Net Zero discourse can often be confusing, unclear, and misleading. It’s important for businesses to understand the key Net Zero terminology and to identify the jargon to avoid accidental greenwashing.  

Here is our comprehensive guide detailing all the Net Zero terms businesses need to know.  

 


Your Net Zero Glossary  

Abbreviations 

  • CO2 - carbon dioxide  
  • GHG - greenhouse gas  
  • CO2e - carbon dioxide equivalent 
  • CCS - carbon capture and storage  
  • NBS – nature-based solutions 

Active travel  
Getting yourself from A to B by physical activity, such as walking, cycling, running, skateboarding etc.  

Biomass  
A renewable organic material derived from living organisms, such as plants and animals. It is a renewable resource and a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun, produced by plants through photosynthesis, and can be burned to generate heat, converted to liquid or gas.    
 
Biodiversity 
The umbrella term used to describe the diverse range of living organisms existing in the environment. Biodiversity covers plants, animals, and bacteria. Biodiversity is responsible for our food systems, soil, water, weather, and the air we breathe.  
 
Biofuel 
A fuel source derived from living matter, such as plants. They are considered a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels since the carbon the emissions they emit while burning are balanced out by the carbon absorbed during the growing process.  
 
Biomimicry  
A design structure that develops sustainable solutions by mimicking nature. Biomimicry can often be described as nature-based solutions, where the goal is to create products and services that adapt to life on Earth.  
 
Blue Economy  
A term used to describe economic activities associated with the oceans and seas. The ocean covers 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface and presents a vast economic opportunity; however, the Blue Economy must be managed sustainably.  
 
Blue hydrogen  
Hydrogen produced primarily from natural gas using a process calle4d steam reforming, which brings together natural gas and heated water to produce hydrogen. CO2 is a byproduct of blue hydrogen production. Blue hydrogen processes involve CCS. 
 
Brown hydrogen  
Hydrogen made from brown/black coal. It is the most environmentally damaging form of hydrogen. 

Carbon 
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common of six greenhouse gasses emitted by human activity. Carbon is the shorthand for CO2, meaning the same thing.  
 
Carbon budget  
A carbon budget refers to the quantity of greenhouse gasses that can be emitted for a given level of global warming. Government’s and organisations are often tasked with carbon budgets to reduce overall emissions, abate global warming, and create accountability for those who exceed their budgets.  
 
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) 
CCS refers to technologies which are designed to capture carbon and lock it away to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.  
 
Carbon credit 
A term for tradable certificates or permits which allow an organisation to emit one tonne of CO2 equivalent. This can cover other greenhouse gasses, and trades must be undertaken within an emissions trading scheme.  
 
Carbon footprint 
A measure of an organisation’s GHG emissions over a given period of time. A carbon footprint can also be measured for individual practices, such as driving, or products. They can cover the emissions of all greenhouse gasses or just carbon, so ensure you check what a footprint is calculating.  
 
Footprints are expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e). 
 
Carbon insetting  
This involves compensating for an organisation’s footprint by removing emissions elsewhere within an organisation’s value chain.  
 
Carbon negative  
When a business removes more GHG emissions from the atmosphere than they emit. Confusingly, the term “carbon positive” means the same thing, and the two terms are interchangeable.  
 
Carbon neutral 
Balancing GHG emissions with an equivalent amount of carbon offsets. This term is used interchangeably with “climate neutral”, or “net zero”, however there are subtle differences to their meaning.  
 
Carbon offsetting  
Any activity which reduces overall emissions of GHGs through the purchase of verified carbon credits, emissions reduction projects, and carbon absorption projects. 
 
Carbon positive 
Activities deemed to reduce or offset more emissions than it produces. See “carbon negative.”  
 
Carbon sink  
Anything that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and stores carbon, such as forests, oceans, and other natural environment resources.  
 
Carbon sequestration  
The process of capturing and storing CO2. 
 
Circular Economy  
An economy that maximises resource efficiency and keeps materials in use for as long as possible. This is done through recycling, restoration, upcycling, and repurposing of materials and resources.  
 
Climate change  
A long-term shift in global weather patterns or average temperatures caused by global warming. Consequences of climate change include sea level rises, loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, extreme weather, and natural resource decline.  
 
Climate change mitigation  
Strategies focussed on preventing or limiting the consequences of climate change by reducing GHG emissions or removing them from the atmosphere.  
 
Compostable  
Materials that break down completely into non-toxic components that support plant growth. Different conditions are required for different types of organic matter to fully decompose. 
 
