Terminology / Definitions

Our area of concern uses a wealth of terms and concepts quite new to the business environment. It is therefore essential for those visiting our site, to grab the exact meaning of the expression and abbreviation we use.

We provide in this section short definitions and explanations for the terms and concepts we refer to in order to ease the understanding of our readers.


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A material that can be decomposed in nature within a relatively short period of time.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):
Is concerned with treating the key stakeholders of a firm or institution ethically or in a responsible manner. ‘Ethically or responsible' means treating stakeholders in a manner deemed acceptable in civilised societies. Social includes economic and environmental responsibility. Stakeholders exist both within a firm and outside. The wider aim of social responsibility is to create higher and higher standards of living, while preserving the profitability of the corporation, for peoples both within and outside the corporation Original Source: Michael Hopkins: A Planetary Bargain: Corporate Social Responsibility Comes of Age (Macmillan, UK, 1998) Revised July 2009

Corporate Citizenship (CC):
Is about business taking greater account of its social and environmental - as well as its financial - footprints. Source: Simon Zadek The Civil Corporation, (p7, Earthscan, London, 2001)

Corporate Governance (CG):
Corporate Governance is concerned with holding the balance between economic and social goals and between individual and communal goals. The corporate governance framework is there to encourage the efficient use of resources and equally to require accountability for the stewardship of those resources. The aim is to align as nearly as possible the interests of individuals, corporations and society" Source: Sir Adrian Cadbury in ‘Global Corporate Governance Forum', World Bank, 2000)

Corporate Social Investment (CSI):
Is the investment in development projects in emerging markets by companies that may, or may not be, directly relevant to the company's bottom line

Corporate Sustainability:
Aligns an organisation's products and services with stakeholder expectations, thereby adding economic, environmental and social value Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Carbon Footprint:
It measures total amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from all sources are summed up and changed into units of CO2 equivalent which is used to standardize greenhouse gas emissions and help make comparisons from different time periods and across industries. Carbon emissions are usually measured in metric tones per year (1 metric ton equals 2204lbs).

The relatively stable humus material which is produced when bacteria in soil mixes with degradable trash and garbage to break down the mixture into organic fertilizer.

A design protocol that supports the elimination of waste by recycling materials or products into new or similar products at the end of its intended life, instead of disposing of it.

Design for the Environment (DfE):
A design concept that focuses on reducing environmental and human health impacts by thoughtful design and careful material selection.

The science of morals in human conduct. Source: Oxford Dictionary

Ethical Accounting:
Is the process through which the company takes up a dialogue with major stakeholders to report on past activities with a view to shaping future ones. Source: John Rosthorn: Business Ethics Auditing - More than a Stakeholder's Toy (Journal of Business Ethics 00: 1-11, 2000, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands)

Ethical Auditing:
Is regular, complete and documented measurements of compliance with the company's published policies & procedures. Source: John Rosthorn, ibid.

Ethical Book-Keeping:
Is systematic, reliable maintaining of accessible records for corporate activities which reflect on its conduct and behaviour. Source: JR, ibid.

Ecological footprint:
A measure of how much productive land and water an individual, a city, a country, or humanity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb all the waste it generates, using prevailing technology. This land could be anywhere in the world. The Ecological Footprint is measured in 'global acres [hectares]'.

The natural interacting system of living and non-living things of the environment.

Embodied energy:
The energy used during its entire life cycle for manufacturing, transporting, using and disposing.

Any gas, particle, or vapor release into the environment from a commercial, industrial, or residential source including smokestacks, chimneys, and motor vehicles.

Environmental Impact:
Any change that would affect the environment, good or bad, wholly or partially from industrial/manufacturing activities, products or services.

Environmental responsibility:
As outlined in Agenda 21 is: "the responsible and ethical management of products and processes from the point of view of health, safety and environmental aspects. Towards this end, business and industry should increase self-regulation, guided by appropriate codes, charters and initiatives integrated into all elements of business planning and decision-making, and fostering openness and dialogue with employees and the public.

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Green Energy:
Refers to environment friendly power and energy that comes from renewable and non-polluting energy sources. Solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass (wood and animal waste, landfill mass) are good examples of primary green energy sources.

Greenhouse Effect:
The global warming attributed to a buildup of carbon dioxide or other gases.

Greenhouse Gas:
Any gas including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that contributes to the greenhouse effect.

