The Carbon footprint and the Science Based Targets (SBT)

What they are and why they are important for the fashion supply chain

The emission into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases (GHG) of anthropic origin are considered the main cause of the so-called global warming phenomenon. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, national governments committed to limiting temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and pursuing efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 °C in order to deal with the "urgent threat of climate change" possible cause of humanitarian crises related to drought, sea level rise, floods and extreme heat. 


Emissions cut action requires 1) measuring and quantifying GHG emissions; 2) establishing the volume of the necessary cut size to limit global warming below the thresholds defined by the Paris Agreement.


To quantifying and measuring, a parameter must be established that combines several gases. Indeed, GHGs include various gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). The commonly adopted calculation standard provides for the conversion of all GHG emissions into tons of equivalent carbon dioxide, a measure called CO2e (equivalent). For this reason, the expression "carbon footprint" is commonly used to define the size overall volume of GHGs generated in the creation of a product or by a company.


But, by how large the GHG cut must be in order to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement? Many companies, recognizing the risk that climate change represents not only for the planet but also, more directly, for their business, have set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, to date, the goals of most companies do not match the ambitions and timelines consistent with achieving the goals of the Agreement.


Here the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative comes into play, launched in 2015, just after the Paris Agreement, by various stakeholders including CDP, the World Resources Institute, the WWF, and the United Nations Global Compact,  are a worldwide reference standard, adopted, for example, by the fashion brands that signed the Fashion Pact. The SBT initiative, which calls itself "an ambitious corporate climate action", offers companies a clearly defined path to reduce GHG emissions, consistent with a growth in global warming to 1.5°C. An “emissions reduction target” is considered “science based” if it aligns with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.


Companies in all sectors, including fashion, and financial institutions are called to adhere to the emission reduction plans established by SBT. SBT membership involves 5 key steps: 1) sign a written commitment that establishes the company's intention to set a science-based reduction target; 2) define an emission reduction target in line with the SBT criteria; 3) submit the reduction target plan to obtain validation by SBT; 4) rommunicate the objective publicly and inform all stakeholders; 5) Report on company emission reduction results and monitor progress annually.


The SBT commitment is a path  currently followed by large companies, but with a growing number of small and medium-sized companies adhering to it. A challenge that is set to become a market standard in the next few years, also in consideration of the growing request for documentation on the reduction of emissions that banks, investors and other financial institutions address to companies in the sector.