The A – Z Guide of Sustainability For Business

Sustainability for business - an A to Z

Today, sustainability isn’t optional – it’s an essential part of doing business! 

In addition to actively demonstrating that you care about our planet and its future generations, a shift towards sustainability also can also help you cut costs, increase efficiency and even inspire new innovative strategies. 

To help you navigate your business from a more environmentally aware perspective, we’ve complied an A – Z list of key sustainability for business terms that are useful to know.


Absolute Target: A target defined by reduction in absolute emissions over time e.g., reduces CO2 emissions by 25% below 2020 levels by 2030.

Afforestation: Planting of new forests on lands that historically have not contained forests.

Associated/Affiliated Company: The parent company has significant influence over the operating and financial policies of the associated/affiliated company, but not financial control.

Audit Trail: Well organised and transparent historical records documenting how an inventory was compiled.


Base Year: A historic datum (a specific year or an average over multiple years) against which a company’s emissions are tracked over time.

Base Year Emissions: Greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions in the base year.

Base Year Emissions Recalculation: Recalculation of emissions in the base year to reflect a change in the structure of the company, or to reflect a change in the accounting methodology used. This ensures data consistency over time, i.e. comparisons of like with like over time.

Biofuels: Fuel made from plant material, e.g. wood, straw and ethanol from plant matter.

Boundaries: GHG accounting and reporting boundaries can have several dimensions, i.e. organisational, operational, geographic, business unit, and target boundaries. The inventory boundary determines which emissions are accounted and reported by the company.

Sustainability for business - an A to Z guide


Carbon Dioxide (CO2): A naturally occurring gas, CO2 is also a by-product of burning fossil fuels (such as oil, gas and coal), of burning biomass, of land-use changes (LUC) and of industrial processes (e.g., cement production). 

It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) that affects the Earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other GHGs are measured and therefore has a global warming potential (GWP) of 1.

Carbon Footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, family, building, organization, or company. Reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint is a key sustainability for business goal.

Carbon Sequestration: The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir.

CHP: Combined heat and power (CHP) integrates the production of usable heat and power (electricity), in one single, highly efficient process. CHP generates electricity whilst also capturing usable heat that is produced in this process.

Climate Change: Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

Consolidation: Combination of GHG emissions data from separate operations that form part of one company or group of companies.

Control: The ability of a company to direct the policies of another operation. More specifically, it is defined as either operational control (the organization or one of its subsidiaries has the full authority to introduce and implement its operating policies at the operation) or financial control (the organization has the ability to direct the financial and operating policies of the operation with a view to gaining economic benefits from its activities).

CO2 Equivalent (CO2-e): The universal unit of measurement to indicate the global warming potential (GWP) of each of the six greenhouse gases, expressed in terms of the GWP of one unit of carbon dioxide. It is used to evaluate releasing (or avoiding releasing) different greenhouse gases against a common basis.


Decarbonisation: The process by which countries, individuals or other entities aim to achieve zero fossil carbon existence. Typically refers to a reduction of the carbon emissions associated with electricity, industry and transport.

Direct GHG Emissions: Emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting company.


EEIO: Environmentally-extended input output (EEIO) models estimate energy use and/or GHG emissions resulting from the production and upstream supply chain activities of different sectors and products within an economy. The resulting EEIO emissions factors can be used to estimate GHG emissions for a given industry or product category.

Emissions: The release of GHG into the atmosphere.

Emission Factor: A factor allowing GHG emissions to be estimated from a unit of available activity data (e.g. tonnes of fuel consumed, tonnes of product produced) and absolute GHG emissions.

Energy Efficiency: Using less energy to provide the same service.

ESG: The acronym ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. This is also called sustainability in many cases.

ESOS: The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) is a mandatory energy assessment scheme, introduced by the UK government to make sure large enterprises in the UK are energy efficient. 

Ethics: Ethics involves questions of justice and value. Justice is concerned with right and wrong, equity and fairness, and, in general, with the rights to which people and living beings are entitled. Value is a matter of worth, benefit, or good.


Fossil Fuels: Carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, oil, and natural gas.

Fugitive Emissions: Emissions that are not physically controlled but result from the intentional or unintentional releases of GHGs. They commonly arise from the production, processing transmission storage and use of fuels and other chemicals, often through joints, seals, packing, gaskets, etc.


Global Warming Potential (GWP): An index representing the combined effect of the differing times greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and their relative effectiveness in absorbing outgoing infrared radiation.

Governance: A comprehensive and inclusive concept of the full range of means for deciding, managing, implementing and monitoring policies and measures.

Green Power: A generic term for renewable energy sources and specific clean energy technologies that emit fewer GHG emissions relative to other sources of energy that supply the electric grid. Includes solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal energy, geothermal energy, landfill gas, low-impact hydropower, and wind turbines.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG): GHGs are the six gases listed in the Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Solar panels for sustainable business.