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Industrial Waste:
Undesired materials created from an industrial operation; may be liquid, sludge, solid, or hazardous waste.

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Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):
A reduced set of measures or indicators that purport to show the most important aspects of the body being measures.

Life Cycle Assessment:
The process of analysis from raw materials extraction through manufacturing, delivery, use, and disposal or reuse of a product's entire life.

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Public Private Partnerships (PPP):
Partnerships between private companies and public bodies in a joint venture to perform projects and programmers for the public good.

Precautionary approach:
The essence of the precautionary approach is given in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, which states; "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation."

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Reputation Assurance:
A number of common global principles for the business environment assembled to provide quantitative and trend information. (JR, ibid.)

Recyclable Content:
Materials that can be recovered or diverted for recycling or reuse from the waste stream.

Recycled Content:
Refers to the percentage or weight of recycled materials in a product.

Social Reporting:
Non-financial data covering staff issues, community economic developments, stakeholder involvement and can include voluntarism and environmental performance.

Socially Responsible Investment (SRI):
Investment in socially responsible activities normally by an investment fund.

A person, group, organization, or system who affects or can be affected by an organization's actions

Stakeholder engagement:
The broader, more inclusive, and continuous process between a company and those potentially impacted that encompasses a range of activities and approaches, and spans the entire life of a project (Source: IFC Publications - "Stakeholder Engagement – A good practice handbook for companies doing business in emerging markets")

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA):
Is "a structured, proactive process to strengthen the role of environmental issues in strategic decision making" (Tonk and Verheem, 1998). SEA aims to integrate environmental (biophysical, social and economic) considerations into the earliest stages of policy, plan and programme development (Sadler, 1995). It is therefore a process of integrating the concept of sustainability into strategic decision-making.

Sustainable development
Was defined by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development in the 1987 Brundtland Report as "those paths of social, economic and political progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Depending where one looks you will find various definitions aimed at describing 'sustainability' in a manner most favourable to the user's point of view. Earlier definitions were driven by egocentrics who viewed economic growth as incompatible with environmental protection and predicated solutions based on minimal resource exploitation and organic agriculture. In contrast, the cornucopian techno-centrists argued for free market forces as these would lead to a general improvement in the quality of life, lower birth rates and a concomitant decrease in population growth and therefore in resource depletion. These two opposing views have given way to a new view that the world’s resources are in principle sufficient to meet long-term human needs. However, this optimistic view is predicated on the resolution of a number of key areas.

Poverty is recognised as an important cause of environmental degradation and therefore recognises that economic development has a crucial role to play in contributing to poverty alleviation. “The critical issues on which the debate has come to focus are, therefore, the uneven spatial distribution of population relative to natural carrying capacities, international interdependencies in resource utilisation and the extent as well as degree of inefficient or irrational use of environmental resources.” The global intervention required to redress this imbalance has to do with managing the utilisation of natural resources correctly. This management requirement has come to be termed sustainable development.

Its objectives are quite concrete: development only takes place if the resource harvest rates are at levels no higher than managed or natural regeneration rates permit, and the use of the environment as a waste sink occurs only on the basis that waste disposal rates should not exceed the managed or natural assimilation capacity of the environment.

The concept of sustainability relates to the maintenance and enhancement of environmental, social and economic resources, in order to meet the needs of current and future generations. The three components of sustainability are:

  • Environmental sustainability – which requires that natural capital remains intact. This means that the source and sink functions of the environment should not be degraded. Therefore, the extraction of renewable resources should not exceed the rate at which they are renewed, and the absorptive capacity to the environment to assimilate wastes should not be exceeded. Furthermore, the extraction of non-renewable resources should be minimised and should not exceed agreed minimum strategic levels.
  • Social sustainability – which requires that the cohesion of society and its ability to work towards common goals be maintained. Individual needs, such as those for health and well-being, nutrition, shelter, education and cultural expression should be met.
  • Economic sustainability – which occurs when development, which moves towards social and environmental sustainability, is financially feasible. (Source: Gilbert, Stevenson, Girardet, Stren, 1996)

Tripple Bottom Line:
Financial, social, and environmental effects of a firm's policies and actions that determine its viability as a sustainable organization. (Source: Business Dictionary.com)

Any material or waste product that can endanger the environment or produce injury and/or loss of life if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.

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