Unravel the jargon
your retail business.
25-year Environment Plan
The UK Government’s environment plan, launched in January 2018, sets out the Government’s goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than it found it. The strategy details how the Government will work with communities and businesses to do this.
A business model that gives customers access to goods and services rather than outright ownership. The access economy refers to renting assets on a temporary basis, producing environmental benefits through reduced mass consumption. Companies such as AirBnb, ZipCar and Uber are good examples of the access economy in practice.
Renewable energy tariffs with additionality offer additional environmental benefits beyond the provision of green energy in that they also encompass carbon offsets.
The process of breaking down organic matter, commonly sewage or animal and food waste, into carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfate and water. It is a bacterial process that requires the presence of oxygen.
Aerobic digestion is typically used in activated sludge treatment plants, but can be used to process any organic waste.
Air-source heat pump
An air-source heat pump is a system that extracts natural heat from the outside air using refrigeration pipes. It concentrates heat by using a vapour compression cycle, and transfers heat into buildings to provide heating and hot water without burning fossil fuels.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the process of breaking down organic matter, commonly animal and food waste, into carbon dioxide, methane, water and bacteria. Anaerobic refers to the absence of oxygen, as the process can either occur naturally or in oxygen-free tanks called an anaerobic digester.
AD is predominantly used to produce biogas and biofertiliser, otherwise known as digestate. Biogas is the mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, and can be used to produce heat and electricity or mixed into vehicle fuel and gas grids. Biofertiliser is the nutrient-rich substance that can be applied to farmland or fed into ethanol production or even some building materials like fibreboard.
A vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system to sense its environment and guide itself without human conduction. An autonomous vehicle is also known as a ‘driverless’ or ‘self-driving’ car.
A tool used by the National Grid to balance electricity supply and demand close to real time. It is used to balance supply and demand in each 30-minute trading period of every day.
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. The ministerial department responsible for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change.
A material which breaks down organically over a period of time, as microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi break it down into naturally-occuring gases and biomass.
The term does not mean the material should be freely released into the environment in an uncontrolled manner, as the speed, method and nature of biodegradation differs between materials.
The existence of a wide range of living organisms, such as animal and plants, in an environment. Biodiversity is important to the health of ecosystems as it provides food, materials and contributes to the economy.
A fuel produced directly or indirectly from living matter, including plant material and animal waste. Examples of biofuels include ethanol, biodiesel and biogas. Biofuels are seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuels as they can be replenished as quickly as they are used and burn cleanly.
Organic matter, such as timber and crops, that can be converted to fuel and is generally regarded as a renewable fuel source. Biomass is sustainable and generally carbon-neutral because the carbon released in the combustion process is offset by the carbon trapped in the organic matter by photosynthesis during its growth. In biomass power plants or boilers, wood waste or other waste is burned to produce stream that runs a turbine to make electricity.
Biomass is considered by many companies and governments to be a renewable and sustainable source of energy, but its use is somewhat dividing the sustainability sector.
Building and Energy Management System (BEMS)
A computer-based system that controls and monitors a building’s mechanical and electrical equipment such as heating, ventilation, lighting, and power systems. In offices and factories for example, a BMS can automate and take control of these operations in the most efficient way possible, saving energy.
Building Information Modelling (BIM)
A process for creating and managing information on a construction project across the project lifecycle. One of the key outputs of this process is the Building Information Model, the digital description of every aspect of the built asset.
BIM has been advocated for its potential delivery of more innovative, cost-efficient buildings through more integrated information and collaboration. Creating a digital Building Information Model enables those who interact with the building to optimize their actions, resulting in a greater whole life value for the asset.
A mechanism introduced by the UK Government to ensure that electricity supply continues to meet demand as more volatile and unpredictable renewable energy generation comes online. The Capacity Market provides a regular payment to reliable forms of energy capacity in return for such capacity being available when the system is tight.
The UK Government has set five-yearly carbon budgets which currently run until 2032. They restrict the amount of greenhouse gases the UK can legally emit in a five-year period. The UK’s Fifth carbon budget aims to limit the annual emissions to 57% below 1990 levels by the year 2032.
A generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right of a company to emit one tonne of CO2 or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide. Carbon credits are issued by governments, which tend to issue fewer and fewer over time, making polluting more expensive.
The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere that is produced directly or indirectly by human activities. It can be calculated to measure the emissions emitted by products, services, individuals, companies or nations. The standard unit of measurement for carbon footprints is carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e).
Chain of Custody
An unbroken and documented chain of ownership all the way from the supplier to the end user.
An industrial economy that promotes resource efficiency by replacing a linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production with one where materials function at their highest utility at all time. The circular economy model aims to extract maximum value from resources while in use, and then recover and reuse these materials at the end of each service life.
Climate Change Act
Government legislation which commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It established the framework to develop a targeted and economically-credible plan to reduce current and future emissions. The Climate Change Act commits the government to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Climate Change Levy
A tax on energy delivered to non-domestic users in the UK, introduced in 2001 under the 2000 Finance Act. The levy applies to most energy users, with the notable exceptions of the transport sector and domestic sphere. Originally electricity generated from new renewables and approved cogeneration schemes was not taxed, but this exemption was abolished in 2015.
A business model that completely reuses, recycles, or composts all materials. The term can also be used to refer to corporate take-back schemes, where companies that produce a good are also responsible for its disposal.
Combined Heat & Power (CHP)
A form of onsite electricity generation which provides a combination of heat and power.
A CHP plant converts a single fuel into both electricity and heat in a single process. Significantly, the heat is captured and can then be ‘recycled’ for space heating, cooling, domestic hot water and industrial processes. This makes CHP much more energy and cost-efficient than traditional coal and gas-fired power stations, where vast amounts of the heat produced through the electricity generation process is wasted.
CHP has become a well-proven technology across the world and is recognised as a viable alternative to centralised energy generation, and around 2,000 factories and businesses across the UK have so far adopted the technology.
A material which is certified to biodegrade or decompose under industrial composting conditions. Industrial composting conditions require elevated temperature (55-60°C) combined with a high relative humidity and the presence of oxygen.
Contracts for Difference
A private law contract between a low-carbon electricity generator and the Government. The generator party is paid the difference between the ‘strike price’ – a price for electricity reflecting the cost of investing in a particular low-carbon technology – and the ‘reference price’– a measure of the average market price for electricity in the UK market. CfD provides long-term price security to renewable energy providers, allowing investment to come forward at a lower cost of capital and therefore at a lower cost to consumers.
Cradle to cradle
Using the end-use product (waste) for the source of a new product: a circular economy. All products can be designed for continuous recovery and re-utilisation.
Energy that is generated close to where it will be used, rather than at an industrial plant and sent through the national grid. Decentralised systems typically use renewable energy sources, including small hydro, combined heat and power (CHP), biomass, solar and wind power. A decentralised energy system can increase security of supply, reduce transmission losses and lowers carbon emissions.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the UK Government department responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards in the standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities in the UK.
A service which encourages businesses and consumers to reduce or shift their energy usage in peak periods, usually in response to price changes or incentive payments. Demand response measures enable participants to save on energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.
Deposit Return Scheme
A recycling system in which consumers pay a small deposit for plastic and glass bottles, which can be refunded upon return to a shop. Such schemes are underway in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway, where recycling rates of containers are now above 90%.
An electric vehicle (EV) is a mode of transport which is powered by electricity. Unlike conventional vehicles that use a gasoline (petrol) or diesel-powered engine, electric cars and trucks use an electric motor powered by electricity from batteries or a fuel cell. A key advantage of EVs over other forms of transport is that they hold the potential to significantly reduce pollution by having zero exhaust emissions.
Electricity Market Reform
A UK Government policy to incentivise investment in secure, low-carbon electricity, improve the security of electricity supply, and improve affordability for consumers. The two main elements of EMR are; Contracts for Difference (CfDs), which provides long-term price security to renewable energy providers; and the Capacity Market, which will helps ensure security of electricity supply at the least cost to the consumer.
