Setting Spark’s science-based target: tips from a telco (Part 1)

If you’re serious about reducing your organisation’s carbon footprint, science is your friend. That’s because a verified science-based target (SBT) is the ‘gold standard’ way to reduce your carbon emissions. It’s measurable, credible and public. Based on the practical experience of New Zealand telecom provider Spark, who’ve recently set and verified an SBT, this type of target offers many other less tangible benefits too.

We congratulate Spark on their climate leadership! And we thank Tom Newitt, Spark’s Sustainability Lead, who shared some of the insights below in a webinar with our Head of Life Cycle Strategies, Emily Townsend.

Before we kick off, here’s a summary of Spark’s target. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has verified it.

  • Goal 1: Reduce absolute Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 56% by 2030 from a 2020 base year
  • Goal 2: 70% of suppliers (by spend, covering purchased goods and services and capital goods) will have their own SBTs by 2026

Why set an SBT?

The business world is awash with targets. So why introduce another one? And if we’re going to have another target, why go for an SBT? Here are six good reasons why.

1.    An SBT sets a measurable pathway

An SBT gives your business a clearly defined pathway to meet the Paris Agreement. It ensures you play your part in keeping the rise in the global average temperature to below 2°C, ideally 1.5°C.

An SBT confirms how much carbon you need to grind out of your business, by when and from what baseline. (And we all know that what gets measured gets managed.)

2.    An SBT is credible and based on the latest science

The SBTi methodology is global best practice. The targets themselves are based on up-to-date science. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report underpins the latest methodology.)

3.    An SBT is a public commitment – and that brings business benefits

Your SBT is an open statement of your business’s ambitions. Share your target widely (with your investors, your customers, your suppliers, and your team) and you’ve given yourself a strong incentive to meet it.

Bonus: your stakeholders may help you meet your target, and reward you for setting it. For example, funders may look favourably on a business that is reducing its regulatory risks by tackling emissions. (As this article was published, Spark announced that it had secured three sustainability-linked loans.) Similarly, customers may want to buy from a business that is serious about climate change.

In other words, by doing the right thing (setting an SBT) and going public on it (as the SBTi requires you to do), you’re likely to add value to your business.

4.    An SBT focuses on action – not talking about whether to take action

With an SBT, the ambition’s already clear. Conversations like these – Can we really do this? What will it cost? Are we being too ambitious? Why don’t we start next year, not this? – become less relevant. If these things need to be discussed, your conversations can be fewer and shorter.

The focus shifts instead to conversations about making things happen. How do we do this? What resources do we need? How do we fund it?

5.    An SBT is unlikely to get derailed

An SBT is an external target. This means it’s not hostage to the tendency (common in even the best of organisations) to tweak internal targets as situations change. An SBT will endure.

6.    An SBT isn’t really a target  

(Our thanks to Tom for his insights on this one.) Targets can be a bit clinical. Tom doesn’t see a SBT as a target. Instead, he suggests businesses think of their SBT as the ‘fair contribution’ they need to make to help avert global climate catastrophe.

This approach has advantages. Focusing on the wider context (the global climate emergency) and building a connection between your business and the global efforts underway to tackle global warming can result in better conversations and outcomes. There’s no need to establish and explain the ‘why’ to your Board or your team. It’s already more than clear.

This blog was originally published in December 2021, and was updated in January 2024.