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Sustainability Terms: A Useful List of Terms you might need to know

Handy Terms to Know When Talking About Sustainability

The journey towards becoming a more eco-conscious business can be confusing and intimidating. Terms like recycling, water conservation and solar power have been around for quite a while now, but there’s a lot more to being environmentally-friendly than putting your plastics in the correct bin!

There’s a lot of terminology that goes along with improving your environmental impact, and we’re here to help you to better understand some terms that will help you to maximize your eco-conscious efforts!

Sustainability vs. Environmental Sustainability

At first glance, the terms “sustainability” and “environmental sustainability” may seem interchangeable. However, there are some sizeable differences that will make a big difference to how your customers receive your efforts.

The term “sustainability” on its own currently refers to all actions and movements that maintain and/or increase the global quality of life. Environmental efforts are certainly a large part of sustainability, but social and economic efforts are just as important. In conversations about sustainability, you can refer to the Three Pillars of Sustainability as a tool for focusing your sustainability goals!

If your business is looking to prioritise environmental work, “environmental sustainability” is work that is pointed towards ensuring that future generations have the natural resources available to live an equal or better way of life as current generations. This involves both reducing the damage being done now as well as reversing as much of the damage done by previous generations as possible.

Triple Bottom Line

As a business, one of your main priorities while working towards positive environmental impact is maintaining a profit. A handy term to keep in mind is the “Triple Bottom Line”. No doubt you are already familiar with a Bottom Line, but incorporating the Triple Bottom Line in your reviews will help you to keep both your profits and sustainability efforts on track.

The Triple Bottom Line includes social and environmental impacts of your business in bottom line analysis via the Three Lines: People, Planet, Profit.

Because the word sustainability refers to your impact socially and environmentally, the Triple Bottom Line acknowledges that your business’s priority lies with profit and places emphasis on people and planet as an equal priority.

Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by your actions. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons. Chlorofluorocarbons are simple gaseous compounds used as refrigerants, cleaning solvents, and aerosol propellants, as well as in the manufacturing process of plastic foams. Hydrofluorocarbons are also simple gaseous compounds, but they are also found in air-conditioning, building insulation, and fire extinguishing systems along with refrigeration and aerosols like chlorofluorocarbons.

Carbon Neutral or Net-Zero Carbon

If a business claims to be “Carbon Neutral” or have reached “Net-Zero Carbon” they have balanced the amount of greenhouse gases they emit with an equivalent amount of more beneficial emissions. One of the most common ways that some businesses have already begun their efforts towards carbon neutrality is to plant trees that will absorb the same amount of CO2 that the business emits. You can also balance out your carbon emissions by funding an effort that is working toward an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.

Zero Emissions

While reaching Carbon Neutrality is a great goal to work towards on your environmental journey, you should also consider if it may be possible for your business to pursue Zero Emissions. Zero Emissions refers to a process or energy source that emits no waste products that pollute the environment or disrupt the climate. This doesn’t exclusively refer to carbon emissions, it also includes wastewater emissions which contribute heavily to the pollution and disruption of natural ecosystems.

Zero Liquid Discharge

A large part of environmental sustainability involves repairing and protecting your local waterways. If your business uses a producing process that creates wastewater and releases it back into the local environment, consider incorporating a Zero Liquid Discharge process. Zero Liquid Discharge, or ZLD, is a water treatment process designed to eliminate all of the liquid waste from a system. This process removes the discharge pollutants from a point source like a building or factory to make the water suitable for return to local waterways or for further use. In recent years, ZLD technology has leapt forward to develop many different methods of removing pollutants from water including electrodialysis, forward osmosis, and membrane distillation. Depending on your business, one method may suit you better over others!


If you’re a US-based business, hoping to wear some environmental-cred on your sleeve, you should consider getting certified by some of the environmental agencies listed below! If your business doesn’t qualify for any of the below certifications, look into your supply chain and consider restructuring it to prioritise businesses with these certifications:

PEER- Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal, the US’s first rating system for measuring and improving the performance of power systems and electricity delivery systems.

LEED- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the most widely used rating system for green buildings in the world. This certification system is used to measure the construction of energy efficient and resource efficient buildings that are also healthy to live in.

TRUE- Total Resource Use and Efficiency, a complement certification to LEED, PEER, and other green rating systems, TRUE focuses on waste and diverting it from landfills or the environment by prioritising reusing.

Is That Everything?

In a word, no! But, familiarising yourself and your business with these terms and certification will provide a great boost to your environmental efforts, and showing your customers that you understand your role in sustainability will encourage them to support your efforts and more importantly– YOU!