Environmental jargon and understanding what it all means

05 September 2014

A glossary of key environmental terms

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Confused with all the environmental jargon? Don’t know your Carbon Footprint from your Ecological Footprint? Just received a supplier tender document that seems to be written in a foreign language? Then read on.   

Every day Environmental Officers are bombarded with requests for information, here are just a few definitions to help you translate those questions.

  • Carbon Footprint – The amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) released into the atmosphere by the activities of an individual, an organisation or community within a defined scope and boundary.  
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – There is no universally agreed definition for CSR but it's generally agreed that CSR is about organisations ‘doing the right thing’ and going the extra mile beyond legal requirements to reduce negative impacts on the environment and society.  It’s about giving something back to positively benefit the environment, the community in which an organisation operates, and society as a whole.  
  • Ecological Footprint - is the impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods we consume and to process the wastes generated.  Ecological Footprints are linked to lifestyles and vary enormously around the world; typically people in wealthier nations have higher Ecological Footprints.  An Ecological Footprint is measured as a physical area of land and reported in global hectares.
  • Environmental Management System (EMS) – is a structured framework for managing and reducing an organisation’s impact on the environment.
  • ISO14001 – is an International Environmental Management System standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO14001 specifies the requirements of an environmental management system (EMS) and is based on the Plan-Check-Do-Review-Improve cycle.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) - is a tool for the systematic evaluation of the environmental aspects of a product or service through all stages of its life cycle.  The evaluation considers the environmental impacts associated with raw material processing, manufacture, distribution, the use phase and the final disposal. 
  • Water Footprint - The Water Footprint of a product is the volume of freshwater appropriated to produce the product, taking into account the volumes of water consumed and polluted in the different steps of the supply chain.

Still confused? Then ask your customers for greater clarification.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding definitions, methods, procedures, scope and guidance as this demonstrates to your customers that you're taking the tender process seriously and are not just ‘ticking the boxes’.  It could also save you time in the long run.


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