Sustainability Glossary

A comprehensive sustainability glossary: Key terms and concepts

This comprehensive glossary provides clear definitions of essential sustainability terms. Whether you're new to the field or looking to deepen your understanding, explore key concepts that are shaping a greener future.



Afforestation is the process of planting new trees on land that didn’t used to contain a forest. This can be done for numerous reasons, such as to combat climate change, to provide timber, or to restore ecosystem services. The reason trees are particularly effective at combatting climate change is that they absorb CO2 as they grow.

Anthropogenic removals

Anthropogenic removals refer to the process of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by way of human intervention. This can be done through methods such as enhancing carbon sinks or carbon capture and storage (capturing CO2 emissions and storing them underground) combined with bioenergy. The idea behind anthropogenic removals is that they can help mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing the amount of GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere. Although these methods are still being studied and developed, they will likely play a central role in future climate action efforts.


Baseline year

A baseline year, or “base year”, is a reference point used to measure and track an organization's changes in emissions over time. As a base year, an organization can use the year for which it has the most data or which best reflects its operations. For example, the IPCC’s baseline year, 2010, is used to project that total global emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 to reach net zero by 2050.


Bioenergy refers to energy that is produced by living organisms, such as plant material, agricultural waste, and forestry residues (tops and branches left over from forest harvesting or clearing). It is considered a renewable resource as, unlike fossil fuels (which are finite), the materials used to produce bioenergy can be replenished or regrown over time. There are several different types of bioenergy, including biogas and biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel.


Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are made from biomass (plant material such as sugar cane or corn) and can be used as substitutes for gasoline and diesel. One of the main factors inhibiting the use of biofuel today is its financial costs, which are around 70-130% higher than petrol and diesel.


Biogas is a kind of renewable energy that's produced by breaking down organic matter, like food waste or agricultural byproducts. This happens through “anaerobic digestion”, which is a natural process that occurs in the absence of oxygen.

During anaerobic digestion, bacteria break down organic matter and produce a mixture of gases, mostly methane and CO2, but also trace amounts of other gases. This mixture of gases is what we call biogas.

Biogas is often used as a fuel source to generate electricity or heat. It can also be refined and cleaned to create biomethane, which can be used as a substitute for natural gas. Biogas is a clean, renewable energy source that can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. 


Biomassis organic material that comes from plants and animals, such as animal manure, corn, food waste, vegetable oil, algae, wood, and even human sewage.

Biomass can be used as fuel to produce heat or electricity. In fact, biomass was the largest source of total annual U.S. energy consumption until the mid-1800s. It continues to be an important fuel source, particularly in developing countries, where it is often used for cooking and heating.

Blue carbon

Blue carbon is carbon that’s naturally captured by living organisms in coastal ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses) and the ocean. This carbon is stored in biomass (see above) and sediments.

Mangroves and salt marshes

Mangroves and salt marshes remove CO2 from the atmosphere 10 times faster than tropical forests.


Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing CO2 and storing it before it’s released into the atmosphere. CSS technology can capture 90-100% of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes such as cement production. Once the CO2 has been captured, it is compressed into a liquid state. It is then transported via pipeline, ship, or road tanker and pumped underground, where it’s stored.

Although CCS is costly and still under development, the IPCC believes that it will play a critical role in helping to reduce emissions and limit global warming.

Carbon credit

A carbon credit is a tradable certificate or permit that represents the right to emit a certain amount of CO2 or CO2 equivalent (CO2e). A carbon credit represents the prevention of one metric ton of CO2e released into or removed from the atmosphere. 

Carbon cycle

The carbon cycle is basically nature’s way of reusing carbon. Naturally, carbon atoms are continuously circulated throughout the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land. The carbon cycle helps regulate the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, so it’s a crucial component of the Earth's climate.

Where the likes of oceans and forests (also known as carbon sinks) absorb and store CO2, things like volcanoes, burning fossil fuels, and decomposition (also known as carbon sources) release CO2 back into the atmosphere. However, some processes, like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, release more CO2 into the atmosphere than they absorb. This disturbs the natural balance, leading to excess CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn is changing our climate by way of increasing global temperatures, causing ocean acidification, and disrupting the planet’s ecosystems.

