How to set environmental baselines and targets

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How to Set Environmental Baselines and Targets

A sustainable organization is one that will exist for the foreseeable future without incurring significant environmental, social or economic costs to society. Whether your organization is a business, nonprofit or government entity, setting environmental baselines and targets can help you track its progress over time and see consistent improvement.

Step 1: Identify Key Focus Areas


Environmental Baselines and Targets
Set Environmental Baselines and Targets


The first step to setting environmental baselines and targets is to identify your key focus areas for sustainability. It helps to think of these key focus areas as the major ways in which you’d like to see your organization change for the better.

While these will depend almost entirely on the circumstances of your organization, they will likely fall into one of the three ESG categories:

  • Environment (e.g., waste reduction, less runoff, etc.)
  • Social (e.g., less land usage, more charitable donation, etc.)
  • Governance (e.g., increased employee satisfaction, more diversity, etc.)

Example: Corporation A decides that one of its key focus areas will be reducing the amount of CO2 it releases.

Step 2: Identify Baselines Metrics Based On Focus Areas

Baselines are points of comparison used to track progress towards a goal or target. In the context of sustainability reporting, baselines are measurements taken on a metric relevant to one or more key focus areas under the current conditions (i.e., before starting the sustainability campaign or initiative). Without establishing a baseline, it is nearly impossible to tell whether an organization is making good progress—or even whether it’s making progress at all!

To avoid this confusion, you’ll first need to identify metrics that are relevant to your key focus areas. There are countless metrics that might bear relevance to the key focus areas you’ve selected for your organization—far too many to mention here!

However, there are a few common metrics that you might want to consider:

  • Water Usage (liters, gallons, etc.)
  • CO2 Emissions (tonnes, kilograms, etc.)
  • Energy Usage (kilowatt-hours, miles per hour, etc.)

Example: Corporation A decides to measure annual CO2 emissions in metric tons.

Step 3: Collect Baseline Data

With all metrics in hand, you’ll now need to collect baseline data. Generally, this is simply the most up-to-date metric for your organization at the time of measurement (e.g., water usage measured in gallons last year).

This may seem like an unnecessary step after all, why not just measure current usage? There are two reasons for this:

  1. It helps establish a definitive starting point before launching an environmental sustainability campaign or initiative.
  2. It helps benchmark against future performance by measuring changes.

The actual process of data collection should be carried out as carefully as possible to ensure it’s accurate. If it isn’t, you risk setting targets that are unattainable or unambitious. For help with this part of the process, it may make sense to work with a consultant who specializes in environmental reporting and sustainability data collection.

Example: Corporation A hires a consultancy that determines that from 2021 to 2022 the company produced 1,000 metric tons of CO2.

Step 3: Set Targets For Focus Areas

Targets are forward-looking measurements of performance to strive towards under specific conditions. In most cases, targets will refer to a “goal” that your organization wishes to achieve by a certain date—such as 2020, 2025, 2030 etc.

To set targets, you’ll first need to determine where you want your organization to be sometime in the future. Then set metrics and corresponding timelines for achieving those goals within the limits of your budget and workforce. In most cases, targets will be expressed as a percent decrease or increase from your baseline.

Set Environmental Baselines and Targets
Set Environmental Baselines and Targets

When setting targets, it’s important to practice SMART goal setting:

  • Specific: Your targets should be clear and precise—no waffling!
  • Measurable: Your targets must be measurable, otherwise tracking performance will become difficult.
  • Achievable: The targets you set for your organization should actually be achievable. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t present a challenge, though!
  • Relevant: Keep in mind why you were establishing baselines and targets in the first place—it’s not just for the sake of tracking things! Targeting irrelevant metrics might seem like an easy way to achieve results, but isn’t necessarily useful if it doesn’t help achieve your overall sustainability goals.
  • Time-Bound: You should always set a timeline for your targets to ensure that the organization has a sense of urgency and obligation to achieve results.


When setting SMART environmental targets, it’s helpful to draw insights from targets set by competitors with similar capabilities. You can do this by checking databases maintained by national and international reporting institutions, such as the Global Reporting Institute or Corporate Register. Benchmarking is an invaluable tool for arriving at SMART targets.

Example: Corporation A decides that its 2030 target for CO2 emissions is a reduction of 50% relative to its 2022 baseline of 1,000 metric tons.

Step 4: Track Progress Over Time

Once you’ve set baselines and targets, it’s important to track progress over time—particularly within your annual reports. In most cases, it would also help to employ some sort of incentive program, such as offering carpooling incentives to employees who reduce CO2 emissions or donating a certain percentage of profits to environmental charities.

The following tips can help you strengthen your sustainability reporting over time:

  • Involve stakeholders. By inviting representatives from all departments to work together, there’s less chance that key issues will be overlooked during the planning process.
  • Connect program success to financial metrics. For example, if your organization tries to improve employee satisfaction through several new programs, track how much money it saves by having happier workers (and therefore requires less sick days). This makes it easier for decision-makers at your organization to see exactly what they are getting out of any specific sustainability effort.
  • Combine multiple reports into one annual report. Get ahead of the game for next year by taking data from all of your reports and putting them together for one large annual report. This will save even more time for reviewing each individual report!

In order to have a successful sustainability report, you need metrics and targets. With the help of this article, we hope that you’ll be able to set environmental baselines and targets for your organization’s sustainability report using some simple steps.

It starts by identifying what is being impacted by your operations through an accurate summary of your company’s environmental impacts. Then compare these numbers from last year with those in the current year—making note of any trends along the way!





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Based in Dubai for over 10years, Peter Caush is the founder of and
A trusted authority on digital marketing Peter is passionate about helping SME’s grow their business in the Gulf region.
When he’s not in the office Peter enjoys playing squash, often more times than his knees can cope.

About Sandpaper

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