46 Sustainability-Related Buzzwords To Know To Avoid Getting Greenwashed

A dictionary we all need to get equipped with.

We’re all familiar with companies’ classic “greenwashing” tactic to make us think they’re more environmentally friendly than they are. But with the increasing focus on sustainability, there are now a whole host of new terms and concepts that you need to be familiar with to avoid getting greenwashed! This article will introduce you to some of the most important sustainability terms you need to know.

A to Z definitions for all things sustainable

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Are you concerned about sustainability but feel like you need a dictionary to decipher all the terminology? You’re not alone. To help, we’ve compiled a list of definitions for some of the most common – and confusing – terms related to sustainability. Use this glossary as a resource to understand the language of sustainability and avoid getting greenwashed.


Stands for a concept of ethics and governance that is obligated to an entity to report and be answerable for resulting consequences that may follow due to its actions. 

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Alternative Energy
Alternative energy has two categories – 1 – It substitutes for existing petroleum liquids like ethanol, biodiesel, and tar sands. And, 2 – Alternatives for generating and storing electrical power are wind, solar, and battery substitute energies.


Biodegradable –
Something that is able to decay into its basic components.

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Biodiesel –
A type of diesel fuel that’s an alternative made from vegetable oil or fats. 

Biofuels –
The fuel that is generated from living matter. 

Biomass –
It is derived from raw materials such as sugar cane, wood residue, or soybeans. To produce energy from biomass, the organic matter has to be burned. This causes the production of energy from biomass to release carbon dioxide into the air.

Byproduct –
It is the surplus material produced


Carbon Footprint
The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted by an individual, company, or country.

Carbon Offset –
Reducing carbon emissions by purchasing credits or using carbon trading schemes.

Climate Change –
A long-term alteration in global temperature and weather patterns is caused by human activity.

Carbon Labeling – 
It is used to measure the amount of embedded carbon in a  product. 

Carbon Neutral –
Counterbalancing the emissions as an individual or an organization to reduce carbon emissions and hence become carbon neutral. 

Carbon Sequestration –
This is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Conscious Consumerism –
Consumers purchase products and services that are produced responsibly and ethically.  

Cradle-to-Cradle –
The life cycle of a product that can be reused and recycled without loss of its material integrity. 

Cradle-to-Grave –
The life cycle of a product from its generation all the way to its disposal. 

Cruelty-Free –
Makeup products, food, and other products that are manufactured or developed by methods that do not involve cruelty to animals.

Closed Loop
An economic system where no waste is generated. Everything is reused, repaired, or recycled.


Eco-Footprint –
It is the accurate measurement of how much area of natural resources the human population requires to produce products it consumes and to absorb its wastes. 

Ecolabel  –
A seal or logo indicating that a product has met certain environmental or social standards. 

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Ethical Consumerism –
The purchasing and usage of products that do not harm the environment or exploit the workers that help produce a product. The goal is to minimize the impact on the environment. 

Eco-Friendly –
Products or practices that are designed to minimize negative environmental impact.


Fairtrade Mark –
It is a label most popularly seen on UK products to guarantee that they have been certified vis-à-vis internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.  


Global Warming –

It is the greenhouse gas effect caused by human activities on our planet. 

Greenhouse Gas
A gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Greenwash –
It’s a positive public relations act that has unsound or no environmental benefits. Basically, companies that pose as environmentally friendly, however their business practices do not back this up. This applies to excessive use of green marketing, unsustainable packaging, unethical practices, and more. 


Kyoto Protocol –
An international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It sets targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  (Source: UNFCCC


Landfill –
It is a method of disposal of rubbish, by burying it underground. 

Mumtahina Tanni/ Pexels

Life Cycle Assessment –
A tool for evaluating the environmental impact of a product through all stages of its life cycle. 


Micro-Generation or Micro-Energy –
The production of energy on a small scale, e.g., wind turbines, and solar panels. 


Naked Packaging –
Products that come without packaging.

Net Zero –
A balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere, aka carbon neutrality.


Organic –
When a product is produced or involves production without the use of any environmentally harming chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. 


Plant-Based Diet
A plant-based diet consists of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices and excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. 


Renewable Energy –
Energy from sources that are naturally replenished, such as solar, wind, or water power.

Rainforest Alliance –
An organization that conserves biodiversity in order to ensure sustainable livelihoods. It is done by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. 

Rainwater Harvesting –
The usage of water for a variety of purposes after the collection of rain falls on buildings and would otherwise go straight to the drainage system.  

Rematerialisation –
Repurposing what has once been deemed a waste material into a new resource for a product, service, or process. 

Reclaimed –
Products made from waste materials.


Sustainable –
Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Development –
Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Triple Bottom Line –
How have some organizations measured the economic, social, and environmental performance of a project Also known as “people, planet, profit” or “the three pillars.” 


Vegan –
A person who does not eat any food derived from animals or typically uses other animal products. 

Vegan Liftz/ Pexels


Water Footprint –
The volume of water used by an individual or an entity (both directly and indirectly). 

Wish-Cycling –
Putting questionable products in the recycling bin, hoping they would get recycled.


Products or lifestyle that focuses on creating waste to avoid contributing to landfills.

It can be difficult to keep up with all of the different sustainability terms out there, but it’s important to do your research so that you don’t get greenwashed. This list will help you with some of the most commonly used terms and their definitions. Now that you know what these sustainability terms mean, you can make more informed decisions about the products you buy and the companies you support. So do your part to build a more sustainable future for us all!

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