Sustainability is full of jargon and acronyms which we aim to demystify here.




Eliminating or reducing pollution or emissions.


Any adjustment to the effects of a given event, in a sustainability scenario an adjustment to global warming.



A value determined from data gathered at a specific point, which can be used to comparatively evaluate efficacy of subsequent sustainability initiatives.


The variety of animal and plant life in a given ecosystem. High biodiversity generally indicates a healthy ecosystem.


Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. An environmental assessment method and rating system for sustainable building design, construction and operation. It encourages designers, clients and others to think about low carbon and low impact design, minimising the energy demands created by a building.


Carbon budget

The defined maximum amount of carbon dioxide an entity agrees to emit during a specified period.

Carbon credit

A unit which can be purchased to offset greenhouse gas emissions by representing carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide (carbon)

A greenhouse gas composed of one carbon and two oxygen atoms. It is colourless and odourless. The  presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased due to fossil fuel combustion, contributing to global warming.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)

Standard used to measure the warming potential of greenhouse gases – referencing the amount of CO2 which would cause the equivalent warming effect.

Carbon Footprint

The total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person.

Carbon neutral

When a company’s total emissions released into the atmosphere are balanced by the total emissions removed. Unlike the concept of Net Zero this does not depend on all possible emissions having been eliminated.

Carbon offset

An action which compensates for carbon dioxide emissions produced by an anthropogenic activity, by making equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Carbon sink

Anything which absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. For example, forests, trees and peatlands.

Carbon storage, carbon sequestration or carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Carbon dioxide prevented from reaching, or removed from the atmosphere, which is then stored in geological formations, soil, biomass or oceans.

Carbon tax

Tax levied on the carbon emissions required to produce goods and services. Intended to encourage organisations to reduce their carbon emissions.

Carbon wedge

A carbon wedge or emissions wedge is a tool used to visualise the volume of emissions reductions. Typically represented as a bar chart, each wedge represents a specific emissions reduction strategy.


Climate Change Agreements. Voluntary agreements between UK industry
And the Environment Agency to reduce CO2 emissions and energy use.
In return, operators will receive a discount on the CCL (Climate Change Levy). 


Climate Change Levy. A tax added to electricity and fuel bills. 


Carbon Disclosure Project. A non profit organistion which maintains a global disclosure system, assisting investors, companies, cities and regions to manage their environmental impacts.


Climate Disclosure Standards Board. Internationally accepted standard for disclosing environmental information, natural capital and associated business impacts.


Combined heat and power is an energy efficient technology which generates electricity and captures heat which would otherwise be wasted, in order to use it for additional purposes. 

Circular Economy

A model of production and consumption, in which existing materials are reused, recycled, repaired, shared, leased, and refurbished for as long as possible in order to retain materials in the economy at the highest value.

Climate Change

Long-term changes in temperature and weather patterns, accelerated by human activities such as fossil fuel burning.


Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence. Aiming to harmonise rules at the EU-level, creating a level playing field between companies; it enforces a corporate due diligence duty on in-scope companies to help ensure they are contributing to sustainable development and the sustainable transition of economies.


Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. Disclosure of data on the impact of their activities on people and the planet and any sustainability risks they are exposed to. Aims to end greenwashing, strengthen the EU’s social market economy and lay the groundwork for sustainability reporting standards at global level.



Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This term describes the efforts an institution makes to create a more varied and welcoming workplace for people from all backgrounds.


Display Energy Certificates promote the improvement of energy performance in buildings. They are based upon actual energy usage of a building and increase transparency about the energy efficiency of public buildings.


Ecosystem services

Natural systems which have a benefit for humanity, for example vegetation providing a flood buffer.


An environmental sustainability ratings platform. EcoVadis assesses corporate sosial responsibility and sustainable procurement.


Energy Efficiency Directive. An EU directive from 2012 setting rules and obligations for achieving the EU’s 2020 and 2030 energy efficiency targets.


Production and release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


Environmental management system. For example ISO 140001. A set of guidelines which integrate training methods, monitoring, measuring and reporting of environmental data to stakeholders, to reduce the environmental impact of an organisation and increase operational efficiency.


Energy Performance in Building Directive, is the Directive 2010/31/EU (EPBD, 2003) requiring all EU countries to enhance their building regulations and to introduce energy certification schemes for buildings. All countries were also required to have inspections of boilers and air-conditioners.