COP 
An abbreviation for “Conference of Parties”; the United Nation’s annual climate summit gathering almost 200 countries to work towards reducing global GHG emissions and protecting our natural environment.  
 
Conscious consumerism 
A practice whereby consumers specifically purchase products and services with positive climate impacts and avoid those with negative climate impacts. 
 
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  
A business management concept whereby social and environmental concerns are integrated into an organisation’s operations.  

Decentralised energy  
The use of large numbers of small energy generators (such as rooftop solar) on the power network, as opposed to centralised energy which relies entirely on the output of a few, large energy generators.  
 
Demand-side response (DSR) 
Flexibility services to network operators where an organisation agrees to temporarily reduce energy consumption when prompted. The purpose of DSR is to balance out peaks and troughs in grid demand.  
 
Distribution network operator (DNO) 
A DNO is the operator of an electricity distribution network. If investing in onsite renewable energy generation, you will have to raise a request to connect to the grid through your DNO.  

Electric vehicle  
A vehicle that runs on electricity powered by a battery.  
 
Embodied carbon  
The emissions involved in the creation of a product or asset, such as during manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of materials.  
 
Emissions trading scheme (ETS) 
A tool that puts a price on GHG emissions with the aim of reducing them. An ETS is a “cap and trade” principle where a cap is placed on the amount of emissions allowed by a sector or organisation.   
 
Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) 
These show home-owners, property-owners and tenants how energy efficient a building is. EPC ratings detail information on potential energy costs and CO2 emissions. EPC G properties are the least energy efficient, and EPC A properties are the most. 
 
Energy storage  
Technology that allows organisations to capture excess power and store it for later use, thereby reducing reliance on the grid at peak times. Energy storage is an essential component for advancing battery technology and renewable energy solutions, such as solar panels, or electric vehicles.  
 
E-waste  
Discarded electronic appliances such as mobiles, laptops, computers, televisions etc.  
 
Ethical investing  
The avoidance of investing in activities linked to unethical or unsustainable outcomes in favour of those which have socially and environmentally positive impacts.  

Fossil fuels  
A carbon-based fuel, which comes in solid, liquid or gas form, derived from decomposing living organisms placed under huge pressure beneath the Earth’s surface. Fossil fuels contain carbon and hydrogen which are released into the atmosphere when burned. Fossil fuels are in finite supply and are a key contributor to global warming. Coal, oil and natural gas are example of fossil fuels.  

Global warming 
An increase in the world’s average temperature as a consequence of human activities. The temperatures rise because of increasing concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere. If the Earth’s temperatures surpass certain targets, the impacts will be catastrophic.  
 
Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) 
Gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the “greenhouse effect.” The six key GHGs are...

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)  
  • Methane (CH4)  
  • Nitrous oxide (N20) 
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 
  • Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) 

Greenhouse gas removal technology (GGR Technology) 
Also known as “negative emissions technologies (NETs),” GGR technologies remove emissions from the atmosphere either directly, by capture techniques, or indirectly through enhancing natural processes.  
 
Green economy  
An economic system based on environmental principles.  
 
Green hydrogen  
Hydrogen made using clean energy to electrolyse water. Green hydrogen uses electrolysers to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, emitting zero carbon in the process. 
 
Greenwashing 
Activities or claims designed to mislead people into thinking a product, service or organisation is doing more to protect the environment than it actually is. Greenwashing can take the form of marketing techniques, incorrect product labelling, climate claims without proof, commitments that organisations do not intend to honour, and misunderstanding climate or net zero terminology.  
 
See also: Key greenwashing terms worth knowing.  
 
Grey hydrogen 
Currently the most common form of hydrogen production. Grey hydrogen involves a natural gas, such as methane, and steam reformation. Grey hydrogen doesn’t involve CCS. 

Hybrid vehicle 
A vehicle powered by both an internal combustion engine (ICU), supplemented by a battery of power from regenerative braking. 
 
Hydrogen
A gas which burns cleanly, producing only heat and water as a by-product. Hydrogen is produced in various ways, including brown hydrogen, green hydrogen, and blue hydrogen, pink hydrogen, yellow hydrogen, and white hydrogen.  

Life cycle assessment (LCA) 
The measure of an product or service’s environmental impact throughout the course of its existence.  

Microplastics  
Minute pieces of plastic less than 5mm in diameter. They are prevalent in land and water and a byproduct of plastic pollution.  

Natural capital  
The physical stock of natural assets in a given area. Natural capital covers woodland, minerals, water, carbon sinks, biodiversity and habitats.  
 
