The "jargon" used to express concepts about sustainability are a mix of scientific terms, process descriptions, idioms, and industry specific definitions. What follows are key terms and commonly accepted descriptions of their use.
These human-caused changes to the climate are referred to as "anthropogenic climate change" (anthropogenic means human caused). A major component of anthropogenic climate change is global warming, which refers to a gradual warming of the earth caused by an unnatural (human-induced) increase of the greenhouse effect, as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, but since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and gas) which produces heat-trapping gases.
These are materials that naturally break down to their original compound over time. Then, with the help of bacteria and microorganisms, they will eventually decompose and return to sea or soil. A few examples would be food scraps and paper. However, just because a product says it is biodegradable, it doesn’t mean it’s already safe for the environment. Some biodegradable products are made with harmful chemicals that enter the environment as they break down.
The copying or imitation of a natural phenomenon's or environment's efficiency and survival mechanisms in manufacturing processes or in applied case-based reasoning.
A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.
Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal or by eliminating emissions from a project, process, or society.
Add an answer to this item. A carbon offset broadly refers to a reduction in GHG emissions – or an increase in carbon storage (e.g., through land restoration or the planting of trees) – that is used to compensate for emissions that occur elsewhere.
Carbon sequestration is the long-term removal, capture, or sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution and to mitigate or reverse climate change. Carbon dioxide is naturally captured from the atmosphere through biological, chemical, and physical processes.
The maximum population size of a biological species that can be sustained by that specific environment, given the food, habitat, water, and other resources available. The carrying capacity is sometimes considered as the environment's maximal load.
A circular economy is "a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible" that aims at tackling global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.
While biodegradable items refer to just any material which breaks down and decomposes in the environment, compostable goods are specifically organic matter which breaks down, the end product having many beneficial uses which include fertilizing and improving soil health. The primary difference between compostable and biodegradable is that compostable products require a specific setting in order to break down, whereas biodegradable products break down naturally. Typically composting is a faster process, but only under the right conditions.
Corporate social responsibility is a form of international private business self-regulation which aims to contribute to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices.
Cradle-to-cradle design is a biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems that models human industry on nature's processes, where materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms.
Deforestation or forest clearance is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land that is then converted to non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. Reforestation works the opposite, to repopulate trees and forests.
Restoration ecology is the scientific study supporting the practice of ecological restoration, which is the practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human interruption and action.
ESG refers to a business strategy that encompasses an environmental cause, social cause, and self-governing body in leadership that holds the company accountable.
Fair trade is an arrangement designed to help producers in growing countries achieve sustainable and equitable trade relationships. Members of the fair trade movement add the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards.
Fugitive emissions are leaks and other irregular releases of gases or vapors from a pressurized containment - such as appliances, storage tanks, pipelines, wells, or other pieces of equipment - mostly from industrial activities. In addition to the economic cost of lost commodities, fugitive emissions contribute to local air pollution and may cause further environmental harm. Common industrial gases include refrigerants and natural gas, while less common examples are perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride.
Geothermal energy is the thermal energy in the Earth's crust which originates from the formation of the planet and from radioactive decay of materials in currently uncertain but possibly roughly equal proportions.
A gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth's atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants.
The use of products and cleaning strategies that have a reduced impact on human health and the environment. Products typically use natural resources more more responsibly, and selected based primarily on positive benefit to people, businesses, communities, and planet.
The trapping of the sun's warmth in a planet's lower atmosphere, due to the greater transparency of the atmosphere to visible radiation from the sun than to infrared radiation emitted from the planet's surface.
Greenwashing, also called "green sheen", is a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.
Natural capital can be defined as the world's stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.
Natural resources are resources that exist without any actions of humankind. This includes the sources of valued characteristics such as commercial and industrial use, aesthetic value, scientific interest and cultural value.
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown must be grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs).
The idea that if a product, an action, or a policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, protective action should be supported before there is complete scientific proof of a risk.
Percentage of materials salvaged for reuse from the waste stream of a manufacturing process (rather than from consumers) subsequently used to manufacture a product.
Percentage of materials recovered by consumers (from the municipal solid waste stream). For example, a newspaper might be made from 30 percent recovered newsprint.
The principle of reducing waste, reusing and recycling resources and products is often called the "3Rs." Reducing means choosing to use things with care to reduce the amount of waste generated. Reusing involves the repeated use of items or parts of items which still have usable aspects. Recycling means the use of waste itself as resources. Waste minimization can be achieved in an efficient way by focusing primarily on the first of the 3Rs, "reduce," followed by "reuse" and then "recycle."
Regenerative design is a process-oriented whole systems approach to design. The term "regenerative" describes processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials.
Renewable resources include biomass energy (such as ethanol), hydropower, geothermal power, wind energy, and solar energy. Biomass refers to organic material from plants or animals. This includes wood, sewage, and ethanol (which comes from corn or other plants).
A systems approach that serves to replenish or restore forms of capital to consciousness, vigor, or health .
The Science Based Targets initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Since 2015 more than 1,000 companies have joined the initiative to set a science-based climate target.
Emissions from sources directly owned or controlled by the reporting company (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles, and fugitive emissions).
Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. Although scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where they are generated, they are accounted for in an organization’s GHG inventory because they are a result of the organization’s energy use.
Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within an organization’s scope 1 and 2 boundary. The scope 3 emissions for one organization are the scope 1 and 2 emissions of another organization. Scope 3 emissions, also referred to as value chain emissions, often represent the majority of an organization’s total GHG emissions.
A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for co-owners.
(1) Sustainability is the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way across various domains of life. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for Earth's biosphere and human civilization to co-exist. (2) Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Business-related risks that follow societal and economic shifts toward a low-carbon and more climate-friendly future. These risks can include policy and regulatory risks, technological risks, market risks, reputational risks, and legal risks.
The triple bottom line is an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial. Some organizations have adopted the TBL framework to evaluate their performance in a broader perspective to create greater business value. Business writer John Elkington claims to have coined the phrase in 1994.
Known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as artistic value or environmental value.
Alert to injustice in society, especially racism; often appropriated to serve politicized agendas. In the context of ESG woke is emerging as a politically derogatory response to stakeholder capitalism, corporate advocacy, social activism, and environmental and social justice.
A set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.