Just what is everyone going on about? Have you ever been in a meeting about sustainability and been confused by the jargon? It’s fair enough – there are a lot of new terms and many of them are deceptively similar. So we thought we’d clear some things up and help define some of those terms to save you from nodding along in your next meeting, totally none the wiser about what everyone is talking about.
Oh, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, so do let us know if there are any glaring omissions and we’ll add them and credit you.
Sustainable Marketing vs. Green Marketing
They’re not interchangeable terms, even though they’ve very similar. We actually have a whole post on sustainable marketing here, so have a read on that.
Green Marketing is that which focuses on primarily environmentally sound products and causes, so think renewables, pollution, waste, materials etc.
Sustainable marketing includes green marketing, but is also concerned with the social and business aspects as well – workers rights, fair pay, sourcing of raw materials, diversity practices etc. It’s concerned with the environment, yes, but also the effect that business has on greater society.
Another one that we’ve done a dedicated post about, greenwashing is the performance of green marketing with none of the action. Or rather: lying. It’s a tokenistic gesture to appeal to our better natures and sell more stuff.
An accreditation from an independent organisation. To become certified, businesses must meet high standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
All about carbon
One of the main aims of sustainability is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of carbon-based terms floating about.
Carbon neutrality is the goal of balancing carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) emitted in the production of something. It seeks to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions and can be done in a few ways.
This is a method of achieving carbon neutrality and seeks to offset the carbon that’s generated in an area by reducing the emissions somewhere else – whether by investing in renewables, planting trees or making efficiencies elsewhere.
The reduction of carbon emissions to less than neutral so the net effect is one of removing carbon from the atmosphere. This can be achieved by offsetting carbon by more than the amount that you’re producing.
Carbon credits are an attempt at solving carbon emissions using market forces. One carbon credit is a tradable certificate (or token) that represents the right to emit one tonne of CO2. The idea being that, as demand for creating carbon emissions rises, so too will the price of carbon credit, incentivising reductions in emissions. The idea is, in a way, to use the mechanics of capitalism to defeat some of the symptoms of capitalism. It might just be mad enough to work.
Interchangeable with carbon neutral, just with a bit more of a sweeping ring to it. E.g, at Akepa we’ve reduced and then offset our carbon emissions and we’ve chosen to use this term on our website.
This term basically refers to the long-term capture or removal of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. Trees do this already which is why the Amazon is so critical and now a growing number of companies are looking to harvest and convert carbon artificially to put it to use in eco-friendly products. It’s turning a negative into a positive. Or, when you think about the carbon claims, maybe more of a positive into a neutral or a negative.
R, me hearty!
People love mnemonics, so there are a number of phrases that help simplify some principles of sustainability. That said, there does seem to be a point of diminishing returns, mnemonics-wise.
Simple one, this. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
The Four Rs
Because three isn’t enough, the fourth R can stand for Repair. It’s a good addition.
The Five Rs
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair AND Refuse. Not as in waste, but as in ‘say no’. Refuse to accept single-use plastic, refuse to take freebies at conventions, refuse to work with partners who won’t work transparently.
The Six Rs
Just kidding, there is no sixth R. Technology hasn’t got quite that far, yet.
Packaging / end of product life claims
A lot of products have claims about what you can do with the product once you’ve finished with it, or what you can do with the packaging. There are subtle differences.
Probably the simplest, this one means that the packaging can be recycled. It doesn’t, however, mean that your local recycling plant will accept it or that your local council will take it in your recycling bin. You may have to make the extra effort to take it to be recycled.
This is something that will break down into smaller and smaller pieces naturally over time. However, importantly it’s not the same as…
Which is a faster process and can usually be done in your home compost. However, both terms can be pretty misleading and there isn’t strict guidance on how they should be used. The tricky part is that some products require VERY strict conditions for them to break down – like oxygen or light or specific insect life. So if something that’s ‘biodegradable’ ends up in the ocean, it’s not necessarily going to break down. Similarly:
This one is quite naughty. Have you ever seen those ‘flushable’ toilet wipes? All that the flushable refers to there is its ability to be flushed down your toilet and not clog it. That DOESN’T mean that once it’s in the sewer system that it’ll break down. In fact, ‘flushable’ toilet wipes are a huge problem for sewer infrastructure, creating huge expensive blockages and nightmarish ‘fatbergs’. Just don’t do it.
Ok, not quite marketing jargon but an interesting new one that we found about on our Instagram. It describes when you throw something into the recycling bin that you’re not too sure about, in the hope that it will get recycled. It’s also a word that represents the distinctive feeling that you get when you do this: a sort of faint regret with your fingers crossed. Unfortunately this behaviour, while well intended, creates big problems for recycling plants who can’t process the junk. So don’t wishcycle and only chuck stuff that you’re certain about into the recycling bins or boxes.
Right, that’ll do for now. These are just the tip of the (rapidly melting) sustainability jargon iceberg, so let us know which we’ve missed and we’ll add them.
Or, if we’ve got a bit confuzzled by all these newfangled terms and you know better that us about one or another, then give us a nudge and we can make a few changes to have a more accurate list.