Your Business, Your Targets: The Importance of Custom Reduction Targets

Governance & Regulations


min |

The global push for net-zero emissions is picking up momentum and is increasingly becoming a priority for businesses of all sizes. However, setting a net-zero target is not a one-size-fits-all solution. For companies to truly reduce their carbon footprint, it’s important to develop customized net-zero strategies that align with their specific business goals and operations.

In this article, we will explore the best practices and common challenges for companies when developing reduction targets in accordance with the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the most prominent framework used by corporations globally. So, what is the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) exactly?


As a collaborative effort between the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and CDP, the SBTi helps companies establish targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. By adopting SBTi recommendations, companies can ensure that their targets are grounded in science and aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

There is a growing number of companies setting targets to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in accordance with the SBTi. As of April 1st 2023, 5,146 companies have committed to setting science-based climate targets, 2,635 of which have been approved by the SBTi. However, in around 64 % of cases, companies committed to “only” short-term targets that typically last five to 15 years.

Although an important first step, both these short-term as well as long-term reduction targets aiming at the complete elimination of emissions, with a prior reduction of at least 90 % of emissions are a must to make significant progress.

But why is it that - given the global scale of climate change and legislation ticking up - only 204 (!) companies' climate targets aim at net zero emissions?


As consultants in the space, our team is fully aware that recent processing times at the SBTi have led to companies standing in line for target commitments and submissions. However, the main reason for this small absolute number and share is connected to the initial premise of this article:

Setting zero emissions reduction targets in accordance with the SBTi is a complex task requiring a comprehensive, individualized approach that accounts for a company's unique circumstances, capabilities, and available resources. This results in both a lack of overall (net zero) targets submissions as well as to many targets raising questions in terms of their legitimacy.

"We see a lot of issues with credibility, and the quality and robustness of [...] targets,"

- Frederic Hans, climate policy analyst at NewClimate Institute

Below, we outline common issues that most organizations need to overcome on their way to setting sound net zero targets.

Data Accessibility 

With emissions transparency being a key prerequisite for any reduction strategy, the lack of data or understanding of emissions sources can be a major challenge for organizations. Without a comprehensive understanding of their emissions sources, companies may set unrealistic or ineffective targets.

A good example of this, supply chains and resulting up- and downstream emissions in most cases are outside companies' operational control. As a result, setting net zero targets requires collaboration with supply chain partners to identify ways to reduce emissions throughout the entire value chain, making the definition of attainable reduction potentials increasingly complex.

Another common challenge for large producing companies is the continued reliance on fossil fuels. While transitioning to renewable energy sources is a critical step in reducing emissions, many organizations may not have the resources or (internal and/or external) infrastructure to make the switch. On top of that, some industries rely on fossil fuels to operate, making the transition to net zero targets even more difficult.

Resistance to change within the company can also be a challenge, as not all stakeholders may be on board with the changes necessary to achieve net-zero emissions caused by conflicts of interest within the organization, adding to the level of complexity.

But where there’s darkness, there is light! Plenty of companies showcase different approaches to setting net zero targets allowing later adopters to follow their example.


British consumer good producer Unilever faced unique challenges coordinating across its global operations and reducing emissions from product use and end-of-life disposal. To achieve its targets, Unilever has set an ambitious goal of achieving zero emissions from its operations by 2030 and supporting the transition to net zero across its value chain by 2039. While a resource-intense endeavor, Unilever's size and resources also provide it with a unique opportunity to drive change across its industry and influence suppliers and customers to adopt more sustainable practices.

Following this example, the very first step towards setting a net zero target is to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory. This allows organizations to understand the sources of emissions within their operations and value chain, providing valuable insights on the "hotspot" areas that require focus for emissions reductions.

Once an organization has a comprehensive understanding of its emissions, it can set an ambitious net zero target including scope 1, 2, and (importantly) scope 3 emissions.

After setting a net zero target, the next step is to develop a roadmap to achieve it. This roadmap should include specific actions and milestones to reduce emissions. These actions can vary from implementing energy efficiency measures to reducing waste and promoting circular economy principles. It is important to involve stakeholders within and outside the organization in this process to build support and gain valuable insights on emissions reduction opportunities.

Finally, organizations need to monitor and report on their progress towards the net zero target regularly. This helps to track progress, identify areas that require further focus, and lastly provides an opportunity to communicate with stakeholders to build transparency and accountability.


At Five Glaciers Consulting, we believe that achieving Net Zero is not only essential for the environment, but we also understand the challenges that companies face in achieving Net Zero. Therefore, we have developed a company-specific modular and holistic approach to help our clients succeed.

With such a customized approach, along with commitment from all departments and stakeholders, companies can overcome these challenges and make noteworthy progress towards a more sustainable future.

Reach out to learn more about our tailored support at every step, including comprehensive greenhouse gas inventories, developing climate roadmap for achieving net zero emissions, and providing ongoing support to monitor and report progress.


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