Sustainability glossary

Date : 05 February 2009

Confused about sustainability terminology? The following glossary contains abbreviations, terms and clear definitions on a range of sustainability and CSR topics. Simply click on the link below:

Several entries include links to IGD's free sustainability factsheets where you'll find even more information and links to related topics.





















the increase in food price that occurs as a result of increased demand on food for human consumption and energy.
- Biofuels factsheet

A black carbon by-product of pyrolysis, it has been suggested that it has the ability to improve soil's ability to store carbon.

Anaerobic digestion
A naturally occurring process of decomposition and decay, were organic matter is broken down to a simpler chemical component under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen).
- Anaerobic Digestion factsheet

Back haul
Any return load taken after the delivery has been made.

Biodegradable Municipal Waste (BMW)
Waste that can be degraded, commonly know as rubbish, garbage and trash.

The biofuel substitute for diesel. It derives from oilseed based crops – mainly oilseed rape (OSR) in the UK, and palm oil in South East Asia.
- Biofuels factsheet

The biofuel substitute for petrol (gasoline). It derives from cereal based crops – mainly wheat in the UK, and maize (corn), soya beans and sugarcane in the US and South America.
- Biofuels factsheet

The biofuel substitute for natural gas. It derives from organic waste materials including animal waste and waste generated from municipal, commercial and industrial sources through the process of anaerobic digestion. Biogas is a ‘second generation fuel’, i.e. it is derived from non-food sources.
- Second Generation Biofuels factsheet
- Anaerobic Digestion factsheet

Black water, brown water, foul water, or sewage
Term used to describe water containing human effluent.

Blue water
Refers to surface and ground water.

Cap and trade
A cap being placed on the total amount of allowable emissions, the distribution of this total between polluters, and the creation of a marketplace where owners of the permits can trade with each other.
- Emissions Trading factsheet

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
The process of capturing carbon that is emitted from energy production and diverting it into ground storage areas, to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e)
The internationally recognised way of expressing the amount of global warming of a particular greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 required to achieve the same warming effect over 100 years.

Carbon footprint
The total emissions of greenhouse gases (in carbon equivalents) from whichever source is being measured – be it at an individual, organisation or product level.
- Carbon Footprinting & Labelling factsheet

Carbon labelling
Used to measure for the consumers the amount of embedded carbon there is in the product.
- Carbon Footprinting & Labelling factsheet

Carbon Neutral
Through carbon offsetting organisation to individual are counterbalancing the emissions they produce to make themselves carbon neutral.
- Carbon Offsetting factsheet

Carbon offsetting
The process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing credits from others through emissions reductions projects, or carbon trading schemes. The term often refers to voluntary acts, arranged by a commercial carbon offset provider.
- Carbon Offsetting factsheet

Carbon Reduction Commitment
Is a scheme, that will apply mandatory emissions trading to cut carbon emissions from large commercial and public sector organisations.
- Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) factsheet

Carbon Sink
An absorber of carbon dioxide; oceans and forests are natural carbon sinks.

Carbon Zero
This is to reduce all carbon emission to zero by good practice, not including offsetting.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
UN regulated scheme that allows countries with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries.

Co-Management Inventory (CMI)
Retailers and manufactures work together to reduce the level of stock holding to improve the availability of products in the supply chain.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)
Using the waste heat which is a by-product of energy production to heat space.

The loading of two or more suppliers’ deliveries to a retailers distribution centre DC on a single vehicle.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
A businesses plan to reduce its impact on environmental, social and political issues.
- Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainable Development factsheet

Cradle to grave
The life of a product, from creation to end use.

Cradle to cradle
Using an end use product for the source of a new product.

Decentralised Energy (DE)
Producing energy on a local scale away from the conventional large scale power plant production process.
- Renewable energy through micro-generation factsheet

Distribution centre (DC)
A warehouse that is the sole stocking point for the distribution system that it services.

Measures how much area of natural resources human population requires to produce the products it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing

Embedded Carbon
The term used to describe the way in which the carbon footprint of a product, as measured by a full lifecycle assessment from ‘cradle to grave’, can be represented in terms of kg of CO2 per kg of product.
- Carbon Footprinting & Labelling factsheet

Embedded water, virtual water, embodied water or shadow water
The amount of water that is used to produce a good, from the start to finish. It includes all the water that has been used throughout the whole production of a good.
- Embedded Water in Food Production factsheet

Emissions trading
Refers to the trading of permits which allow emissions of set amounts of greenhouse gases.
- Emissions Trading factsheet

Ethical consumerism
The purchasing of products that do not harm or exploit the workers that help produce a product and to minimise the impact on the environment.
- Ethical Consumerism factsheet

Ethical investment or Socially Responsible Investment (SRI)
Money that is directed towards activities which have a positive social and/or ecological impact.
- Socially Responsible Investment factsheet

Is a label that appears on UK products as a guarantee that they have been certified against internationally agreed Fairtrade standards. 

