Glossary of terms related to sustainability and the environment
C2C or Cradle to Cradle
C2C or Cradle to Cradle is a design approach that rejects the usual make-take-dispose model and instead draws inspiration from natural systems. Rather than thinking of a product as moving from cradle (extraction) to grave (waste), cradle to cradle is about creating products and using materials that can, at their end of their life, be recovered and reused.
Linked to the concept of the circular economy.
CDP or Carbon Disclosure Project
CDP or Carbon Disclosure Project is a global non-profit organisation. It provides a disclosure system that supports organisations including businesses and governments with environmental reporting and helps them to develop strategies to reduce carbon emissions.
CEMARS stands for Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme. CEMARS is an internationally accredited greenhouse gas certification scheme and provides tools that allow businesses and events to both measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is the long-term shift in global weather patterns as measured by weather features such as average temperature or extreme weather events.
While the earth’s climate has changed throughout the planet’s history, it is now widely accepted that human activity since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases emitted as a result, has led to global warming at a vastly accelerated pace. The natural world has less time to adapt to new conditions than during previous periods of climate change and the rapid changes may also create new planetary conditions that are not conducive to human life.
CLR or Closed Loop Recycling
CLR, or closed loop recycling, describes a process in which all of a product’s materials are reused at the end of its life.
CO2 or carbon dioxide
CO2 is the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide, a gas in the earth’s atmosphere. Although carbon dioxide occurs naturally, it has become problematic because of its status as the biggest of the greenhouse gases to impact overall greenhouse gas emissions.
CO2 e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent and is the unit used to measure carbon footprints. It expresses the amount of all greenhouse gas emissions generated, including carbon dioxide, in one single total.
Carbon footprint means the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere over a certain period by an individual, business, organisation or other collective group such as a country or region.
Carbon dioxide is the most common of these greenhouse gases, hence the term carbon footprint, even though all the greenhouse gases contribute to climate change to varying degrees (see GWP).
CFL or Compact Fluorescent Lamp
A compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL, is a type of lighting that is highly energy efficient. CFLs are designed to replace incandescent light bulbs, which are far less energy efficient. CFLs, which are sometimes called compact fluorescent lights, also have a lifespan of around ten years.
Compostable describes a material that will, in the right conditions, break down over time into components that are not harmful to the environment. This is different to biodegradable.
Decarbonisation is the process of reducing, and eventually eliminating, the carbon dioxide emissions generated by an activity.
Downstream emissions are the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the lifecycle of a product after it has been sold. This includes distribution and storage as well as use by the consumer and disposal. Downstream emissions can be greater than upstream emissions.
See also scope 3 emissions and value chain emissions.
EPC stands for Energy Performance Certificate. An EPC includes an assessment of how energy efficient a building is, based on an A to G rating system, and therefore how much it will cost to heat. EPCs also include information on how to make a building more energy efficient.
ESG is an acronym for Environmental, Social and Governance or, as it is sometimes called, Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance.
The performance of an organisation in each of these areas can be measured against a range of different metrics, such as greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of investors use ESG metrics as a way of assessing the viability of potential investments.
GHG or greenhouse gases
GHG is an abbreviation of greenhouse gases. These are gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that absorb and emit heat from the sun, thus heating the earth’s atmosphere in a similar way to a greenhouse (hence the name).
A wide range of processes generate greenhouse gases, but human activities, particularly those associated with industrialisation such as the burning of fossil fuels for energy, have led to unprecedented levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This means the earth’s atmosphere is heating up as never before, a phenomenon called global warming, which in turn drives climate change.
GHGP means GHG Protocol. The GHG Protocol provides standards that organisations, including businesses and governments, can use as a framework for measuring and reporting their GHG emissions.
Global warming describes the rise in average global temperatures caused by the increasing levels of GHG emissions that result from human activities. Global warming is a driving force behind climate change.
Greenwashing is a phrase used to describe statements that suggest a product, service, organisation or activity is better for the environment than it actually is. An example of greenwashing is using unsubstantiated claims based on a selective reporting of evidence.
GWP or global warming potential
Greenhouse gases absorb heat at different rates, thus each one has a different effect on global warming.