Sustainability Carbon-Cycle-Infographic

Carbon dioxide removal

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Because CDR is the opposite of emissions, practices or technologies that remove CO2 can be described as achieving ‘negative emissions’.

The two primary kinds of CDR are: 1. Developing existing natural carbon removal processes (e.g., by reforestation and afforestation), or 2. by using CCS or DAC.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is essentially the measure of how much a person or company is contributing to climate change via their emissions, particularly their carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon footprints are measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 e) and are calculated by adding up all the CO2 released into the atmosphere as a result of activities such as transport, electricity use, manufacturing, packaging, and waste disposal. The goal is to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible to help slow climate change.

Carbon offsetting

Offsetting is a way to compensate for the GHG emissions that an organization or individual could not reduce by investing in projects or activities that reduce or remove the equivalent amount of emissions through things like renewable energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), or reforestation.

Offsetting should be undertaken only after every effort has been taken to reduce emissions. To avoid accusations of greenwashing, companies need to consider how, and how much, they rely on carbon offsets to achieve their net zero goals.

Carbon insetting

Where carbon offsetting has companies investing in external projects or activities to compensate for their emissions, carbon insetting turns inwards, financing projects within its own value chain. An example of this could be a hotel planting trees in its outdoor areas or a restaurant growing its own fresh produce.

Carbon sinks

A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. Examples include plants, the ocean, and soil. These carbon suckers continually take carbon out of the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis.


The phytoplankton living near the top of the ocean absorb as much CO2 through photosynthesis as the world’s forests and plants.

Carbon source

In contrast to a carbon sink, a carbon source is anything that releases more carbon into the atmosphere than it absorbs. Examples of this include the burning of fossil fuels or volcanic eruptions.

Carbon tax

A carbon tax is a tax that companies or individuals must pay to the government for each ton of GHG emissions emitted. Carbon taxes come in two broad forms: an emissions tax, which is based on the amount of emissions an entity emits, and a tax on GHG-intensive goods or services, like gasoline. 

Carbon taxes are intended to reveal the hidden or indirect social costs of carbon emissions, such as extreme weather events. Their goal is to make fossil fuels more expensive, incentivizing individuals and organizations to reduce their emissions by reducing their energy use or using cleaner energy sources. 

Carbon trading

Carbon trading is a system that lets companies or countries buy and sell allowances for the amount of GHGs they emit. The concept behind carbon trading is to put a price on carbon, which creates a financial incentive for companies and countries to reduce their environmental footprint. 

There are two main types of carbon trading systems: cap-and-trade and carbon tax.

Cap-and-trade systems limit (or “cap”) the amount of GHGs that companies or countries can emit. These limits are set by the government, which issues a certain number of allowances or "permits to pollute" to each sector every year. Companies that emit fewer GHGs than they are allocated can then sell their leftover allowances to companies emitting more than permitted. 

Carbon taxation is a policy where a fixed price must be paid for each ton of CO2 emitted. This is done by taxing the carbon content of fossil fuels at the point of production or importation. The aim is to make fossil fuels more expensive and encourage the use of cleaner energy sources.

Both cap-and-trade and carbon taxation aim to reduce the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere by putting a price on carbon and thus creating an economic incentive for companies to reduce their emissions. 

Climate justice

Climate justice refers to the idea that the burdens of climate change, its mitigation, and its associated responsibilities should be shared fairly and equitably. The concept also takes into account the idea that those most responsible for causing climate change, such as highly industrialized countries and large corporations, have a moral obligation to support those most affected by, and most ill-equipped to adapt to, its impacts.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutral generally refers to the balance between the amount of carbon an organization, product, or individual emits into the atmosphere and the amount removed or offset.

Becoming carbon neutral is a process that takes time and effort, requiring continual monitoring, reporting, and reduction of emissions over time.

Climate positive / Carbon negative

Being climate positive is the same as being carbon negative, which means that an organization reaches net zero carbon emissions and also removes additional CO2 from the atmosphere, thus positively affecting the climate.



