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With scores of companies embracing science-based climate targets, we look at
what it takes to set these goals and apply the approach to the biggest
environmental and social risks across the business.
With 2020 around the corner and many corporate sustainability goals set to
expire, companies are working to set the next generation of targets. Now is the
time for setting goals with impact. We learned that the incremental goals from
the past led to limited progress. Real transformational change is required to
tackle issues such as climate change, water
and biodiversity loss, among others. Companies’ next-generation
sustainability goals need to be bigger and bolder.
With scores of companies embracing science-based climate
we can look to what it takes to set these goals and apply the approach to the
biggest environmental and social risks across the business.
When General Mills did a formal materiality
it identified eight priority
with climate change being one. After evaluating its greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions footprint to understand climate risks and improvement opportunities,
the company found that 60 percent
were upstream of their operations. General Mills was then one of the first to
establish supply chain climate goals, with a 28 percent reduction in absolute
GHG emissions by 2025 compared to 2010 for scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
As General Mills did, goal-setting efforts start by understanding the issues
that are most material to the company and where hotspots lie across the value
chain. The Global Reporting
outlines formal materiality methods. The Sustainability Accounting Standards
Board (SASB) offers tools that can also
help. However, this is just one step. It is important to also identify where the
risks are coming from in the value chain. General Mills identified its priority
issues through materiality assessment but looked at its carbon footprint to
understand where its efforts needed to be. This is now a formal part of the
Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) methodology when setting such
climate targets; this insight can be applied to other issues, from chemicals
Some impact areas are local in nature such as fresh water. For these impacts,
understanding the context is critical. General Mills identified eight
around the world in a four-phase approach to sustainable supply chain water use.
Using a context-based parameter, the company is reviewing the watershed science
to guide its goal-setting process.
The most important shift in goal-setting today is moving away from targeting
what is doable and instead aiming for what is needed. This approach is most
prominent in science-based climate targets. Companies are aiming to decrease
greenhouse gas emissions to the level required to keep global temperature
increase below critical warming thresholds of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius compared
to pre-industrial temperatures.
However, climate is just one of the nine planetary
we face as a society. There are serious threats to others, such as land-system
change, fresh water use, biodiversity and biochemical flows — such as nitrogen
and phosphorus. Setting science-based goals is applicable to these other areas,
is an excellent example of a company that has successfully revamped its business
sustainability goals to operate within planetary boundaries while delivering
positive social impact. In addition to climate, Mars is addressing land
and ending deforestation in its supply chains for beef, cocoa, palm
oil, paper and pulp, and soy. Working with The Forest Trust,
ProForest and WRI, the company has identified key areas of high
deforestation risk and established clear policies
plans for these raw
materials to end deforestation.
A useful resource for this comes from global luxury group
Kering. The company published a
to encourage companies to use the Planetary Boundary framework to understand the
consequences of its environmental impacts at a global level, while providing a
critical new perspective for effective action and sustainability goal-setting.
Looking at chemicals: Instead of looking to incrementally address one chemical
of concern after another, Seventh Generation
long a leader in safer, sustainable products — set out a target to have 100
percent of its products free of chronic toxicants and not acutely orally toxic
by 2020. The company has been progressing steadily on this target, and in 2018
met significant accomplishments — including eliminating 100 percent of boric
acid from all product formulas. The company then expanded the scope of
preservatives targeted for removal, such as Benzisothiazolinone (BIT) and
methylisothiazolinone (MIT), which may cause irritation for some individuals,
with a goal to eliminate them from all products by 2020.
As General Mills Chairman and CEO Ken Powell notes about its science-based
climate target, “We are taking action across our value chain. However, we
understand that no one company, industry or government will mitigate climate
change. It is an urgent and shared global challenge. Real progress toward more
sustainable emission levels will require unprecedented collaboration and
To establish and progress on goals with the greatest impact, collaborating with
key partners and taking advantage of existing resources are critical to success.
The SBTi has helped mobilize more than 500
to set science-based targets. Other organizations and resources support issues
such as plastic waste and recycling.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global
is serving as a galvanizing resource to address plastic waste.
is a signatory to this effort and recently announced its US plastic waste
Seek to achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable
packaging for its private brand packaging by 2025;
Target at least 20 percent post-consumer recycled content in private-brand
packaging by 2025;
Label 100 percent of food and consumable private-brand packaging with the
How2Recycle® label by 2022.
The Chemical Footprint Project
(CFP), of which Pure Strategies
is a co-founder, provides an independent
for addressing harmful ingredient and material use — encouraging companies to
set goals to eliminate them in products and throughout their supply chains.
Scores of companies participate in the annual survey and use the program to
guide their efforts. GOJO, inventors of Purell sanitizer and an early
CFP adopter, used the framework to benchmark and document processes to target
areas for improvement. The CFP helped GOJO to move toward the use of safer
chemicals in its products and operations, and set a target to reduce its
chemical footprint by 50
by 2020 to make meaningful change for consumers.
Every day, we either personally face the reality of or hear stories about the
Earth running up against planetary boundaries — species extinction, climate
change, water risk, and biodiversity loss. We need to set goals that commit our
organizations to real transformational change while steering the planet away
from dystopian fears and towards a more hopeful future.
Johan Rockstrom, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre,
notes, “We’re very confident today that if we can be planetary stewards of the
nine planetary boundaries, we stand a good chance of a prosperous, socially
inclusive future within a safe operating space on Earth.”
So, let’s get started!
Published Mar 27, 2019 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
Tim Greiner is Pure Strategies' co-founder and Managing Director.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.