GWP or global warming potential gives us a way to compare the level of impact by measuring how much energy one tonne of emissions from this gas will absorb over a period relative to how much energy one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions will absorb in the same amount of time. The GWP for carbon dioxide is therefore always one; the higher the GWP for other gases, the greater its impact on global warming.
See also: CO2 e.
LCA or Life Cycle Assessment
An LCA or life cycle assessment (sometimes called a life cycle analysis) evaluates the environmental impact of a product at every stage of its life cycle from extraction of materials to production, distribution, use and disposal.
An LED, or light emitting diode, is a semi-conductor device that emits light when an electrical current passes through it. Compared to incandescent light bulbs, LEDs are extremely energy efficient and long lasting.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The scheme provides a framework for creating and certified rating system for assessing energy efficient buildings.
Materiality is a concept that helps to guide an organisation’s ESG strategy, with a material environmental, social or governance issue being one that an organisation has an effect on or may be affected by.
Net Zero is emissions status that most organisations aspire to but have yet to achieve. Net Zero means that an entity adds no greenhouse gas emissions to the earth’s atmosphere – and therefore does not contribute to global warming or climate change.
PCR or Post-Consumer Recycled
PCR or Post-Consumer Recycled means materials have been used as intended by consumers and then recycled to be used again. PCR is particularly used in relation to plastic and includes material diverted from waste channels, such as ocean bound plastic, or rescued from waste, such as beach plastic.
SBT or Science Based Target
SBT is an acronym for science-based target. A science-based target is a goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that aligns with the scale and speed of reductions needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Scope 1 emissions
Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse gas emissions that result from sources owned or controlled by the organisation such as company vehicles.
See also: Scope 2 emissions, Scope 3 emissions, downstream emissions, upstream emissions and value chain emissions.
Scope 2 emissions
Scope 2 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions generated on behalf of an organisation, such as the energy purchased to heat or cool buildings. These often occur outside of its own premises.
See also: Scope 1 emissions, Scope 3 emissions, downstream emissions, upstream emissions and value chain emissions.
Scope 3 emissions
Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that occur in an organisation’s value chain (both upstream and downstream).
Examples include the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a supplier when extracting materials or those generated when transporting finished goods through an outsourced third party.
See also: Scope 1 emissions, Scope 2 emissions, downstream emissions, upstream emissions and value chain emissions.
The SDGs are Sustainable Development Goals: seventeen global priorities outlined in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all member states in 2015. They contain commitments to address various environmental and social issues, including climate change. Some organisations use the SDGs as a framework for ESG activities.
Sustainability means the ability to continue a process consistently over time.
The term sustainability is often used in relation to economics and to the environment. For a process or system to be environmentally sustainable, it must be able to continue over time without causing harm or damage to the environment. In most cases, it would be more accurate to describe a process or product as more sustainable, as in more sustainable compared to an alternative option rather than sustainable in absolute terms.
TCFD or Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures
The TCFD, or Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, provides guidance for organisations that helps them to share the financial risks they may be exposed to because of climate change with stakeholders such as shareholders and investors.
Triple bottom line
Traditionally, profit has been the only bottom line for businesses, but the triple bottom line is a concept that emphasises environmental and social goals as well as financial ones. This is often described up as profit, people and planet.
The phrase upstream emissions means all the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a material or product up to the point of sale, such as extraction, raw materials, manufacturing and distribution.
See also downstream emissions, scope 1 emissions, scope 2 emissions and value chain emissions.
Value chain emissions
Value chain emissions are the indirect greenhouse gas emissions generated across a product or an organisation’s value chain, including upstream emissions and downstream emissions.
See also Scope 3 emissions.
In the waste hierarchy, end-of-life options for a product are ranked according to their level of impact on the environment. The goal is to reduce or eliminate waste altogether.
Designers and engineers concerned with sustainability need to consider the waste hierarchy during the product development phase to ensure this stage of the life cycle is factored into considerations.
Zero waste is a concept that promotes the reduction and, ultimately, the elimination of waste altogether – although the phrase is often taken to mean low levels of waste rather than absolutely zero waste. Options to achieve this include everything from refusing an item in the first place to reuse, recycling and composting. Landfill is seen as a last resort.