September 29, 2022

How science-based targets help bridge the gap between ambition and reality

Companies across all sectors are using science-based targets as a tool to measure and report their environmental impact. But what exactly are science-based targets? How do they work? And are they effective in helping drive environmental progress? 

Established in 2015, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) helps companies set realistic, impactful emission-reduction targets to help prevent the worst impacts of climate change and, at the same time, future-proof business growth. Targets are considered ‘science-based’ if they are in line with the latest climate science and the Paris Agreement goals – limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In October 2021, SBTi launched the world's first Net-Zero Standard, providing the framework and tools for companies to set science-based net-zero targets. As of August 2022, Tetra Pak was one of the first 59 companies to have its short- and long-term net-zero targets approved by SBTi: to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across the value chain by 2050, with an absolute* reduction of 46% by 2030 and 90% by 2050 from a 2019 base year.

Oliver Edberg, Climate Manager in Tetra Pak’s Biodiversity and Climate team, explains why net-zero is important, how science-based targets work and what it all means for the climate. 

What’s the idea behind net-zero targets?

The latest report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that despite the 1.5°C ambition, GHG emissions are continuing to increase, and we need to go beyond deep emissions reductions to also focus on removing carbon from the atmosphere. That’s where the importance of net-zero comes in. It challenges companies to see the bigger picture in terms of how climate challenges are connected and not only focus on reducing emissions, but also engage in activities that restore nature, protect biodiversity and actively remove carbon.

Why was there a need for the Net-Zero Standard?

Until the SBTi came along, companies could come up their own narrative around what they were doing for the environment and how impactful it was. And prior to 2021, there were many terms floating around to express the idea of emissions reduction – terms like ‘climate positive’ or ‘carbon neutrality’. The terms were not well defined and left a lot of room for greenwashing. The Net-Zero Standard offers a blueprint for how to set science-based net-zero targets and ensures the private sector is working with the same science and the same tools towards the same goals. 

What does it mean to have SBTi-approved net-zero targets?

It means we are stepping up to the most rigorous and robust framework there is for net-zero. And it means our targets are thoroughly vetted by SBTi – based on robust data and a solid methodology. What it boils down for any company is that when you have SBTI-approved targets, they are realistic, ambitious and will ultimately contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

How does Tetra Pak arrive at its targets?

In our central sustainability team, we work with stakeholders across the business to find out which levers we can pull to reduce emissions while business growth is happening. We look at everything from how we can reduce our travel emissions and power our own facilities to what type of products we are taking to market and how we can reduce our suppliers’ climate impact. In collaboration with suppliers, customers and other stakeholders across the value chain we prioritize which levers we can pull and how far we can pull them. 

How do you see the future of your partnership with SBTi?

New research is coming out all the time and the ambition bar is changing. When the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, the world agreed to limit global warming to 2° C above pre-industrial levels. Then in 2018, the IPCC reported there’s a big difference between 2°C and 1.5°C when it comes to range of metrics like sea-level rise and biodiversity loss, which led to the current 1.5°C ambition level. As the science continues to develop, SBTi will be on top of it, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure we’re setting the most ambitious and meaningful targets with the broadest possible impact. 

What would you say to companies considering working with science-based targets?

As a society we all want to live in a world that avoids the worst effects of climate change. Future proofing your business to be aligned with a 1.5°C world is essential, and in many cases an opportunity for a sustainable business model. SBTi provides the decarbonisation pathway required, meaning you don’t need to have endless internal conversations around what percentage emission reduction is ambitious or not. The number of companies with SBTi approved targets is growing significantly – by having an approved target, you can credibly collaborate with your suppliers and customers to drive the decarbonisation the planet requires.   

* Absolute emissions covers scopes 1, 2 and 3: scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources; scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the reporting company; scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company's value chain.

Read more about the sustainability transformation in our annual Sustainability report

What are the 4 key requirements of the net-zero standard?

1.     A focus on deep cuts to value-chain emissions


2.     Setting near- and long-term targets


3.     No net-zero claims until long-term targets are met


4.     Going beyond the value chain by making investments outside the company’s science-based targets. 



Tetra Pak, Rubiera, Italy. Drone image provided by Baywa,re

Tetra Pak factory

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