Navigating the jargon minefield

From ESG to SDGs, Caroline Harridence of Counting Clouds will guide you through the terminology of sustainability

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Do you know what your carbon footprint is made up of? Is it better to be net zero or carbon neutral? What did COP26 involve?

When it comes to the world of sustainability, there is a lot of jargon! The abbreviations and buzzwords can be very confusing.

Here, I have provided some definitions of the key terminology to help you navigate your way through the sustainability maze. 

Let's start with some of the terms you often hear mentioned when we speak about sustainability:


This term is widely used by investors when they look at where they are going to invest their money and stands for environmental, social and governance.

The 'E' focuses on the environment, and how the company influences and helps to preserve it. The 'S' looks at the company’s relationships with its communities and with other companies, while the 'G' looks at how the company operates internally.


This stands for the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) covering areas such as poverty, climate and inequality. Established in 2015, they were created so that we can work towards a better and more sustainable future globally.

The goals are structured into 169 smaller targets and the aim is to achieve these by 2030.


CSR stands for corporate social responsibility and describes when a company wants to give something back to the community and provide positive social value. Typically, employers may enable staff to work on a community initiative. 

When it comes to carbon, there is a plethora of terms used. Some of the more common ones include:


This stands for greenhouse gases: gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorb heat emitted from its surface and radiate back to Earth. They include carbon dioxide, methane and ozone.


CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent and it includes carbon dioxide plus other greenhouse gases. It is a way to measure greenhouse gases based on their potential to cause global warming.

Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

Scope 1 emissions are directly emitted by an organisation, such as those that arise from the burning of fuel.

Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions usually associated with the acquisition of electricity or heating from an energy supplier.

Lastly, Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions created in an organisation’s value chain. These include emissions associated with business travel, waste disposal, leased assets and purchased goods and services.

Carbon footprint

Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere that are generated through an individual's actions. Your carbon footprint includes direct emissions from activities such as burning fuel and indirect ones from actions including aeroplane flights and electricity usage.

Net zero

Net Zero is where the greenhouse gas emissions emitted into the atmosphere are cancelled out by those that are removed.

To reach net zero, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible (eg cycle rather than drive) and then balance out any left by removing an equivalent amount.

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a way to reduce environmental impact via offsetting emissions through initiatives to remove the equivalent elsewhere in the atmosphere.

For example, offsetting through supporting projects such as planting trees is popular as the trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so helping to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases.


COP stands for the Conference Of Parties and and is the annual meeting of the members of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP26 was its 26th meeting; it took place in Glasgow in November 2021 and was attended by around 200 global leaders.

Agreements included phasing down unabated coal power, making clean power the most affordable and efficient option, and making zero-emission vehicles the norm.

Some other common terminology used include:


This is the term used when an organisation makes false or unsubstantiated claims about their sustainable actions or about the environmental benefits of their products or services in order to make them appear more environmentally friendly.

Triple bottom line

This is a concept used by businesses to look beyond their financial return and to consider their wider social and environmental responsibilities. The triple bottom line is also commonly called the 'triple P', which stands for profit, people and the planet.

Science-based targets

These are a set of company goals that are designed to reduce greenhouse gases. They provide the business with a pathway in order to make sustainable changes and to move forward towards a low-carbon economy.

The targets are referred to as 'science-based' when the reductions are in line with those needed to keep global temperature increases below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels.


TCFD stands for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and provides guidance for organisations.

The TCFD was created in 2015 by the Financial Stability Board in order to develop a set of consistent disclosures that organisations can use to provide information on climate-related matters to their stakeholders.

Circular economy

This is a model where resources are refurbished, recycled, repaired and reused as much as possible to keep them in the economic system for as long as possible. This, therefore, has an overall benefit on the environment as you don’t have to continually produce new products.