Glossary: Unpacking Climate Terminology

Glossary: Unpacking Climate Terminology

Climate is an emerging space with a fair amount of jargon and specific terminology. This is where the glossary comes into play: a jumping-off point for further exploration.

Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation or community. The amount of carbon dioxide released by a particular individual, organisation or community is represented in a carbon footprint.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutral is a term used to describe how a company or individual balance out their carbon emissions by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere.

Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a form of ‘carbon compensation’. Carbon offsetting allows an individual or business to compensate for every tonne of CO2 they have emitted to ensure there is one less tonne in the atmosphere. Carbon offsetting can be achieved by supporting environmentally friendly projects such as reforestation.

Carbon Tax

A fee that a government imposes on any company that burns fossil fuels. The purpose of a carbon tax is to reflect the true cost of burning those fossil fuels.

Carbon Zero

Carbon zero is a term used when a product, company or service produces no net carbon emissions in any area of their business or lifecycle. This is typically achieved by a company offsetting the emissions created as a result of their operations rather than a company having no emissions in the first place.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible. A circular economy is based on three principles; design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems.

Circular Supply Chain

A circular supply chain is one that aims to reuse 'waste' materials and parts back into the manufacturing process, so it can be used and sold again. It aims to reduce waste and reduce the environmental footprint of the product.

Circular Material

A circular material is one where the content comes from recycled and reclaimed materials, the products produced can theoretically be recycled back into the system, and the materials are actually recycled back into the system in the future. Additionally, the material should be produced in a safer way, with respect to all living systems.

Climate Action

Climate action refers to efforts that are in addition to the normal operations of a company or individual to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a way to tackle climate change.

Climate Change

Climate change is term used to describe a change in the average conditions, such as temperature and rainfall, in a region over a long period of time. Climate Change in today's context also refers to the human-caused changes in global climate conditions that threatens the stability of the Earth's climate.


Conservation is the planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction or neglect.


Decarbonisation refers to the reduction, or elimination, of carbon dioxide from energy, production and consumption.

Digital Carbon Footprint

A digital carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the digital activities of a particular individual, organisation or community. The transmission of via the internet can be very polluting, therefore, every time we use the internet a small amount of carbon is emitted, creating a digital carbon footprint.

Internal Carbon Budget

An internal budget which often places a monetary value on greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses can use a carbon budget to factor the cost of their emissions into investment decisions and business operations. Similar to a carbon tax, but a carbon price is instead imposed by companies on themselves.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

The ability of a greenhouse has to absorb heat and trap it in the atmosphere. For each greenhouse gas, it is relative to carbon dioxide, which has a GWP of 1.

Green Data

Big data is data that can be analysed to reveal patterns, trends and associations. A green data centre is a repository for the storage, management, and dissemination of data in which the mechanical, lighting, electrical and computer systems are designed for maximum energy efficiency and minimum environmental impact.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG)

Any gaseous compounds that absorb infrared radiation, trap heat in the atmosphere, and contribute to the 'greenhouse effect'. The primary GHGs in our atmosphere include; water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

Greenhouse Effect

The warming of the surface and atmosphere of a planet, like Earth, due to solar radiation into heat - which is then absorbed by the planet's surface, and re-radiated back to the surface by greenhouse gases.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment is a framework for analysing the impact of a manufactured product. It focuses on all stages of a product's life cycle: Materials, Manufacturing, Transportation, Consumer Use and End of Life. It is often referred to as a Life Cycle Analysis.

Low Carbon Business

A low carbon business has a business model, strategy and operating structure designed to minimise the greenhouse gas emissions that result from their operations and activities.

Low Carbon Economy

A low carbon economy is ones where energy, materials, operations and consumption have been optimised to produce the lowest possible emissions

Low Carbon Manufacturing

Often abbreviated to LCM, low carbon manufacturing it is a term used to refer to the manufacturing process that produces low carbon emissions.

Net Zero

Net zero refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere.

Net Zero Carbon

Net zero carbon refers to a state in which the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere is balanced by removal of carbon out of the atmosphere.

Product Footprint

A product footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (or greenhouse gases) released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities related to producing a product. Often, it also includes activities related to the use and disposal of that product. It is also referred to as a Product Environmental Footprint (PEF).

Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency means utilising using the Earth’s limited resources in a sustainable manner in order to function effectively, while minimising impacts on the environment.

Scope 1

All direct emissions from sources a company owns and controls. A company is directly responsible for its Scope 1 emissions. For example, emissions generated due to company vehicles.

Scope 2

All indirect emissions a company produces via purchased energy or electricity. For example, energy purchased to heat an office will produce indirect Scope 2 emissions.

Scope 3

All indirect emissions in a company's value chain. These are emissions a company is not directly responsible for. For example, the energy used in a supplier's manufacturing process falls into Scope 3 emissions.

Sustainable Supply Chain

A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific product. A sustainable supply chain represents a systematic approach to reduce the emissions resulting from the steps it takes to get the product, or service, from its original state to the customer.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is economic development that is conducted without the depletion of natural resources.

Sustainable Materials

A sustainable material, or resource, is something that is used up at the same speed it is renewed and its production is supported indefinitely by nature. From the raw materials being extracted to the final product, a sustainable resource or material causes no permanent damage to the environment.


If you've got any suggestions for terminology to add, send it across to