Setting science-based targets for nature — as Seventh Generation and other leading companies are doing — can bolster climate targets while also helping to protect and restore water, oceans, land and biodiversity.
With over 1,100 companies committing to setting science-based targets (SBTs) for climate, including many of the world’s largest corporations, SBTs have become the gold standard for setting corporate climate goals. However, the climate crisis is not the only global threat to our planet. We live today in the Anthropocene — a period of human-caused mass extinction of animals and plants. As the World Business Council for Sustainable Development has observed, “The twin crises of nature loss and climate change are inextricably linked.” It is clear that we will not achieve the Paris climate goals nor preserve the world’s ecosystems without similar science-based targets to protect oceans, land, water, and biodiversity.
In September 2020, the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) issued interim guidance showing companies how to protect and restore nature in line with science. SBTN aims to clearly define a way to ensure companies what the science says is required to protecting the Earth’s land, oceans, water and biodiversity.
Climate SBTs can help with setting similar targets for nature
Firms that have set SBTs for climate and investigated their value chains will likely find they have some of the groundwork and data needed for setting nature targets. An example is Seventh Generation, a leading home and personal care brand that made an ambitious 2018 climate commitment.
The Evolution of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets
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Seventh Generation commits to reduce absolute Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions 100 percent by 2030 from a 2012 base year. The company also commits to reduce absolute Scope 3 GHG emissions from the use of sold products 90 percent by 2030 and reduce total Scope 3 emissions from remaining categories 80 percent by 2030, from a 2012 base-year.
Pure Strategies supported Seventh Generation’s climate target-setting and implementation process. We worked with the company to assess greenhouse gas emissions throughout the value chain, identifying carbon hot spots, and to vet various interventions to mitigate emissions. This involved analyzing the company’s product and packaging purchases and tracing the origins of carbon-intensive materials and ingredients. Excluding the use phase, we found that nearly 60 percent of the company’s Scope 3 emissions came from four items: palm-based surfactants, citric acid/sodium citrate, plastic and fiber.
This analysis led to a set of interventions needed to meet Seventh Generation's SBT climate commitment: committing to Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-certified palm, concentrating laundry products, sourcing citric acid/sodium citrate from low-carbon suppliers, increasing the use of recycled plastics and fibers, encouraging suppliers’ use of renewable energy, and increasing the use of certified fibers.
In identifying the top climate interventions, we also reviewed their potential land use, biodiversity, ocean and freshwater risks. By adding this nature-based lens to the analysis, we uncovered several benefits to land, oceans, biodiversity and freshwater from the company’s climate interventions (see table 1). None of the climate interventions are anticipated to have a materially negative impact on nature.
To take the next step of using the SBTN guidance and explore potential nature targets, the process will be fairly similar — such as understanding the value chain and raw material sources. Such an assessment would examine this through a lens of biodiversity, freshwater, land and oceans instead of a greenhouse gas focus. It also requires a look at not just the impacts of the value chain (e.g., land footprint, water footprint), but also its dependencies — such as where ingredients and materials are reliant on water availability, biodiversity and other nature systems. SBTN provides guidance on conducting nature-focused materiality analyses, value chain mapping and prioritization (see Figure 1), which we have helped companies to understand and complete.
SBTN: A pioneering effort
Roughly 30 companies — including Unilever, General Mills, Mars, L’Oréal, and Pure Strategies — have signed up to road test the methods, tools and guidance for science-based targets for nature to ensure they are user-friendly and easy to implement. SBTN expects the interim guidance to be finalized in 2022.
Companies need not wait until the final guidance is available to take action. Mars, for example, set climate, land use and deforestation targets in 2016 including: hold flat the total land area associated with their value chain and eliminate unsustainable water use in their value chain, starting with a 50 percent reduction by 2025.
Companies are increasingly seeing the connection between nature and climate. One recent study found that nature-based solutions can provide nearly 40 percent of cost-effective GHG mitigation needed by 2030 to stabilize global warming to below 2°C. So, setting science-based targets for nature can bolster climate targets while also helping to protect and restore water, oceans, land and biodiversity.
This will help us reach the zero-carbon, nature-positive future we need. We’ve only got one planet — we’ve got to act decisively and quickly to protect, restore and preserve it.