Decarbonization is the process of reducing something’s carbon content, generally in order to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

In terms of energy production, decarbonization frequently refers to the transition away from fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas (which release a lot of CO2 when burned), to cleaner energy sources that have a lower carbon footprint (like renewable energy sources and nuclear energy).

Decarbonization can also refer to the process of reducing carbon emissions in industries, such as transportation, buildings, and agriculture. This could involve things like switching to electric vehicles, improving energy efficiency, and adopting sustainable farming practices.

Want to know more? You can learn about how data science can aid in the fight against climate change and support decarbonization efforts here


Deforestation refers to the removal of forests, either through natural processes or human activity. Deforestation contributes significantly to GHG emissions, as forests play a crucial role in regulating the Earth's temperature and mitigating climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Deforestation can result from activities such as the conversion of forestland to agriculture, the extraction of timber and other forest products, and the development of infrastructure. It can also be caused by natural events such as fires and storms.

Deforestation can have many negative impacts, including the loss of habitat for wildlife, the degradation of ecosystems, and the emission of GHGs from forest clearing and burning. Additionally, they further contribute to climate change, as forests play a vital role in regulating the Earth's temperature and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To address deforestation and its impacts, it’s important to implement policies and practices that promote sustainable land use and support the conservation and restoration of forests.


Around 8% of global emissions currently come from tropical deforestation. However, these same forests can provide 23% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed before 2030.

Direct air capture

Direct air capture (DAC) is a technology that captures CO2 directly from the air, rather than capturing it once it’s released by industrial processes like power generation or cement production. The technology uses filters (or other mediums) to absorb CO2, which is then compressed into a liquid form for storage.

DAC is useful for lowering the emissions of certain sectors that are difficult to decarbonize, such as aviation and long-haul transportation. Although it’s considered to be a relatively expensive way to reduce emissions, DAC technology is still being tested and, once further developed and widely deployed, could become a more financially feasible option.


Energy transition

The energy transition is the global, gradual shift from using fossil-based energy sources to operating on a low- or zero-carbon system by 2050.

Extreme weather event

Extreme weather events are extreme variations in weather conditions that are often more severe than expected for a particular place and time of year. They can include things like heat waves, cold snaps, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and droughts.

The consequences of extreme weather events be serious, including loss of life, property and infrastructure damage and disruptions to essential services like electricity and water. They can also have economic impacts when businesses are forced to close temporarily or incur extra costs to repair damage.


Global warming

Global warming refers to the long-term increase in the Earth’s average temperature. This temperature increase is primarily a result of human-caused GHG emissions. Global warming is triggering changes in our climate, including rising sea levels and extreme weather events, which in turn are significantly impacting our ecosystems, health, economies, and societies. The Paris Agreement aims to mitigate these impacts by limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases (or GHGs) are gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming land climate change. Like a greenhouse, the sun shines through our atmosphere, warming the earth. At night, the earth’s surface cools, releasing heat back into the air. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) (caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation) then trap this heat in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) is the most robust and widely used international framework for government and business leaders to understand, quantify, measure, and report greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of the GHGP is to set standards for businesses to help them measure and manage their emissions, fostering transparency and accountability.  


Greenwashing is when a company makes false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of their product or service to boost sales.


Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, during the third Conference of the Parties (COP3). It was drafted as an amendment to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and established legally binding GHG emissions reduction targets for 37 countries and the EU. Like the Paris Agreement, the goal of the Kyoto Protocol is to slow the rate of global warming. Despite being generally deemed a “failurefor not having met its goals, the Kyoto Protocol is seen as a significant step in combatting climate change.



Simply put, mitigation means stopping climate change from getting worse. There are numerous ways to mitigate climate change, including the use of renewable power sources like wind and solar; making buildings, appliances and vehicles more energy efficient; and protecting forests and planting trees.


Net positive

Net positive implies that something has more of a positive than a negative impact. For example, a building with a net positive energy usage generates more energy than it uses, contributing energy back to the grid.

Net zero

Net zero refers to the balance between how much greenhouse gas (GHG) is produced and how much is removed from the atmosphere. When we achieve a balance (where the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away), then we can say we’ve reached net zero. 

According to the SBTi, net zero targets must align to a 1.5°C science-based target and their boundaries must include all three scopes.


