Jargon can be a real double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s useful for industries to have specialized terms that succinctly express complex concepts. On the other hand, when used outside of the industry, these words are at best confusing and at worst meaningless.
This is especially true when it comes to language around corporate environmental impact and sustainability endeavors. A lot of terms are being tossed around these days that sound good, but might not reflect the reality of what an organization is doing.
Imprecise communication with stakeholders and the public can be costly, both in terms of social and real capital. Not only does public opinion matter – there may also be regulation and compliance factors that could get muddied if you publish statements about your environmental impact plans using imprecise language.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent environmental and sustainability terms and clear up exactly what they mean, so you can be sure you’re saying what you mean.
Bill MacDonald, Energy Transition Leader for Antea Group USA, offers a concise definition of energy transition: “A period of energy transition is defined by the adoption of a new primary energy system. It is not an immediate change nor a full-out replacement of existing energy systems.”
To learn more about the history and current progress of energy transition, check out the full interview with Bill.
Why it Matters
A lot of folks talk about energy transition like it’s a switch that gets flipped – one energy source is fully replaced by another. In reality, that’s an impractical and virtually impossible goal.
New forms of energy production often require a specialized mode of production, storage, and distribution. That means infrastructure investments that push us toward our goal of using more green energy. While those new technologies are developed, we still rely on older, carbon-based technologies to power us through the transition period.
Being clear about the way energy transition works is important for managing expectations and encouraging investments. If the public and corporate interests understand the nature of energy transition as an event that occurs over time, they can see how stepped investments in new infrastructure will ultimately bring us closer to our green energy goals.
Energy produced from low-carbon sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal; often used to describe energy-transition activities, e.g. “moving toward low-carbon energy sources.”
Why it Matters
Low-carbon is used to describe a lot of things somewhat accurately, but not precisely.
Let us explain.
Folks might refer to a product as “low-carbon” because the item was produced using green energy. However, that doesn’t take into account how the materials for that item were sourced or transported.
The emissions produced outside of the direct control of an organization but within their value chain are known as Scope 3 emissions, and they play a part in how “green” a product ultimately is.
This is why it is best to reserve the use of “low-carbon” for how energy is sourced, and not apply it to products.
The process through which a business or government entity reduces the amount of carbon emitted through their direct consumption of carbon fuels. When taking into account Scope 3 emissions, this also applies to the whole value chain.
Why it Matters
Decarbonization is an effort to actively reduce one’s carbon expenditure into the environment. Accurately defining your organization’s decarbonization efforts is important for signaling to your customers and stakeholders that you are taking real action on climate change.
A balance between the carbon produced by an organization and the efforts they take to remove carbon from the atmosphere through direct action like planting forests or indirect action like purchasing carbon credits.
Why it Matters
The goal of net-zero carbon emissions has many potential paths – some that make a sincere impact on global carbon footprints, and others that are subject to claims of greenwashing (environmental projects that sound good but really don’t accomplish much).
When stating net-zero goals, it’s important to clarify the exact action taken by your organization. Transparency garners goodwill, and avoiding the appearance of greenwashing keeps stakeholders happy.
Clearing the Air on Sustainability Lingo
Being precise with your organization’s language around climate action is important – consumers and other stakeholders want to do business with companies that take climate change seriously. When you can be precise about your climate goals and course of action, you engender trust.
Learn more about how Antea Group can help you define and meet your climate goals.
About Antea GroupAntea®Group is an environment, health, safety, and sustainability consulting firm. By combining strategic thinking and multidisciplinary perspectives with technical expertise, we do more than effectively solve client challenges; we deliver sustainable results for a better future. We work in partnership with and advise many of the world’s most sustainable companies to address ESG-business challenges in a way that fits their pace and unique objectives. Our consultants equip organizations to better understand threats, capture opportunities and find their position of strength. Lastly, we maintain a global perspective on ESG issues through, not only our work with multinational clients, but also through our sister organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America and as a founding member of the Inogen Alliance.