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Sustainability Glossary

Compiled by our friends at the technical sustainability agency, Hope Solutions

Carbon Footprint 

The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community. A carbon footprint measures the greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, NOx, CH4, SO2 etc) . This includes emissions from energy consumption, company owned vehicles as well business travel, employee commute, value chain, waste disposal, digital and more.


CO2e is the universal unit of measurement to indicate the global warming potential (GWP) of GHGs, expressed in terms of the GWP of one unit of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Net Zero

To be net zero, the company must make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (a minimum of 90% reduction), with any remaining sources being removed from the atmosphere with greenhouse gas removals. 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations (UN) body for assessing the science related to climate change and has warned that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid substantial climate and ecosystem breakdown. 

Paris Agreement

As an outcome of COP26, 194 states signed the Paris Agreement to enact  the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold in law, including the US, UK and all EU member states. To meet this target, global CO2 emissions must reach net zero by 2050, which means reducing emissions to as close to zero as possible, (a minimum of 90% reduction) before taking action to offset any remaining emissions. It is legally binding that the UK must reach net zero by 2050; therefore, it is imperative that all organisations and individuals take action.

Emissions Screening Report

A screening report helps companies understand which business activities have the most significant GHG emissions, offer the most significant GHG reduction opportunities, and are most relevant to the company’s business goals. Companies should begin by conducting a screening process, using less specific data, to determine the size of GHG emissions in each of the 15 categories. Then each category can be examined to determine whether to further refine its emission estimates.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)

There are seven main GHGs that contribute to climate change, as covered by the Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). Different activities emit different gases and it is essential to report on the Kyoto Protocol GHG gases produced by particular activities.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

This is the heat absorbed by any greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as a multiple of the heat that would be absorbed by the same mass of carbon dioxide (CO2). GWP is 1 for CO2. For other gases it depends on the gas and the time frame.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e or CO2eq or CO2-e) is calculated from GWP.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol

GHG Protocol establishes comprehensive global standardised frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions.

Building on a 20-year partnership between World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), GHG Protocol works with governments, industry associations, NGOs, businesses and other organisations.

Scope 1

Scope 1 emissions are direct GHG emissions from sources that are owned and controlled by the organisation, such as natural gas combusted in boilers to heat facilities.

Scope 2

Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heat or cooling consumed by the organisation. These emissions physically occur at the facility where they are generated but are associated with the organisation's energy use from their buildings.

Scope 3

Scope 3 emissions then include all other indirect emissions not included in scope 2, these can occur in the value chain including both upstream and downstream emissions as shown in Figure 1. For example, this includes business travel where the company is not responsible for purchasing the fuel directly, the emissions associated with purchased goods and services, emissions from the disposal of waste generated in operations etc.

Downstream (Emissions)

  • Indirect GHG emissions related to goods and services sold by an organisation
  • Occur subsequent to their sale by the reporting company and transfer of control from the reporting company to another entity (e.g. customer)
  • Includes distribution and storage, use of products, end of life treatment/disposal of products

Upstream (Emissions)

  • Indirect GHG emissions related to the purchased or acquired goods and services used by an organisation
  • Occur up to the point of receipt by the reporting company
  • Includes material acquisition, pre-processing (e.g. of ingredients)

Primary, Secondary & Proxy Data

  • Primary data - direct from verified source e.g. metre reading, bill or financial record.
  • Secondary data - data from an unverified source e.g. client email.
  • Proxy data - data used as a substitute for missing data based on other acceptable averages or parameters.

Direct GHG Emissions

Direct GHG emissions are emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity.

Indirect GHG Emissions

Indirect GHG emissions are emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the reporting entity, but occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity.

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

An LCA is a method for assessing the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of products, services and processes.