Big ambitions with a side of science are raising the bar on goal setting

I’m often asked, “How good do we really need to be to deal with our major sustainability challenges?” This comes from leaders urgently shifting how goals are being set. Bold leaders are looking to science for clearer answers and liking what they’re finding there. However, the change they are driving isn’t the willingness to listen to science, it’s embracing the bold ambition to follow what science is telling us.

Leaders get bold

Meeting goals is meaningless if targets aren’t set in the right place. Corporate sustainability goals missed the mark in the past by setting achievable objectives, without inquiring if they’re going far enough, fast enough. Today, leaders are switching from setting sustainability goals to setting goals to be sustainable. The business stakes are too high to follow a slow or uncertain path.

Jon Dettling
Quantis Global Director, Services + Innovation

Bold leadership and sound science are
driving these four actions into 2018.

Science finally gets sexy

Science is finally making headlines, and more businesses are acting on its message that our current progress is not enough. More than 10,000 scientists recently declared we’re either treading water or nose-diving on critical environmental indicators. Finally, many leading companies are pulling out of this nose dive.

This much-needed revolution is evidenced most clearly on carbon, where more than 320 companies have committed to the Science Based Targets initiative, a radical departure from typical goal-setting. Companies are taking a long-term view of up to several decades, often committing to changes (that span the full value chain) that they don’t yet know how to achieve.

Corporates are asked to commit to a target date beyond even their successor’s tenure, which requires changing how they and their value chain partners do business. That hundreds of leaders are signing on is evidence for the need to understand the critical role the private sector needs to play. What comes next? Expect to see four actions emerging:

1. Ambitious goals going far beyond carbon

Companies making ambitious, long-term carbon targets quickly see the benefit of anchoring goals to why they’re necessary. Urgent global challenges of water and land use will follow a similar trajectory. We’re seeing this accelerate through strong interest in our work on linking deforestation goals to carbon accounting, and on framing goals on achieving water balance.

2. Supply chain collaborations go big

For most companies, the entire value chain outweighs the carbon footprint of their own operations. Scope 3 carbon accounting offers shared accountability, where several companies recognize their influence over the same emissions. Focusing on big changes will lead to collaborative solutions and shared accountability.

Expect to see even more collaborative goal setting. Walmart’s Project Gigaton, for example, promises to work with suppliers to deliver a gigaton in total carbon reductions. We’re working with WRI, The Gold Standard and others to clarify accounting principles for value-chain interventions to identify or create public references.

Quantis goal setting

3. Leaders go for the relay

Success on issues such as carbon won’t be determined by when the first runners pass the finish line, but by how far back the rest of the pack remains. Several hundred companies can’t solve the problem alone; their commitments must become imperative for all companies. More leaders will align their business goals with science-based sustainability, leading others, in relay fashion.

4. Goals go for purpose

“Purpose” has grown as a buzzword amid questions about how the companies we invest in, work for and buy from align with our values. Backing up goals with action demonstrates serious commitment.

The new generation of goals shows that sustainability is not just an issue to manage. Instead, a company doing its part to solve the big challenges is part of its reason for being. These goals stop talking about being a smaller part of the problem and instead commit to solutions.

Expect to see all this and more in 2018.

This article was originally published in the State of Green Business Report 2018. Download the full report here.