Sustainability 101: Key Terms for Businesses

Sustainability is an ever-expanding concept, with new industry terms and acronyms cropping up every day. 

Whether you’re new to the industry or a veteran brushing up on your knowledge, we’ve compiled a glossary to help you decode the most frequently used concepts. 

Bonus: click the links below for a deep dive into each issue. 


A critical aspect of corporate sustainability, frameworks are set principles that provide guidelines for companies’ sustainability practices and data.  

Frameworks aren’t a one-size-fits-all and every company needs to see that the framework they use is appropriate for their size, goals and market. Some frameworks (such as ISSB) are quickly becoming guidelines for regulation on mandatory reporting.  

With at least 13 different frameworks and more underway, there’s a framework tailor-made for everyone.  

Not sure which framework suits you best? Check out our business guide to ESG frameworks. 

Scopes 1, 2 and 3 

Frameworks are not the only toolkit you’ll need in your arsenal if you want accurate data.  

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the key global emissions standard, has categorised business emissions into three groups, referred to as Scope 1, 2 and 3.  

Scope 1 emissions are the direct emissions your company creates – in other words, the fuel your company burns to produce its product.  

For example, emissions from a factory boiler would fall under scope 1.   

Scope 2 emissions refer to the indirect GHGs generated, for instance, from purchased electricity.  

Scope 3 emissions are also indirect and include emissions generated from purchasing your company’s goods or services. Think product/service delivery or employee commutes.  

Upstream/Downstream Emissions 

Scope 3 is a complex concept in itself and is further split into upstream and downstream emissions. Upstream emissions are all the emissions produced by the goods or services that a company purchases. Downstream emissions come from a product’s disposal. We break down all the different types of upstream or downstream emissions that you might need to report on here. 


SECR stands for Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting. It is a report introduced by the UK to lower carbon amongst companies and to encourage energy efficiency. For companies that fit certain criteria, it is mandatory, so make sure to head to our in-depth explainer to see whether you need to report.  

Conversion Factors 

If you are eligible for the SECR, you should take a look at our blog on conversion factors. These factors are the universal language that SECR compliance officers use to calculate emissions. Simply put: the rate at which your business’ activities releases emissions is converted to data. This data is your conversion factor. Make sure to stay updated with conversion factors, as the UK government releases a new spreadsheet with current conversion factors each year. 

Net Zero 

In 2016, world leaders sat around a table in Paris to discuss a problem affecting their nations’ electorates: climate change. Scientists in the room had one message: global average temperature above 1.5C pre-industrial levels will lead to severe impacts that will devastate communities. 

In light of this warning, global leaders agreed to join forces towards one unifying climate goal: net zero – where the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and the amount that is removed, balance themselves out to zero. It’s certainly an ambitious target. How have they held up? Read our insight here.  

Carbon Offsets 

Carbon offsets are a tool used by some companies to avoid emissions reduction at source. Instead, these companies compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by investing or funding projects that reduce or remove carbon elsewhere. Imagine a fossil fuel company funding forestation to compensate for its own emissions.  

Critics have called it a shady practice, but that hasn’t stopped companies from calling themselves carbon neutral in their marketing. That is, until the European Union stepped in to ban all marketing on the matter. You can read more on that here. 


As the name implies, decarbonisation is the process of reducing emissions within production or power sources. While energy and transportation sectors are normally at the centre of decarbonisation discourse, all businesses can identify ways to reduce their carbon footprint. What is the most effective way of decarbonising? Read our blog on the advantages of decarbonising using data here. 


Speaking of shady practices to avoid addressing your climate impact, greenwashing has also grown in popularity. Greenwashing refers to the marketing ploy where businesses exaggerate their environmental pledges for good publicity. Greenwashing scandals have rocked the reputations of brands like Volkswagen and Coca-Cola, resulting in a loss of customers and support. Want to avoid being dragged through the mud? Dive into our insight into greenwashing here. 


Companies worried about greenwashing are turning to a different practice: greenhushing. This involves companies hiding their ESG strategies to avoid scrutiny. The move has been dubbed dangerous as it means companies avoid accountability. How you can avoid greenhushing? The key is robust data.  

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