Energy Performance Certification. All commercial properties require an EPC, which rates the energy efficiency of the building on a scale of A-G, where A signifies the highest level of efficiency. Unlike the DEC (which gives an Operational Rating) the EPC provides an asset rating of the building fabric and fixed services, based on a survey of the building.


Extended producer responsibility. Policy approach which necessitates producers taking responsibility for the impact of their product at all stages of its life cycle.


Environmental, Social and Governance. A system which emphasises sustainable practices within businesses. Environmental focuses on a company’s contribution to climate change related issues, for example reducing emissions. Social refers to human rights and labour issues, and governance refers to a set of responsible expectations between stakeholders when managing a corporation.

ESG integration

A term used in sustainable finance, referring to the deliberate inclusion of material ESG factors in investment analysis and decisions. ESG risks are always considered and accounted for.


Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme. An energy assessment scheme for organisations to undertake comprehensive assessments of total energy consumption and carry out energy audits to identify cost effective energy savings opportunities.

Ethical investment

Investments producing an overall postitive impact on people and/or the planet.

EU taxonomy

Tool created by the European Commission to assist organisations in transitioning to a low-carbon economy.


European waste catalogue classifies waste materials and categorises them according to what they are and how they were produced. The UK requires reference to an EWC code on all Duty of Care Transfer Notes. The catalogue has been amended several times since the initial list of wastes was produced.



Fuel and Energy-Related Activities. Refers to the losses that occur during distribution of power from the original generation point to the point of use. One of the categories of Scope 3 emissions in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.


Feed in Tariff policy mechanism is designed to encourage the adoption of electricity led renewable energy technologies and to help accelerate the move toward security of supply and grid parity.

Fossil Fuel

A hydrocarbon-containing natural fuel source which is formed naturally in the earth’s crust from the remains of dead plants and animals. Due to the long timeframe of its formation (millions of years) these are not ‘renewable’.



Greenhouse Gas. Greenhouse Gases contribute to the greenhouse effect due to high concentrations of these gases remaining in the atmosphere. The GHGs of most concern include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxides (N2O).

GHG Inventory

A list outlining the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions and sources for an organisation.

Global warming potential

An index, based on radiative properties of greenhouse gases, measuring the radiative forcing following a pulse emission of a unit mass of a given greenhouse gas in the present-day atmosphere integrated over a chosen time horizon, relative to that of carbon dioxide. The GWP represents the combined effect of the differing times these gases remain in the atmosphere and their relative effectiveness in causing radiative forcing. The Kyoto Protocol is based on GWPs from pulse emissions over a 100-year time frame.

Greenhouse effect

Trapping of heat in the earth’s atmosphere, due to greenhouse gases trapping heat from the sun.


The process of communicating deceiving or misleading information about a company’s commitment to environmental responsibility. 


Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmarking provides transparency on sustainability issues by measuring the relative performance of a property company or fund as compared to peers in the same country/region and property type. Provides unique insight into how the sector is dealing with the challenges of sustainability performance of renewable energy investments.


Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines offer an international reference for all those interested in the disclosure of governance approach and of the environmental, social and economic performance and impacts of organizations.



International Panel on Climate Change – UN body investigating climate change.

ISO standards

International Organistion for Standardisation. This is an independent NGO,  which together with international expert representatives from 167 nations has created and developed consensus standards for a range of activities. ISO currently has >15 standards related to LCA. There are an additional 65 standards and publications for different aspects of environmental management systems.


An environmental standard published by the International Organisation for Standardisation, which specifies the requirements for an environmental management system for those environmental aspects of which the organisation has control and over which it can be expected to influence.


A standard published by the International Organisation for Standardisation, which specifies the requirements for introducing and maintaining an energy management system.


Standard published by the International Organisation for Standardisation, which clarifies social responsibility standards and helps organisations to put best practices into action.


Standard published by the International Organisation for Standardisation which assists organisations in tackling bribery issues.


International Sustainability Standards Board. Comprehensive global baseline for high-quality sustainability disclosure standards to meet investor demands for transparent, reliable sustainability reporting and help to addressing greenwashing.



Key Performance Indicators help an organisation define and measure progress toward organisational goals. KPIs are quantifiable measurements, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors of an organisation. They will differ depending on the organisation.



Life cycle assessment. The process which defines the environmental and social impact of all stages associated with product creation, processing or services. This includes raw materials, production, distribution, use and end-of-life.


