Cost Savings: Contrary to the belief that green business models are too expensive, nearly 30% of companies with SBTs already see financial savings. 

Regulatory Resilience: As governments enforce the Paris Agreement, more regulations to reduce emissions are expected. Over 35% of executives say SBTs increase their resilience to future regulations, helping them align with the Paris Agreement early. 

Increased Innovation: The shift to a low-carbon economy brings new opportunities. Nearly 63% of respondents report that SBTs drive innovation, and over 50% expect half of their products and services to be low-carbon by 2030. For example, Sony developed a new plastic, SORPLAS, made of 99% recycled material, reducing CO2 emissions by nearly 80% during manufacture. 

“By implementing their targets, organisations can learn and compare progress within their industries and other sectors when adopting sustainable strategies and targets.” 

Science-based targets for the real estate industry 

All industries and organisations are crucial to reducing global carbon emissions. However, buildings and construction generate a third of the global carbon emissions, necessitating an urgent and bold approach to mitigate their impact. 

The World Green Building Council estimates that the real estate industry accounts for 35% of global energy consumption, 38% of energy-related carbon emissions, and 50% of resource consumption, with its total footprint expected to double by 2060. The International Energy Agency projects a significant rise in global floor space, potentially reaching 15% by 2030, with a staggering 80% growth concentrated in developing and emerging economies. 

Guidance, clear targets, and shared knowledge will drastically improve organisations’ approaches and strategies to reduce carbon emissions. In 2023, three key components were updated to aid real estate organisations in establishing their own targets, required for alignment starting in the second half of 2024: 

1. Location-based accounting is no longer mandatory: Previously, companies used location-based accounting for scope 2 emissions. Now, the SBTi allows location- or market-based accounting for scope 2 emissions in the target setting. Location-based accounting is still recommended, and companies must report using both methods. 

2. Extended commitments to no fossil fuel heating and cooking: Originally, companies were required not to install fossil-fuel-based heating and cooking systems from 2025 onwards. The update revised the commitment to “within five years of target submission” or by 2030, whichever comes sooner. 

3. Flexible embodied carbon targets: Initially, all real estate companies were required to set specific embodied carbon targets using new sector-specific absolute contraction pathways for embodied carbon. The updated guidance introduced new thresholds for setting embodied carbon targets. Only companies with embodied carbon emissions exceeding 20% of their total emissions (scope 1, 2, and 3) must set a target. Companies can also use the sector-specific guidance or SBTi’s cross-sector methods with a 1.5°C ambition. 

How can organisations set targets? 

To join the over 5,000 businesses globally already working with science-based targets, follow these five steps: 

  1. Commit: Join SBTi and pledge to set or verify your emissions reduction goals. 
  1. Develop: Craft science-based targets using SBTi’s criteria and resources. 
  1. Submit: Validate your target according to SBTi’s specific company or target guidelines. 
  1. Communicate: Announce your approved target to stakeholders. 
  1. Disclose: Track and release progress annually towards achieving your target. 

Small or medium-sized enterprises, corporations, and financial institutions can set targets in sectors such as buildings, chemicals, ICT, land transportation, and maritime transportation. 

Contribution of science-based targets 

Decisive action guided by clear and transparent targets in the next decade is crucial for effective climate mitigation. Setting science-based targets is urgently needed to share knowledge and drastically reduce carbon emissions from buildings and other industries.  

As industries adapt to these targets, organisations with SBTs set a precedent for others to follow, creating a ripple effect that accelerates measurable global climate action. The real estate industry should consider setting science-based targets to save costs, invest in innovation, and stay ahead of regulations related to climate change. 

With science-based targets, companies are significantly reducing their carbon footprint. Partnering with experts can make all the difference in tracking real-time progress towards these targets. CFP Green Buildings offers comprehensive services to help organisations set and meet their science-based targets, ensuring alignment with the latest climate science and global standards. Curious to learn how their expertise can guide your business towards a sustainable and resilient future? Contact us and join the growing number of companies committed to setting targets to catalyse your industry.  

Contact Apeldoorn

CFP Green Buildings
J.C. Wilslaan 29
7313 HK Apeldoorn
The Netherlands
+31 (0)55 355 5199
info@cfp.nl

Contact Naarden

CFP Green Buildings
Onderwal 16
1411 LV Naarden
The Netherlands
+31 (0)55 355 5199
info@cfp.nl

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