Sustainable Dictionary: What do Different Sustainable Terms Mean?

The world of sustainability can be confusing at times, this is why we have broken down key terms and definitions that are commonly used in the world of sustainability.


These products can be broken down via microorganisms and be returned back to the earth.

Carbon Footprint

This refers to the emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases that an individual or organisation emits. If a company emits X tonnes of carbon every year then X is the carbon footprint of Y

Carbon Neutral

Companies may claim to be carbon neutral which is when they achieve net-zero carbon emissions. This is because they have offset the amount of carbon that they produce by purchasing carbon credits or in activities such as tree planting.

Carbon Offset

When a company or individual purchases credits or uses carbon trading schemes to offset their emissions.


This is when natural products can be broken down by microorganisms and become nutrient-rich soil as the final product.

Circular Economy

When a product or service’s life cycle is completed the components will be repurposed back into the production phase. Nothing is disposed of or ends up in landfills in a circular economy model


Fairtrade ensures a fair partnership between the producers and the manufacturers. Previously corporations have taken advantage of producers and underpaid them or exploited them.


This is a marketing term for when a product or service is incorrectly portrayed as environmentally friendly or sustainable when it is not.

Natural Resources

Raw materials that are found in nature are harvested to create products and energy. It includes fossil fuels from the ground, sunlight or even bamboo. Some natural resources are not always good and can be non-renewable.


When a product is organic it follows the USDA-accredited certification. This means that no pesticides or fertilisers are used. Secondly, no genetically modified ingredients are use


This refers to the collection and reprocessing of materials to be used again. This would be the process of diverting waste from landfills to be utilised for something else.


The process of planting trees where a forest once existed and had been removed for commercial purposes

Renewable Resources and Energy

These energy sources come from places that are not depleted when used. This can include wind power, hydropower, solar power and geothermal sources. Non-renewable sources are coal, oil and groundwater which will eventually run out.


Is the ability of a system to be maintained at a specific rate or level. It includes a system of permanence, where a structure of people, planet and profit can live in harmony without harming one another.


This is an approach that eliminates all waste and does not consume new resources. Composting is a common way to reduce and reuse food and garden waste.