Climate Change - Don’t be bamboozled by buzzwords

April 03, 2023

Have you ever attended a meeting or conference where new buzz words were used with no explanation of their meaning? From terms like carbon footprint to triple bottom line to greenwashing, there’s a whole world of buzzwords used in the climate change and sustainability conversation.

In the world of sustainability, words seem to come in and out of fashion very frequently and even those working in the field can often struggle to keep up with the latest new acronym or buzzword.

Have you ever attended a meeting where words like the ‘circular economy’, the ‘bioeconomy’ and the ‘linear economy’ are used with the assumption that everyone in the room understands? People mention the Paris climate change agreement and you nod but are not sure what it’s all about.

Fear that you are the only person in the room who is unfamiliar with a term or acronym will often prevent us asking the speaker to explain. To help you become more familiar with some of the most common terms, I have compiled a simple glossary of climate and sustainability buzzwords. A cheat sheet of sorts!

Corporate Sustainability

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the 17 goals adopted by the countries that are members of the United Nations to improve human lives and protect the environment.

CSR Directive
The Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSR) Directive is a new EU directive (5 Jan '23) that modernises and strengthens the rules about the social and environmental information that companies have to report. This Directive requires large companies and listed companies to publish regular reports (e.g. annual report) on the social and environmental risks they face, and on how their activities impact people and the environment. The EU aims to create a culture of transparency about the impact of companies on people and the environment globally. The public reporting of social and environmental information also ensures that investors and other stakeholders have access to the information they need to assess investment risks arising from climate change and other sustainability issues.

ESG means using Environmental, Social and Governance factors to evaluate companies and countries on how far advanced they are with sustainability. Once enough data has been acquired on these three metrics, they can be integrated into the investment process when deciding what equities or bonds to buy.

Triple Bottom Line
A framework or theory that recommends that companies commit to focus on social and environmental concerns just as they do on profits. 

Linear Economy
This economic system is the traditional model used by society, the "take, make, dispose" model of production.

Circular Economy
A circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.

The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, micro-organisms, and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles. It includes and interlinks land and marine ecosystems and the services they provide;
- all primary production sectors that use and produce biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture)
- and all economic and industrial sectors that use biological resources and processes to produce food, feed, bio-based products, energy, and services.

Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you'll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life.

Green Washing
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly.


Climate change
A significant change in the measures of climate, such as temperature, rainfall, or wind, lasting for an extended period – decades or longer.

Greenhouse Gases
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. This trapping of heat is called the greenhouse effect. Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Ozone, and water vapour together form the greenhouse gases. An increase in greenhouse gases due to human activity has caused global warming and climate change.

Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol was the first international treaty and conference attended by over 150 countries to decide a series of actions needed to prevent global warming. The target was set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5%. It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 as a landmark diplomatic achievement. However, 100 developing countries including India & China were exempt from the commitment on account of being developing countries with low emissions.

Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement was a follow-up agreement after the Kyoto Protocol, calling the participating countries to submit a defined plan with deadlines for mitigating global warming. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C. The Paris Agreement is a lot more focused, with clearer, better-defined goals. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, it is politically encouraged, rather than legally bound.

Climate change mitigation
Mitigation in climate change is a human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. In climate policy, mitigation measures are technologies, processes or practices that contribute to mitigation, for example renewable energy (RE) technologies, waste minimisation processes, public transport commuting practices.

Carbon footprint
The amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.

Carbon neutral
The state of an entity (such as a company, service, product, or event), where the carbon emissions caused by them have been balanced out by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.

Carbon trading
Carbon trading is like a stock market for carbon emissions. In the EU it is called the European Emissions Trading Scheme. A cap or limit on emissions is set by a governing body, most often a government. The government auctions off or distributes permissions for the industry, allowing them only a specific amount of emissions that they can generate. Companies are incentivised to cut their pollution faster and sell surplus allowances to companies that pollute more, or “bank” them for future use. Over time, the total cap is reduced leading to fewer and fewer emissions.

Carbon offsets
Carbon offsets are financial contributions to projects that remove CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere created due to human activity. These can be made by individuals, companies of governments and are often carried by retailers or NGOs. One of the most carbon-intensive activities which is frequently offset is air travel. Popular carbon offsets include reforestation, investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and methane digesters.

Renewable energy
An energy resource that is replaced rapidly by a natural process such as power generated from the sun or from the wind.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a way of reducing carbon emissions. It’s a three-step artificial process, involving: capturing the carbon dioxide produced by power generation or industrial activity, such as steel or cement making; transporting it; and then storing it deep underground.

Anne Murphy
Ibec Networks