Energy Performance Contract
A low-risk method of financing and delivering energy efficiency improvements and renewable projects for businesses that lack the funds, technical experience and man power needed for such projects. The EPC is formed between the client and an external organisation (ESCO), with the upgrades funded through cost reductions.
Extended Producer Responsibility
A strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods and/or packaging throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products. The concept was first formally introduced in Sweden by Thomas Lindhqvist in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment.
A social movement which aims to ensure that fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries, as well as delivering improved social and environmental standards. The movement focuses in particular on commodities or products sold by producers in developing countries to companies in developed countries, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar and chocolate.
A cradle-to-grave business model in which low-quality clothes, shoes and accessories are mass-produced at low costs, with shops stocking new ranges more than every season. Much research has concluded that this business model encourages “design for disposal” and puts consumers off of reusing, repairing or recycling their clothing.
A Government programme introduced to help renewable electricity generators overcome the cost disadvantages of installing and operating renewable energy technology. If a householder, community or business has an eligible installation (less than 5MW), FITs pay them a subsidy for the electricity they generate, as well as a bonus for any electricity exported back to the grid.
A gradual increase in the world’s average temperature, due to the release of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal into the atmosphere.
Fixed-income financial instruments linked in some way to projects aiming to drive progress towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient or socially sustainable future.
The majority of the green bonds issued are green “use of proceeds” or asset-linked bonds. Proceeds from these bonds are earmarked for green projects but are backed by the issuer’s entire balance sheet.
The green finance market grew from $87.2bn in 2016 to $155.5bn in 2017, a record increase of 78%, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI).
A UK Government policy launched in 2012 to provide properties with loans for energy efficiency measures. The loans were repaid through energy bills and transfer with the property rather than those who took out the loan. High interest rates and charges of the scheme resulted in a lack of demand for the Green Deal, and the programme was scrapped by the Conservative Government in 2015.
Green Investment Bank
The financial institution was created by the UK Government in November 2012 to invest in green projects on commercial terms and mobilise other private sector capital into the UK’s green economy. The GIB has invested £2.7bn in more than 85 UK green infrastructure projects, ranging across wind energy, biomass and energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities. In April 2017, the UK Government completed the sale of the GIB to Australian investment bank Macquarie today (20 April) for a sum of £2.3bn.
Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is an economic stimulus concept which aims to create jobs and infrastructure in the areas required to tackle climate change, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy and the built environment. Although the primary objective is employment and growth, it is also seen as a policy linked to social justice by guaranteeing work and putting the natural environment at the core of economic policy.
An atmospheric gas, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that absorbs and emits radiation produced by solar warming of the Earth’s surface. Human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests, have led to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, causing global warming.
The practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.
Groundsource heat pump
A ground-source heat pump is a system that extracts natural heat from the ground using pipes which are buried under the surface. It concentrates heat by using a vapour compression cycle, and transfers heat into buildings to provide heating and hot water without burning fossil fuels.
Guarantees of Origin
A tracking mechanism that allows corporate purchasers of renewable power to ascertain that the energy was generated using clean technology. Also known as a GO or GoO, Guarantees of Origin create a tamper-proof chain of information around the energy’s progress from generation to delivery.
A device that transfers heat from a colder area to a hotter area by using mechanical energy.
Ground or air source heat pumps are growing in popularity due to their efficiency and relatively low cost. Ground pumps use pipes to extract heat from the ground, while air pumps absorb heat from the outside air – both provide heating and hot water and are suited to applications where there’s a demand for steady, low temperature heat such as underfloor heating or radiators.
Air source heat pumps are usually easier to install as they don’t require any trenches or drilling, but are often less efficient than ground source heat pumps.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is the technology of indoor and vehicle environmental comfort. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality.
A form of renewable energy used for electricity generation that derives from the force of moving water. Hydropower plants generally use a dam on a river to store water in a reservoir, where the water is released through a turbine to generate electricity. The technology reduces reliance on fossil fuels, increases security of supply and contributes small amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere.