Life cycle costing (also known as life-cycle cost analysis LCCA). Quantifies all financial costs of a project alternative. These include up-front capital expenditures, costs of ongoing operations, maintenance and replacement costs, and the remaining value of assets at end of lifecycle. Can be implemented by users of a product or service, whilst also used by companies to assess the costs of development of a new product. Does not include environmental or social costs, only financial.


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, A US developed green building rating system that encourages and accelerates the global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices.


Materiality assessment

Process that identifies which ESG issues are most important to an organisation. 


Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard, introduced by provisions in the Energy Act 2011 for the rented commercial property sector, sets a minimum standard by which property can be rented. 


Markets in Financial Instruments Directive. Framework creates a single market for investment services and activities, and ensures a high degree of harmonised protection for investors in financial instruments. 


Efforts to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions.

Modern slavery

Modern slavery is defined as the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation 


Natural capital

The inventory of the planet’s natural resources held by companies, including living organisms, geology, soil, air, water.


A state of equilibrium in which greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced out by the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


Non-financial Reporting Directive. Created to bring more transparency into the social and environmental performance of large companies.


Paris Agreement

Agreement made in 2016, which stated that the UNFCCC committed to limiting global warming to below 2 degrees C, ideally 1.5 degrees C, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Signed by 195 countries.


Renewable energy

Energy produced from sources which naturally regenerate and therefore will not ‘run out’, such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)

Market-based instrument certifying that the bearer owns 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable-energy sourced electricity.

Reporting boundary

This dictates which organisational entities are included and excluded from an organisation’s disclosure.



Sustainable Accounting Standards Board. Focuses on industry-specific reporting standards and financially material issues, helping businesses and investors develop a common language about the financial impacts of sustainability.


Science Based Targets Initiative. Global body enabling businesses to set ambitious emissions reductions targets in line with the latest climate science.

Scope emissions

Framework organising emissions into 3 categories:
Scope 1) Those direct from sources owned or controlled by a company
Scope 2) Indirect from energy purchased
Scope 3) All other emissions associated with a company’s operations and activities


Sustainability Disclosure Requirements. Integrated and streamlined reporting framework that brings together sustainability-related reporting requirements under one roof for corporates and financial institutions.


Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting. UK-specific carbon and energy reporting regulation, meaning quoted companies are to calculate and report Scope 1 and 2 emissions in outputs as a carbon footprint.

SEC’s Climate Related Disclosure Rules

U.S. legislation. Aim is to improve the consistence, quality and comparability of company-reported climate-related risks. Companies would be required to discuss financially material, climate-related risks guided by the TCFD recommendations.


Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation. Rules on sustainability transparency and requires financial market participants to disclose how they consider sustainability risks in their investment processes and products. 


The Sustainable Facilities Management Index. A framework which enables the ESG impacts of an FM service provider to be assessed and benchmarked against others, providing guidance about areas for improvement.

Social impact

The effect on people and communities that results from an action or inaction, an activity, project, programme or policy.

Social Value Act

Tool to help commissioners get more value for money out of procurement, also encouraging them to talk to their local provider market or community to design better services.


Meeting the needs of the present without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Focuses on a balance between environmental protection, social wellbeing and economic growth.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UN’s blueprint to ‘achieve a better and more sustainable future’. The 17 goals address the global challenges we face including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice, with an aim that these can be achieved by 2030.



Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures. Aims to increase and improve the reporting of climate related financial information. This includes risk assessment, capital allocation and strategic planning.


Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. Aims to deliver a risk management and disclosure reporting framework for organisations to report and act on evolving nature-related risks and opportunities, with the ultimate aim of supporting a shift in global finance flows away from nature-negative outcomes.



United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. International treaty that assesses climate change annually at the COP (conference of the parties).


United Nations Global Compact. The world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, helping companies t align with universal principles on ESG issues.


Value chain

The entire supply chain system including activities and partners that add value to the product or service. Extends from suppliers to customers.



Materials discarded as unwanted or unusable after a process is completed.

Waste stream

Cumulative flow of solid waste from a specific source e.g. home, business, institution, process. Can be dealt with in a variety of ways including recycling, decomposition, incineration or disposal in landfill.


World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Initiative to accelerate sustainability in business.


World Economic Forum. Independent Swiss Organisation which has a large influence on world business and political agendas for sustainable economic growth.


Zero waste

Encouraging the reuse of all materials, through redesign of resources in product life-cycles, to ultimately prevent any materials being disposed of.

Zero-emissions vehicle

Vehicle which does not produce any emissions from onboard power source – usually electric or hydrogen powered.