26 Covering Sustainability: Glossary of Terms, Concepts

Business has its own language. So, too, does sustainability. Navigating through the specialized maze of carbon and sustainability terms can be confounding. Anytime your subject uses a specialized term, ask for a definition. Here are a few terms to get you started:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization released the ISO 26000 social responsibility standard. It defines social responsibility as: “Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment through transparent and ethical behavior…”

Carbon footprint

Measurement of how many tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted from the consumption of fossil fuel.

Clean technology

Often called clean tech, any number of technologies that is less harmful to the environment than conventional technologies. Solar and wind power are examples of clean tech.

Sustainable design

A practice of creating product or building designs in environmentally responsible ways, including using less material, using materials that don’t deplete or harm the natural environment.


Fuel that is made from living matter.

Renewable energy

Energy that comes from natural resources such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal sources.

Life-cycle assessment

An analysis of environmental aspects associated with a product, process, or service, all the way from production and usage to disposal.

Zero waste

Discarded materials are designed to become resources for other uses.

Smart grid

Digital communication to control electricity use.

Green building

A practice of creating structures and processes in environmentally responsible ways, including siting, design, materials, construction, operation, and maintenance.

Green supply chain

Measurement and management of environmental impacts and greenhouse gases emissions from producing materials used in a product.


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