Unlocking Net Zero: Breaking Down the Jargon for Sustainable Businesses

Scales balancing renewable energy and CO2, with the world in the middle, to symbolise net zero

As part of our commitment to the environment and working towards reducing our business carbon footprint, to become a net zero business, I have been conducting research as well as attending courses (including a Carbon Literacy course), to learn as much as I can about the sustainability space. As with many things, the more I have learnt about the climate crisis and carbon footprinting, the more I have realised that I don’t know. 

There are so many different terms and definitions that surround net zero and the sustainability space, that it can be difficult to keep track and remember everything. I have put together this article as a dictionary of the different terms I have come across, so I can easily refer back to this article when needed, and I hope that this is a useful resource for you too.

Explaining Net Zero - Key Terms for Sustainable Businesses

What is climate change?

The term Climate change is used to refer to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, primarily caused by human activities releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Impacts include rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and changes in plant and animal life.

What is climate action?

Climate action involves taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment as part of a united front against climate change! The UK tackles this challenge through various initiatives, like reducing emissions from power generation, investing in green technologies, and adapting infrastructure to withstand climate impacts.

What is your business's carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere due to our activities, like travel, energy use, and consumption.

What does it mean to be a net zero business?

Achieving net zero emissions means balancing the amount of greenhouse gases released with the amount removed from the atmosphere. It’s not just about carbon, but all greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

What does it mean to be carbon neutral?

Reaching carbon neutrality means balancing the carbon emitted (like from burning fossil fuels) with the carbon removed (through natural processes like forests or technological solutions). It’s a stepping stone towards net zero. 

Building blocks with net zero written on them

How can a business become carbon positive or carbon negative?

Becoming a carbon positive business means going beyond carbon neutrality by removing more carbon from the atmosphere than is being emitted by the business. This helps actively reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels and combat climate change.

Being a carbon negative business is similar to carbon positive, but often used within specific projects or technologies that directly remove carbon from the atmosphere, like reforestation or carbon capture and storage.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is an economic system designed to eliminate waste and pollution by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible through repair, reuse, and recycling.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for your business’s carbon emissions by funding projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere or prevent future emissions. It’s one way to achieve carbon neutrality but comes with complexities.

What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 interconnected goals adopted by the UN in 2015 aimed at achieving a sustainable future by addressing poverty, inequality, climate change, and other global challenges.

What does zero waste mean?

Zero waste is a philosophy aimed at designing and managing systems to eliminate waste entirely, through preventing waste creation, maximising reuse and recycling, and composting organic waste. 

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy utilises clean power sources that naturally regenerate, like wind turbines harnessing UK’s strong breezes, solar panels capturing sunshine, and hydroelectricity from rivers and tides. 

What is energy efficiency?

To be energy efficient means doing more with less! From smart appliances and eco-friendly homes to efficient public transport and industry upgrades, UK efforts aim to reduce energy consumption without sacrificing quality of life. 

Reaching carbon neutrality means balancing the carbon emitted (like from burning fossil fuels) with the carbon removed (through natural processes like forests or technological solutions). It’s a stepping stone towards net zero. 

Defining key net zero terms for sustainable businesses

I know from my experience that the journey towards becoming a more sustainable business and working towards net zero can feel quite daunting (to say the least). But working to become a more sustainable business is an incredible thing to do and I’m on a mission to make this journey less daunting and less of a minefield. I hope that this article goes a small way to helping with this, by breaking down the jargon for sustainable businesses – feel free to save the article to refer back to later.

If you would like to join our community of purpose-led businesses and benefit from free promotion, join our Sustainable Small Business Directory here.

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