Nature-based solutions  
Measures that work alongside the natural environment to provide environmental and social benefits while increasing resilience. A green wall or a carbon sink is an example of a nature-based solution 
 
Net positive 
When an organisation is having an overall positive impact on the climate, such as by removing more GHGs from the atmosphere than they emit.   
 
Net zero  
Reducing GHG emissions to as close to zero as possible, so they are balanced out by the removal of GHGs from the atmosphere through offsetting and capture techniques.  

Paris Agreement  
A legally binding climate change treaty adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December 2015, which officially came into force November 2016. The treaty was signed by more than 190 countries and outlines a 1.5C global warming limit compared to pre-industrial levels.  
 
Pink hydrogen  
Hydrogen generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy. 
 
Process efficiency  
Manufacturing a product or managing a process to avoid wasting materials, energy, effort, money and time.  
 
Product stewardship  
A concept in which organisations take responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they make. This takes into consideration all stages of the product’s life cycle.

Regeneration  
Supporting and enhancing natural processes in a bid to nurture ecological health and biodiversity.  
 
Remanufacturing  
Rebuilding a product using reused, repaired, and upcycled parts.  
 
Renewable energy  
Energy generated from natural, replenishable sources. Examples of renewable energy include solar, wind, geothermal heat, wave, and tidal energy. Clean energy is an interchangeable term for renewable energy.  

Science-based targets  
Emissions reductions targets that align with up-to-date climate science and meets the necessary standards and goals of the Paris Agreement.  
 
Scope emissions 
When calculating your carbon footprint, you must take into account scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions involved with your supply chain and product life cycle.  

  • Scope 1 – The emissions from sources you own and control, such as gas heating, company vehicles, air conditioning etc.  
  • Scope 2 – The emissions you indirectly produce through the energy, heat or steam you purchase. The most obvious example is the electricity your business uses. 
  • Scope 3 – The emissions you are indirectly responsible for from sources outside of your control. These are divided into: 
     - Upstream – such as emissions from goods and services you purchase from suppliers  
     - Downstream – distribution and end-use of your own goods and services, business travel, employee commuting, and waste disposal. 

Sustainability 
Sustainability has a plethora of definitions. The most commonly accepted definition is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Value chain  
The full range of activities needed to create a product or service. 

Zero carbon  
Reducing emissions to absolute zero, which doesn’t include carbon offsetting to balance emissions. It is highly unlikely that an entire business will become zero carbon, but certain processes, products, and activities can be made zero carbon.  
 
Zero waste  
When an organisation reuses, recovers, or recycles 100 per cent of its waste. Zero waste products are also designed in such a way that the materials can be recycled, recovered, or reused at end of life.  


Organisations and Institutions  

There are a number of organisations and institutions, both national and international, that are integral to progressing and enforcing the climate agenda for organisations, governments, and individuals. Here’s a rundown of the ones you need to know. 

Climate Change Committee (CCC) 
The CCC is an independent statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Their purpose is to advise the government on emissions targets and carbon budgets, and to report on the UK’s progress in tackling climate change.  

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 
The IPCC is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change. Created in 1988, the IPCC exists to provide policymakers with scientific assessments on climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and to detail options for mitigation and adaptation.  

United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) 
The UNFCCC established a treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system” and aims to stabilise GHG concentrations in the atmosphere.  


Rules and Regulations  

It’s important for your organisation to be aware of the rules and regulations that exist surrounding climate change, net zero, and environmental policy. Having an awareness of these rules and regulations will help you avoid greenwashing and to align your net zero policy with relevant goals and targets.  

Climate Change Act (CCA) 
First passed in 2008, the CCA is the UK’s legally binding target to reduce GHG emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. This target was updated in 2019 to be net zero by 2050.  

Climate Change Levy (CCL)  
This is a tax levied on business energy bills to incentivise energy efficiency improvements. Different fuel sources qualify for different tax rates. Your organisation may qualify for a CCL discount through the CCA.  

Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) 
A regulation requiring companies with either 250 employees or more or a turnover of over €50 million to conduct in-depth energy audits of their operations every four years.  

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) 
MEES were introduced by government to improve and increase energy efficiency of non-domestic properties in England and Wales. Under MEES, properties must have a minimum EPC rating of at least E to be leased to a new tenant.  

Paris Agreement  
A legally binding climate change treaty adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December 2015, which officially came into force November 2016. The treaty was signed by more than 190 countries and outlines a 1.5C global warming limit compared to pre-industrial levels.  

Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) 
A regulation making it mandatory for large UK businesses to annually report on their energy and carbon emissions. Smaller businesses can take part on a voluntary basis.  


Other resources  

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