June 2023

Sustainability Terms Explained

7 minutes

We’ve spoken before about how NU is on a journey to becoming a more sustainable agency. And as we learn about what that involves, we will be documenting what we learn and our progress. One of the first things we’ve had to do is understand the key terminology that is used when it comes to sustainability in business and when to use them. 

Here are some of the most vital environmental terms you need to know and what they mean:

B corp

A B Corp, or Benefit Corporation, is a for-profit company that has been certified by the non-profit organisation B Lab for meeting rigorous social, environmental, and transparency standards. By achieving this certification, B Corps demonstrate a commitment to balancing purpose and profit, focusing on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. This means that in addition to generating profits, they strive to create positive social and environmental impacts for their stakeholders, employees, communities, and the environment, ensuring that their business practices are ethical and sustainable. You must undergo a risk assessment and verify your status every three years, so it’s really something that you, as a business, are committing to long term. 


The meaning of the term biodegradable describes a material that can be broken down by natural processes, such as microorganism activity, into non-toxic components like water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. If you’re claiming your product is biodegradable, it must completely break down and return to nature within a year. 

Carbon neutrality 

Carbon neutrality refers to achieving a net-zero carbon footprint, where the amount of carbon emissions produced by a business/organisation is balanced by an equivalent amount of carbon removal or offsetting measures. This can be accomplished by reducing emissions, investing in renewable energy, and supporting projects that capture or prevent the release of carbon dioxide, ultimately helping to combat climate change and promote a more sustainable future.

Climate action

Climate action encompasses various efforts and measures aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and transitioning to a more sustainable, low-carbon economy. It involves diverse strategies, such as adopting renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, protecting ecosystems, promoting sustainable agriculture, and raising public awareness. These collective efforts aim to limit global warming and safeguard the environment for future generations.

Climate change

Climate change refers to significant, long-term shifts in global weather patterns and temperatures, largely driven by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These activities increase greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, causing the Earth to retain more heat. The consequences of climate change include rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events, species extinction, and disruptions to ecosystems, agriculture, and human societies.

Climate justice 

Climate justice is the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens associated with climate change and its solutions. It acknowledges that historically marginalised communities often face disproportionate impacts of climate change, despite contributing less to the problem. Climate justice seeks to address these disparities by prioritising the needs of vulnerable populations, promoting fair access to resources, and ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making processes related to climate action.

Conscious consumerism

Conscious consumerism is a mindful approach to purchasing, where consumers actively consider the social, environmental, and ethical impacts of the products and services they buy. This includes supporting businesses that prioritise sustainability, fair labour practices, and transparency. By making informed choices, conscious consumers aim to promote positive change, reduce their ecological footprint, and contribute to a more equitable and sustainable economy.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business approach that emphasises ethical behaviour, social and environmental considerations, and community engagement. Companies with robust CSR practices integrate these values into their core operations, decision-making processes, and relationships with stakeholders. CSR aims to strike a balance between generating profits and creating a positive societal impact, ensuring businesses contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world.


Eco-friendly describes products, practices, or lifestyles that minimise harm to the environment and reduce the consumption of natural resources. This concept involves using sustainable materials, reducing waste and pollution, conserving energy and water, and promoting recycling and reusability. Adopting eco-friendly habits supports the preservation of ecosystems, combats climate change, and helps create a more sustainable world for future generations.


A sustainable product is long-lasting, non-toxic, minimally packaged, and has a reduced environmental footprint compared to similar items. However, defining a product as "green" remains contentious, with unclear boundaries. This ambiguity has resulted in misleading marketing tactics, such as greenwashing, which can misrepresent a product's true environmental impact.


Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice in which companies exaggerate or falsely claim their products, services, or policies are environmentally friendly. By creating a misleading "green" image, businesses seek to attract eco-conscious consumers and gain a competitive advantage. Greenwashing exploits consumer concerns for the environment, making it difficult for people to identify genuinely sustainable options and undermining efforts to promote environmental responsibility.

Net Zero

Net zero refers to the balance achieved when an entity's greenhouse gas emissions are counteracted by an equivalent amount of carbon removal or offsetting measures. This can be accomplished through reducing emissions, investing in renewable energy, and supporting carbon capture or emission prevention projects. Reaching net zero helps combat climate change, as it signifies no net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, supporting a more sustainable future.


Non-toxic refers to substances or materials that do not pose a significant risk to human health, animals, or the environment when used or disposed of appropriately. These products are generally free from harmful chemicals or substances that are known to cause adverse effects or accumulate in ecosystems. By choosing non-toxic alternatives, consumers can minimise negative impacts on their well-being and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment.


Organic refers to a method of agricultural production that emphasises environmentally sustainable practices and avoids synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides, herbicides, and artificial fertilisers. Organic farming promotes biodiversity, soil health, and ecological balance by using natural processes and inputs, such as compost and biological pest control. Organic products, which can include food, textiles, and personal care items, are typically certified by regulatory agencies to ensure compliance with established standards.


Sustainability is the principle of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It encompasses economic, social, and environmental dimensions, aiming for a harmonious balance. Sustainable practices focus on resource conservation, waste reduction, and minimising negative impacts on the environment and society, ultimately striving for a more equitable, resilient, and healthy planet for all inhabitants.

Sustainable business 

A sustainable business prioritises economic, social, and environmental considerations alongside profitability, integrating these values into its operations and decision-making processes. By adopting sustainable practices, such as resource conservation, waste reduction, and ethical supply chain management, these businesses minimise their negative impacts while maximising long-term value for stakeholders. Sustainable businesses contribute to a more resilient and equitable economy, ensuring a healthier planet for future generations.

This is something we are on a journey to becoming and learning more about. See our latest blog on five things a business can do to be more sustainable.  

 Sustainable design 

A sustainable design business focuses on creating products, services, or spaces that minimise negative environmental and social impacts while maximising functionality and aesthetic appeal. By incorporating principles such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the use of eco-friendly materials, sustainable design businesses strive to balance economic success with ecological responsibility. The goal is to create innovative, long-lasting solutions that promote a healthier, more sustainable future.

See our latest blog on Green Graphic Desig and read more about sustainable design and how it can be implemented. 

So there you have it, those are the key terms you need to know before starting your sustainability journey. We will keep updating this list as we continue to discover more. Throughout the course of the year, we will be sharing our journey towards getting our B Corp accreditation, and the steps we’re taking to make that goal a reality.

Follow us on LinkedIn for regular updates.

And if you’re looking to assess your values, mission statement and branding to follow a more sustainable path, get in touch today to see how NU can help you. 


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