How to set emission reduction targets in your organisation

We'll walk you through the process of setting carbon reduction targets, from identifying baseline emissions to determining your target scope, then actually setting your targets.

A step-by-step guide to setting SMART carbon reduction goals.

It's no secret that carbon emissions are a significant contributor to global climate change, and that every organisation needs to do their bit to reduce them. By setting carbon reduction targets, you're demonstrating your organisation's commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability. You'll also stay ahead of regulatory requirements and avoid non-compliance issues. Not only that, but implementing measures to reduce carbon emissions often results in cost savings. For instance, switching to energy-efficient lighting, equipment, and vehicles can reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills, while reducing waste can lower disposal costs.

And finally, your customers and stakeholders will be concerned about environmental issues. By setting carbon reduction targets, your organisation will differentiate itself from competitors, attract customers who prioritise sustainable products and services, and demonstrate to stakeholders that you're committed to long-term sustainability.

So how do you get started?

It's all about setting SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound - this approach is key to helping your organisation achieve your carbon reduction goals effectively. Making and meeting these goals are also crucial in avoiding perceptions of greenwashing, ensuring that you have meaningful, clear targets that will actually move the needle on sustainability

Step 1: Identify Baseline Emissions

The first thing you need to do is determine the current level of carbon emissions from your business operations. As part of the SMART approach, this involves measuring the carbon footprint, which includes direct emissions from activities such as energy use and transportation, as well as indirect emissions from your supply chain:

  • Determine the scope of the assessment - which business activities and operations will be included, and the time frame.
  • Collect data on your organisation's emissions output - fuel consumption, transportation activities, waste disposal, and other sources of emissions. This data can be gathered from utility bills, fuel receipts, travel logs etc.
  • Calculate emissions - use a standardised emissions calculator tool to determine the carbon emissions associated with each activity and operation. This will give you a comprehensive picture of your carbon footprint.
  • Identify hotspots - the activities and operations that generate the most emissions. This will help you prioritise your emission reductions.
  • Analyse results - this is how you gain insights into reducing emissions, e.g. identifying energy efficiency upgrades, switching to renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and implementing sustainable transportation practices.

Here’s where you get specific; accurate data is critical for setting meaningful targets, as it provides the baseline for measuring progress. Without accurate and reliable data on carbon emissions, it is impossible to track progress and determine whether the target has been achieved.

Step 2: Determine Target Scope

You can set different kinds of targets. Two of the most common are:

  1. Absolute Targets - these aim to reduce the total amount of carbon emissions over a specified period, usually expressed as a percentage reduction from a baseline year. Absolute targets are about reducing the overall amount of carbon emissions, regardless of changes in your business operations.
  2. Intensity Targets - these aim to reduce the carbon emissions intensity, which is the amount of emissions per unit of output or activity. Here, the focus is on reducing emissions relative to changes in business operations.

Other types of carbon reduction targets include sectoral targets, which are set for specific industry sectors, and net-zero targets, which aim to achieve carbon neutrality by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or offsetting.

The target type you choose depends on how relevant they are to your goals and operations. Absolute targets might suit if you have stable or declining levels of production, while intensity targets may work better if your organisation has fluctuating levels of production or where changes in activity have a significant impact on emissions. Ultimately, the most effective target will depend on the specific circumstances of your organisation and its environmental impact.

Step 3: Set Ambitious but Achievable Targets

Once you've established your baseline, consider setting science-based targets that are in line with the level of emissions reductions required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This can be done by using a science-based target-setting methodology that is aligned with the Paris Agreement.

It's also important to:

  • Engage stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, customers, and investors, in the target-setting process. This will ensure that the targets are ambitious, achievable, and supported by all stakeholders.
  • Break down the target into manageable goals and identify specific actions and initiatives that will help to achieve each one.
  • Monitor progress towards the target and regularly assess whether the target is still ambitious but achievable. This may require adjusting the target if progress is slower than anticipated or if new opportunities pop up.

It's also important to take internal and external factors into account, such as industry standards and government regulations, when setting targets.

Step 4: Create a Plan to Achieve Targets

The plan should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in your organisation and the external environment, while remaining focused on achieving the emissions reduction targets.

Make sure you consider both long- and short-term actions. Short-term actions, such as operational changes and process improvements, can help to reduce emissions quickly and cost-effectively. Long-term actions, such as investments in new technology, e.g. moving your fleet to electric vehicles or replacing a coal boiler, and infrastructure can help to transform the business and achieve deeper emissions reductions over time.

Monitoring and reporting progress is also essential, as it keeps the target on track. Our Carbon QuickStart will ensure that you can calculate, set and publish emission reduction goals for your unique business, aligning with national goals, science-based targets and your own individual needs.

Summary - ongoing measurement is critical

Ongoing measurement and reduction efforts are critical if your organisation is going to play its part in addressing climate change. By implementing carbon reduction goals, you can identify areas for improvement, and continuously reduce your carbon footprint. A proactive approach to climate change not only reduces your organisation's environmental impact, but also creates value for stakeholders and contributes to a more sustainable future.

With Carbon QuickStart, you'll engage in a collaborative process with experienced consultants to establish your carbon footprint, set realistic targets, identify initiatives to reduce emissions and develop an integrated plan.

Ready to get started? Download our Carbon Roadmap guide and create a climate action plan today.