Setting a sustainability performance target

Sustainability performance targets are an important part of an organisation’s sustainability strategy. Targets help to communicate corporate goals and objectives. They provide clarity that shapes the design of your actions with the specific goal of improved performance.


A sustainability strategy includes a vision statement that should express where an organisation wants to be in the future in relation to their sustainability performance. Supporting the headline vision statement must be specific and measurable goals aimed at achieving the sustainability strategy. These goals require measurable targets so there is transparency about whether the organisation is achieving their strategy.  


Strategy can be based on analytics, i.e an accountants approach, or painted in the clouds, i.e the artists approach.


The accountants or analytic approach takes a ‘bottom-up’ approach. This is a process combining detailed analysis of current performance data, market intelligence and internal discussion to set a strategy that management can be pretty confident of achieving.


In contrast the artistic approach is ‘top-down’ and derived from a vision, an aspirational view of where the company would like to be.


The best strategies combine elements from both the top down, and bottom up approaches.  Logically there must be connection between the bottom and top in order for them to join somewhere in the middle. It’s the middle where the work gets done to achieve success.


Key considerations when setting a target:


1. Decide on what you want to target

There are many ways to set targets so ensure you select the most appropriate for your organisation. Some common approaches include absolute reductions or proportional reductions (i.e. %), resource efficiency, reducing carbon intensity of a product or service, workplace and social performance.


2. Consider what is material

Something is material if it is considered sufficiently significant, that if it weren’t reported on, then it would have the potential to mislead an investor or other interested stakeholder.


 3. Scan your industry and market place

Research what your industry and competitors are doing. This may assist you develop an idea of what sort of targets are realistic and how this positions you in the market place if you go public with your targets.


4. Be realistic

It’s a sometimes overlooked aspect of targeting reductions, but if your company is experiencing 10% year on year growth, then to achieve a 10% year on year reduction in emissions will certainly be challenging, expensive and probably impractical.


5. Be timely

Make a decision on what time frames are appropriate to achieve your targets. Time frames should be made in line with your headline vision.


6. Be brave

There is no time like the present to begin (or advance) your sustainability evolution; turning historic and present performance into improved future performance.


If you would like to read our comprehensive guide to setting sustainability performance targets and watch a demonstration of the software, click here.