HGV: Heavy Goods Vehicle covers all commercial trucks that feature a gross combination mass of over 3500kg which could include fridge trucks, box vans, Lutons, flat beds, tippers and ADR, drop sides, and much more.


Indirect GHG Emissions: Emissions that are a consequence of the operations of the reporting company, but occur at sources owned or controlled by another company.

Insetting: Carbon insetting is an innovative mechanism to reduce emissions while driving business value. It uses organization investment to promote sustainable practices and reduce your company’s carbon footprint within your own value chain.

Intensity Ratios: Ratios that express GHG impact per unit of physical activity or unit of economic value (e.g. tonnes of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity generated). 

Intensity Target: A target defined by reduction in the ratio of emissions and a business metric over time e.g., reduce CO2 per tonne of cement by 12% between 2021 and 2025.


Kyoto Protocol: A protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


Landfill: Land waste disposal site in which waste is generally spread in thin layers, compacted, and covered with a fresh layer of soil each day.

Location Based: The location-based method for calculating Scope 2 emissions considers average emission factors for the electricity grids that provide your electricity.


Market Based: The market-based method for calculating Scope 2 emissions considers contractual arrangements under which you buy power from specific suppliers or sources, such as renewable energy.


Natural Gas: Underground deposits of gases consisting of 50 to 90 percent methane (CH4) and small amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon compounds such as propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10).

Net Zero: Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas an organisation emits and the amount it removes from the atmosphere. 

A green city


Offsetting: Carbon offsetting is any activity that compensates for the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases (measured in carbon dioxide equivalents [CO2e]) by providing for an emission reduction elsewhere.


Process Emissions: Emissions generated from manufacturing processes, such as the CO2 that is arises from the breakdown of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) during cement manufacture.


Radiative Forcing: Radiative forcing (RF) is a measure of the additional environmental impact of aviation. These include emissions of nitrous oxides and water vapour when emitted at high altitude. 

Recycling: Collecting and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again. An example is collecting aluminium cans, melting them down, and using the aluminium to make new cans or other aluminium products.

Reforestation: Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.

REGO: The Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) scheme provides transparency to consumers about the proportion of electricity that suppliers source from renewable generation.

Renewable Energy: Energy taken from sources that are inexhaustible, e.g. wind, water, solar, geothermal energy, and biofuels.

Reporting: Presenting data to internal management and external users such as regulators, shareholders, the general public or specific stakeholder groups.

Residual Mix: If a supplier-specific emissions factor is not entered, then the default for the market-based calculation is the residual emissions factor. The residual emissions factors are factors that exclude electricity generation from ALL voluntary renewable energy transactions. Since those renewables are being subtracted from users’ utility consumption data, it is important not to double-count those avoided emissions.

Sustainable innovation


Scope: Defines the operational boundaries in relation to indirect and direct GHG emissions.

Scope 1: These emissions result from sources directly owned or operated by you. For example, your fleet of vehicles

Scope 2: These are emissions based on energy you purchase to directly operate your enterprise. The most common across-the-board example is – your electricity consumption.

Scope 3: Emissions resulting from activities not directly owned by your business but are associated with its operation. Examples; business travel, waste management, commuting, third-party distribution, etc.

SECR: The Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) Framework is a new regulation introduced in the UK designed to improve sustainability for business, that requires LLPs, Quoted and Unquoted companies to disclose their energy and carbon emissions.

SDG: The acronym stands for sustainable development goals. 

The 17 global goals for development for all countries established by the United Nations through a participatory process and elaborated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including ending poverty and hunger; ensuring health and well-being, education, gender equality, clean water and energy, and decent work; building and ensuring resilient and sustainable infrastructure, cities and consumption; reducing inequalities; protecting land and water ecosystems; promoting peace, justice and partnerships; and taking urgent action on climate change.

Sink: Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Forests and other vegetation are considered sinks because they remove carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Sustainability: A dynamic process that guarantees the persistence of natural and human systems in an equitable manner.

Sustainable Procurement: An approach to procurement with sustainability for business at its heart. Sustainable procurement delivers value for money on goods, services, works and utilities – generating benefits to your organisation, society and the economy, while minimising damage to the environment. Find out more about sustainable procurement.


Target Base Year: The base year used for defining a GHG target, e.g. to reduce CO2 emissions 25% below the target base year levels by the target base year 2020 by the year 2035.


UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change): The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


Value Chain Emissions: Emissions from the upstream and downstream activities associated with the operations of the reporting company.


Wastewater: Water that has been used and contains dissolved or suspended waste materials. 

Water Vapour: The most abundant greenhouse gas, it is the water present in the atmosphere in gaseous form. Water vapour is an important part of the natural greenhouse effect.

Weather: Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. In most places, weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season.

Track Your Journey to Sustainable Business 

AXIOM is a powerful cloud-based sustainability for business platform that helps your business monitor, analyse and improve sustainability performance. From calculating emissions and visualising your progress, to managing SECR, AXIOM is here to help your business achieve its sustainability goals.

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