Any of several organic compounds composed of hydrogen, fluorine and carbon. HFCs are produced synthetically and are used primarily as refrigerants. They became widely used for this purpose beginning in the late 1980s, with the introduction of the Montreal Protocol which phased out the use of chemicals such as halons and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that contribute to the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer.
A method which involves growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. This helps save space, prevent soil degradation and speed up crop cycles. It is often used within indoor, vertical farms.
An EU Directive which requires Member States to prevent or reduce as far as possible the negative effects of landfilling on the environment as well as any resultant risk to human health. Under the Landfill Directive, the UK required to send no more than 35% of the volume of bio-municipal waste to landfill than it did during 1995 by 2020.
A technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through to materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling.
Small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long, which are often invisible or hard to see with the naked eye. Microplastics have been found in fish and shellfish bound for human consumption and were found in human stools for the first time in 2018.
Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES)
Government regulations which require private, non-domestic landlords to ensure that properties they rent in England and Wales from April 2018 reach an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of at least ‘E’ before granting a tenancy to new or existing tenants. These requirements will apply to all private rented non-domestic properties – including properties where there has been no change in the tenancy arrangements – from April 2023.
Modern Slavery Act
The Modern Slavery Act is an Act of the Parliament of the UK. The Act received royal assent on 26 March 2015 and came into force on 29 October of the same year. It is the first piece of UK legislation – and the first in Europe – to focus on prosecuting and preventing acts of modern slavery in supply chains.
The elements of the natural environment that provide valuable goods and functions such as clean air, clean water, food and recreation. Natural capital accounting puts a value on these resouerces. Each year, the planet produces up to $72trn worth of ‘free’ goods and services that are essential to a well-functioning global economy.
A “net-zero” target refers to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by a selected date, but differs from zero carbon, which requires no carbon to be emitted as the key criteria.
Net-zero refers to balancing the amount of emitted greenhouse gases with the equivalent emissions that are either offset or sequestered. This should primarily be achieved through a rapid reduction in carbon emissions, but where zero carbon cannot be achieved, offsetting through carbon credits or sequestration through rewilding or carbon capture and storage needs to be utilised.
The mechanism for claiming a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with a process or product through the removal of, or preventing the release of, GHG emissions in a process unrelated to the life cycle of the product being assessed.
Plastic material (either bio-based or fossil-fuel-based) that has been designed to degrade by oxidation. Oxo-degradable plastics typically contain a chemical additive which triggers fragmentation when the material is exposed to heat or UV rays. Manufacturers have claimed that these fragments then biodegrade, but research into some oxo-degradable materials has revealed that this is not always the case.
Packaging Recovery Notes
Producer Responsibility Obligations create a legal obligation for packaging producers to ensure that a proportion of their marketed products are recovered and recycled. Businesses can show evidence of their compliance by purchasing Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs).
For the UK, this cost is around €20/tonne, but other European nations have an average for producer responsibility at around €150/tonne.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
A type of resin and a form of polyester which is frequently used to produce plastic bottles and other containers. It is regarded as easy to recycle.
Usually used to refer to plastic, PCR is a term which refers to an item or material that has been used by a consumer to serve its intended use and has then been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal in order to be recycled.
Power Purchase Agreement
A contract between an energy generator and an energy buyer or ‘end-user’. Power purchase agreements (PPA) can provide a fixed price for energy generated over the duration of the contract, removing exposure to energy price volatility and allowing for accurate and predictable cost planning.
Producer Responsibility Obligation
A concept aimed at delivering sustainable development by making producers responsible for the end-of-life management of their products. Producer responsibility laws in the UK cover packaging, electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), batteries and end of life vehicles (ELVs). The regulations require businesses to minimise waste arising from these products and promote their re-use.
The collection and storage of roof rainwater for on-site reuse. The water makes its way through rainwater systems and fine mesh filters, into a tank, usually underground, and then is pumped from that tank to be used in a number of non-potable applications. This can reduce the demand on the potable water supply provided by the water companies significantly and reduce water costs.
The portion of a product that is made from materials directed from the waste stream; usually stated as a percentage by weight.
An energy source derived from natural resources which will not deplete when used. Examples of renewable energy include offshore and onshore wind, solar, geothermal power and tidal power.