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation setup to respond to concerns over global deforestation. It provides internationally recognised standard setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies, organisations and communities interested in responsible forestry. See Forest Stewardship Council
- Forest Stewardship Council factsheet

Global warming
Is most often used to refer to the greenhouse gas effect caused by human activities.

Greenhouse effect
Gases produced naturally and by human activities that have contributed to the warming of the planet, know as Global warming, by trapping the suns rays.

The term used to describe a positive public relations act that has unsound environmental benefits.

Green water
Water stored within soil as moisture and includes transpiration by the plants and other forms of evaporation.

Gray water
Polluted water that is associated with the production of goods and services, it is calculated as the volume of water that is required to dilute pollutants to such an extent that the quality of the water remains above agreed water quality standards.

Ground source heat pumps
Use energy stored in the ground, which can provide heating for buildings.

Incineration (direct combustion)
The controlled burning of municipal solid waste to reduce waste volume and to produce energy.
- Energy Recovery and Disposal factsheet

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)
Is a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). (Source: IPCC)

Just-in-time (JIT)
Movement of goods or part finished store to next point in the supply chain just as it is required for use or consumption.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
Financial and non-financial indicators for the performance of a company.

Kyoto Protocol
Is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (Source: UNFCCC)

A method of disposal of rubbish, by burying it underground

Life cycle assessment
A tool for the evaluating the environmental impact of a product or service system through all stages of its life cycle.
- Carbon Footprinting & Labelling factsheet

Marine Stewardship Council
Is a certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable seafood.
- Marine Stewardship Council factsheet

Micro-generation or micro-energy
The production of energy on a small scale, e.g. wind turbine, solar panels.
- Renewable energy through micro-generation factsheet

Negative screening
Identifying companies that partake in ‘bad’ practises, such as arms dealing and cigarette production.

Oilseed Rape (OSR)
Raw material for Biodiesel.
- Biofuels factsheet

Overweight and obesity
Defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.

Packaging Waste Recovery Notes (PRN) and Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERN)
The only legal forms to demonstrate compliance by the producer that the required amount of recovery and recycling has been carried out.

Plasma arc heating
Municipal solid waste is heated to very high temperatures (between 3,000-10,000C) using a plasma arc. Energy is released by an electrical discharge in an inert atmosphere. This converts the organic waste into a hydrogen-rich gas and non-organic waste into an inert glassy residue.
- Energy Recovery and Disposal factsheet

Positive screening
Monitoring a company’s ethical performance by the good that it does.
- Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainable Development factsheet
- Sustainability case studies

Post consumer food waste
Household food waste.
- Household Food Waste factsheet

The heating of waste to high temperatures to break down any carbon content, through an absence of air to a mixture of gaseous and liquid fuels and solid residue. e.g. the conversion of wood to charcoal.
- Energy Recovery and Disposal factsheet

Rainforest Alliance
Is an organisation that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour.
- Rainforest Alliance factsheet

Rainwater Harvesting
The collection and use of rain which falls on buildings and would otherwise go straight to the drainage system. After filtration and settlement the water can be use for a variety of purposes.

Retail Ready Packaging (RRP) and Shelf Ready Packaging (SRP)
Packaging that is fit-for-purpose in-store.
- Retail Ready Packaging download

Secondary recovered fuel
The recovering of energy from waste that cannot realistically be reused or recycled from mechanical and biological treatment processes.
- Energy Recovery and Disposal factsheet

Small and medium enterprises (SME)
The E.U currently defines companies with fewer than 50 employees as small and those with fewer than 250 as medium.

Solar Panels
Cover two areas of generation:
1) Solar thermal or solar water heating panels which is used to heat water.
2) Solar electric which is used to produce electricity also know as photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar cells that convert light into electricity.

Supply chain
The processes that the food undergoes to get from the farm to the retailer.
- UK Food & Grocery Retail Logistics Overview factsheet

The element of transport between distribution centres.

Water footprint
The total volume of freshwater that is used to produce goods and services consumed by an individual, community, nation or planet.
- National Water Footprints factsheet

Water scarcity
When annual availability of renewable fresh water is 1,000 cubic meters or less per person in the population.
- National Water Footprints factsheet

Water self-sufficiency
The ratio of the internal water footprint to the total water footprint of a country. It indicates the national capability of supplying the water needed for the production of their domestic demand for goods and services.
- National Water Footprints factsheet


Further Terms

If there are any further terms you would like to be added to the glossary, please email [email protected]


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