Demystifying Environmental Buzzwords: A Simple Guide

August 29, 2023

Are you struggling to understand environmental buzzwords like ESG, sustainability, and COP28? If you find yourself drawing a blank when asked about these terms, you're not alone. The aim of this paper is to provide clear and concise definitions to help you navigate the complex world of environmental terminology. Understanding these concepts is crucial for effective communication and acting towards a sustainable future.

General Environmental Words:


Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment. It explores how organisms interact with one another and their surroundings, including the air, water, land, and other ecosystems.


Environmental Science:

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary field that combines elements of biology, chemistry, and physics to understand the environment and its processes. It focuses on studying the impact of human activities on the environment and seeks solutions to mitigate environmental challenges.



Environmentalism refers to the social and political movement dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural environment. Environmentalists advocate for sustainable practices, conservation of resources, and the prevention of pollution and habitat destruction.



Sustainability involves meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It encompasses the responsible use of resources, the protection of ecosystems, and the consideration of social and economic factors to ensure long-term environmental well-being.


ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance):

ESG is a reporting framework used to evaluate a company's performance based on its environmental, social, and governance practices. It assesses factors such as a company's carbon footprint, treatment of employees, and ethical decision-making. ESG considerations aim to promote sustainable and responsible business practices.


Key takeaways:

  • Ecology: The study of living beings, how they live, and where they live.
  • Environmental science: The interdisciplinary study of the earth with a focus on human impact.
  • Environmentalism: The movement that advocates for the earth to be protected.
  • Sustainability: A method of protecting the earth with a focus on long-term environmental being.
  • ESG: A reporting framework used to assess environmental, social, and governance practices.


Global Conferences + COP Lingo:

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change):

The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty that aims to address climate change. It provides a platform for countries to collaborate on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate impacts, and promoting sustainable development.


Conference of Parties (COP):

The Conference of Parties (COP) is an annual gathering of countries that are party to the UNFCCC. During COP meetings, participating nations negotiate and make decisions regarding climate change policies and actions. COP28 refers to the 28th session of this conference.


Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA):

The SBSTA is a subsidiary body of the UNFCCC. It provides scientific and technical advice to the COP and assists in assessing the latest scientific findings and technological advancements related to climate change.


Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI):

The SBI is another subsidiary body of the UNFCCC. It assists the COP in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of climate change policies and actions by participating countries.


Paris Agreement:

The Paris Agreement is a landmark international treaty under the UNFCCC. It was adopted at COP21 in Paris, France. It aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial (1850 – 1900) levels and strives for efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement emphasizes countries' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience to climate impacts.


Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs):

NDCs are climate action plans that countries submit under the Paris Agreement. They outline the efforts each country intends to make to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.


Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR):

CBDR is a principle recognized in international environmental agreements, including the UNFCCC. It acknowledges that countries have different historical responsibilities and capacities in addressing environmental challenges. The principle emphasizes the need for developed countries to take greater responsibility for mitigating climate change,


Key Takeaways:

  • UNFCCC: It was a convention that turned into a treaty but acts as an entity that’s task is to back global efforts to address climate change related challenges.
  • COP: Global climate change meeting held by the UN, each country who joins is a “party to” legally, it happens yearly in a different host city.
  • SBSTA: One permanent body of UNFCCC, provides the science, tech, and methodology advice to COP.
  • SBI: Other permanent body of the UNFCCC, oversees the implementation of any actions agreed under UNFCCC.
  • Paris Agreement: international treaty whose goal is to make sure average global temperature doesn’t rise 2°C over the baseline years of 1850 – 1900, aims for 1.5°C though.
  • NDC’s: The commitments/pledge that countries made during the Paris Agreement.
  • CBDR: Concept that acknowledges different countries have different capacities. It calls for developed countries to take the lead in climate efforts (because they’re historically usually responsible for climate damage) and have the capacity to do more.


Common Environmental Reporting Jargon:


Greenhouse Gases:

Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Examples of greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), among others. They’re a natural part of the earth’s atmosphere but out of balance and in excess they cause harm. If they’re amounts in the atmosphere increases too much the earth get’s too warm which throws off the balance of many environmental systems.



Emissions refer to the release of gases, particles, or other substances into the atmosphere. In the context of the environment, emissions often refer to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities such as burning fossil fuels, industrial processes, and deforestation.


Carbon Footprint:

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, produced directly or indirectly by an individual, organization, or product throughout its life cycle. It is a measure of the environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions.



Greenwashing refers to the deceptive or misleading practices used by companies or organizations to create a false impression of being environmentally friendly or sustainable. It involves making unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims about environmental practices or products, misleading consumers or stakeholders.



Greenhushing is a term used to describe the deliberate suppression or withholding of environmental information or concerns by companies, organizations, or governments. It involves avoiding or downplaying discussions or actions related to environmental issues, hindering transparency and accountability.


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to the voluntary actions and initiatives taken by businesses to contribute to societal and environmental well-being. It involves integrating social and environmental concerns into business operations and decision-making, beyond legal obligations, with the aim of creating positive impacts on stakeholders and the community.



  • GHG’s: The gasses that trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and in excess contribute to climate change.
  • Emissions: Releasing gasses and particles, usually refers to GHG’s.
  • Carbon Footprint: Total carbon dioxide emissions produced directly or indirectly.
  • Greenwashing: Being deceptive about environmental sustainability practices.
  • Greenhushing: Deliberately withholding environmental information or concerns.
  • CSR: Actions taken by businesses to contribute to societal and environmental well-being. Not the same thing as sustainability but sustainability can be a goal of CSR and CSR can be a part of sustainability.


By understanding these key terms, you'll be better equipped to participate in discussions and make informed decisions related to the environment and sustainability. This way when the topic of the environment comes up, you’ll have a better idea of how your business relates to different aspects of the environment.


If you want to learn more and apply this knowledge to your business reach out to an ESG consultancy like Communique.

Author: Maha Abdel-Karim, Junior Environmental Consultant

Photo credit:


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