Paris Agreement

Under the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 nations in 2015, countries collectively agreed to reduce their emissions with the goal to prevent global temperatures from increasing above 2°C (and preferably capping it at 1.5°C) compared to pre-industrial levels.



Reforestation is the process of planting trees in an area where a forest has previously existed, but which has been removed or damaged. Just like afforestation, reforestation helps combat climate change through the trees’ natural ability to absorb CO2.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy is energy derived from natural, renewable resources that are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed. This includes sources like sunlight, wind, the movement of water, and geothermal heat. 

It’s believed that renewables are projected to supply 70-85% of electricity by 2050. Not only this, but solar and wind power now provide the cheapest power available for 67% of the world.



Science-based targets (SBTs)

SBTs are emissions reduction targets that are aligned with the levels of decarbonization needed to keep global warming within the internationally agreed target of 2°C (and preferably closer to 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels. These targets are set using the latest climate science and they aim to provide companies, cities, and countries with a clear and ambitious pathway to emissions reductions. 

According to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a company’s SBT must incorporate scope 1 and 2 emissions if they make up more than 5% of their total emissions. Additionally, they must report all scope 3s if they make up 40% or more of their total emissions.

Companies that set SBTs are largely seen as leaders in the fight against climate change and are often recognized by reputable organizations such as the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi). 


Sequestration is the process of capturing and removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it. This can be done through the use of technology or naturally. Reforestation is an example of a natural form of carbon sequestration, as trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it.

Scope 4

Scope 4 emissions are avoided emissions that occur outside a company’s value chain but result from the use of its product or service. The two main kinds of avoided emissions are:
1. The replacement of a more emission-intensive product. For example, a company can eliminate in-person meetings by providing teleconferencing services, which leads to lower emissions.
2. A product that enables emissions reductions elsewhere. An example of this would be a laundry detergent manufacturer creating a new detergent that requires lower washer temperatures, allowing customers to use less energy (and generate less emissions) in their own processes.

*It’s important to note that scope 4 emissions cannot be used to offset or reduce scopes 1,2 and 3 emissions. 

Sustainable development

Sustainable development is present economic growth and development that doesn’t harm the social, economic, and environmental needs of future generations.


Tipping point

When referring to climate change, the tipping point is the point at which it’s deemed too late to stop the effects of climate change. According to climate scientists, the tipping point could be triggered by exceeding 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels.

Brainbox AI’s Privacy Policy

Types of Personal Information we collect

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Address
  • Postal Code
  • Email Address
  • Phone and/or Fax numbers
  • Employment history, education, and other information that may be included in a resume as well as information such as date of birth, gender, position, etc. for employment purposes
  • Social media profiles

How we use your Personal Information

  • Information / Promotional offers
  • Statistics
  • Communication with Customers
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Improve our products and services
  • Compliance with legal and regulatory requirements

Third parties who collect and/or store your Personal Information

The following third party service providers help us operating by collecting and/or storing your Personal Information on our behalf:
  • AWS
  • Atlassian
  • Microsoft
  • Bamboo HR
  • HubSpot
  • Pipedrive

Know your rights

  • Oppose and Opt out of collection of your Personal Information
  • Withdrawal of your Personal Information
  • Access, rectification, and erasure of your Personal Information
  • Data portability of your Personal Information

When and how we collect Personal Information

We collect Personal Information from individuals browsing our website, individuals who fill out forms on our website, and customers of Brainbox AI, when...
You give
We collect

You browse any page of our website

You fill out a form on our website

You receive emails from us

You opt-in to marketing emails

You request a dashboard account

We use cookies

  • Cookies are small text files that are saved on your computer when you view a website
  • Our website includes links to our social media accounts, which may use cookies to obtain information about your use
  • You can disable cookies by adjusting your web browser settings at any time. Turning off cookies could limit the use of our website

For more information regarding our Privacy Policy, please email:

Linkedin medium slack Twitter Rectangle-3 Page 1 bell checkclipboard copy 8 Comment Icon Combined Shape facebook locked copy 8 Juro_logotype Page 1 Combined Shape Copy Page 1 shield copy 8 Page 1 viewed