A set of goals developed by a business to provide it with a clear route to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An emissions reduction target is defined as ‘science-based’ if it is developed in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global warming below 2C from pre-industrial levels.
In order to scale-up the number of businesses adopting science-based targets, the Science Based Targets initiative was formed towards the end of 2015 through a joint partnership between CDP, the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and WWF.
Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or ‘scopes’ by the most widely-used international accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. While scope 1 and 2 cover direct emissions sources (e.g., fuel used in company vehicles and purchased electricity), scope 3 emissions cover all indirect emissions due to the activities of an organisation.
An economic system in which services and resources are shared, borrowed or rented, often through online transactions, in an effort to save money, reduce costs and cut waste. Prime business examples of the sharing economy include Airbnb, Zipcar and the Uber Pool car sharing scheme.
‘Single-use’ was named as Collins Dictionary’s word of the year in November 2018, but there is still discrepancy between industries, nations and businesses as to its specific definition.
Broadly speaking, single-use is a term which can refer to any plastic items which are either designed to be used for one time by the consumer before they are thrown away or recycled, or likely to be used in this way. Such items include disposable cutlery, plastic straws, thin plastic carrier bags, drink stirrers and crisp packets.
Networks that monitor and manage the transport of electricity from all generation sources to meet the varying electricity demands of end users. Experts believe that smart grids can play a significant role in enabling nearly all clean energy technologies, including renewables, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.
A digital device which measures the total energy used in the same way as a traditional meter, but can also ack when energy is used and how much it costs, highlighting opportunities for savings. The smart meter rollout involves offering a smart meter to every household and small business in Britain by 2020 and the full national rollout began at the end of September 2016.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
A UN document which features 17 sustainability goals and 169 smaller targets, including pledges to protect the world’s oceans, improve water management and the energy system, and take urgent action on climate change. The overarching aim of the document is to ‘end poverty’. Delegates from 194 member states adopted the agreement in September 2015.
Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
The Financial Stability Board Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) is a market-driven initiative, set up by Mark Carney, Bank of England and Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, to help investors understand their financial exposure to climate risk and help companies disclose this information in a clear and consistent way.
TCFD provides a set of recommendations for voluntary and consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures in mainstream filings. Companies are therefore be better guided in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.
A concept that ensures the reliability and visibility of sustainability claims associated with products along the supply chain. Traceability ensures good practice in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.
Triple Bottom Line
A concept which seeks to broaden the focus on the financial bottom line by businesses to include social and environmental responsibilities. A triple bottom line measures a company’s degree of social responsibility, its economic value, and its environmental impact.
The phrase was introduced in 1994 by John Elkington and later used in his 1997 book “Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business.”
An ultra low emission vehicle (ULEV) is a car or van that emits a maximum of 75g/km CO2 and is currently eligible for zero road tax. A ULEV can be a 100% battery powered vehicle, an electric range-extender car or a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV).
A UN framework adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 196 States, known as its State Parties. This Framework acknowledges the existence of human-induced climate change and says that industrialised countries should shoulder the major part of responsibility for combating it.
The process of making adaptations to used items so as to increase their value, practical benefits and/or perceived beauty. Upcycling is also known as creative reuse and is seen by some as the opposite of traditional recycling. Industrial upcycling describes the use of technologies to reduce waste and resource consumption by creating a high-value product from waste or by-product streams.
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive
EU legislation which aims to reduce the waste and improve the environmental performance of all materials involved in the life cycle of the electrical and electronic equipment. WEEE, such as household appliances, tools and toys, are dependent upon electrical currents or electromagnetic fields under 100 volt AC or 1500 volt DC.
Waste Framework Directive
EU legislation which sets the overarching legislative framework for EU waste policy. The Directive sets binding targets to be achieved by 2020: preparing for the re-use and recycling of 50% of certain waste materials from households and similar sources; and preparing for reuse, recycling and other recovery of 70% of construction and demolition waste.
A concept that encourages a whole design approach of resource life cycles to ensure that products are made to be reused, redesigned or recycled.
Causing or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.