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Covering sustainability: Glossary of terms, concepts

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Business has its own language. So, too, does sustainability. Navigating through the specialized maze of carbon and sustainability terms can be confounding. Anytime your subject uses a specialized term, ask for a definition. Here are a few terms to get you started:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR): In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization released the ISO 26000 social responsibility standard. It defines social responsibility as: “Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment through transparent and ethical behavior…”

Carbon footprint: Measurement of how many tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted from the consumption of fossil fuel.

Clean technology: Often called clean tech, any number of technologies that is less harmful to the environment than conventional technologies. Solar and wind power are examples of clean tech.

Sustainable design: A practice of creating product or building designs in environmentally responsible ways, including using less material, using materials that don’t deplete or harm the natural environment.

Biofuels: Fuel that is made from living matter.

Renewable energy: Energy that comes from natural resources such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal sources.

Life-cycle assessment: An analysis of environmental aspects associated with a product, process, or service, all the way from production and usage to disposal.

Zero waste: Discarded materials are designed to become resources for other uses.

Smart grid: Digital communication to control electricity use.

Green building: A practice of creating structures and processes in environmentally responsible ways, including siting, design, materials, construction, operation, and maintenance.

Green supply chain: Measurement and management of environmental impacts and greenhouse gases emissions from producing materials used in a product.

About the Author

Lisa Palmer is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy and green business topics. Her work has appeared in a variety of national and international media including Scientific American, Fortune, Fortune Small Business, CNNMoney.com, Slate, Popular Mechanics and U.S. News & World Report. Lisa is also a regular contributor to The Yale Forum, where she writes about climate change and how it is communicated in society. Last year Lisa was a freelance development editor for the America's Climate Choices study at the National Academy of Sciences. She has a bachelor's degree in business and a master's degree in communications.

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