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Sustainability Terms Defined

From carbon offsetting to the greenhouse effect, we're decoding sustainability one term at a time.
TL;DR Embed
Sustainability, carbon footprints, GHG emissions, Scope 1, circular economy, ESG… we’ve all heard these term, but what do they really mean? Learning the language of environmental action is crucial, so let’s demystify the jargon and make sustainability not only accessible but actionable.


This broad term encompasses strategies and practices aimed at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It integrates economic, environmental, and social considerations in decision-making and actions.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions refer to gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gases enter the atmosphere through various human activities such as burning fossil fuels, industrial processes, and agricultural practices. Their ability to impact climate change depends on their abundance, lifespan in the atmosphere, and how effectively they trap heat.

Greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect is a natural process where greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere trap heat, keeping the planet warm enough to sustain life. Human activities, especially burning fossil fuels and deforestation, have increased concentrations of these greenhouse gases, leading to more heat being trapped and contributing to global warming.

Carbon Footprint

The total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. Carbon footprints are usually expressed in tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), a metric that equates the impact of different greenhouse gases to the equivalent amount of CO2, based on their global warming potential. This comprehensive approach allows for a standardized assessment of emissions from various sources, enabling effective strategies for reduction and offsetting.

Scope 1, 2, and 3 Emissions

These categories break down GHG emissions based on their source and degree of control by the reporting entity.

  • Scope 1: These are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources, like company vehicles or manufacturing processes.
  • Scope 2: These are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, heating, and cooling consumed by the reporting entity.
  • Scope 3: These emissions are often the most significant and challenging to manage. They include all other indirect emissions that occur in a company's value chain, such as those from business travel, financed emissions, and the use and end-of-life treatment of sold products. Addressing Scope 3 emissions is essential for companies committed to reaching net-zero goals, as these emissions can account for the majority of an organisation's carbon footprint.

Net-Zero and Carbon Neutral

Net-zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Achieving net-zero means that a company, sector, or country effectively adds no greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Carbon neutrality is a similar concept but refers only to a balance between the carbon emissions produced and removed. Achieving either usually requires carbon offsetting or carbon capture and storage efforts.

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting involves investing in environmental projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to balance out one's own carbon footprint. These projects can range from reforestation to renewable energy initiatives.

Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology aimed at capturing carbon dioxide emissions from sources like power plants and storing it, often underground, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

CSR refers to a business model in which companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders. It goes beyond compliance and engages in actions that further social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law.

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance)

ESG criteria are a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Triple Bottom Line

This concept expands the traditional reporting framework to include ecological and social performance in addition to financial performance. The triple bottom line consists of 'People, Planet, and Profit' and encourages companies to focus on the full scope of their impact.

Circular Economy

At its core, the circular economy is a transformative approach designed to address pressing global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss by fundamentally rethinking the way we produce, consume, and dispose of goods. It's built on three key principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials at their highest value, and regenerating nature.

Renewable Energy

This term refers to energy derived from sources that naturally replenish on a human timescale, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. Unlike fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy sources are sustainable over the long term, providing a critical solution to reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change.


Biodiversity encompasses the variety and variability of life on Earth crucial for ecosystem resilience and human survival. It's under threat from activities that degrade habitats, such as deforestation, pollution, and climate change. Preserving biodiversity is essential for maintaining ecosystem services that we rely on, such as pollination, water purification, and climate regulation.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

LCA is a methodology used to evaluate the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life, from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. By understanding the full lifecycle impacts, businesses and consumers can make more informed decisions that reduce their environmental footprint.


This term describes the practice of companies giving a misleading impression of their environmental efforts or benefits. It's a critical concept in sustainability, highlighting the need for transparency and accountability in environmental claims.

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