Click above for the A-Z of terms used in the sustainability debate.

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Term Definition
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Agenda 21 Agenda 21 emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit as a programme of local action to achieve sustainable development. It addresses social and economic dimensions, conservation and management of resources for development, strengthening the roles of major groups and identifying means of implementation. See click here for more information.
Air Pollution Air pollution includes particulate and chemical contaminants which are released into the atmosphere as a result of both human activities and natural factors. These contaminants have a range of potential negative health and environmental impacts.
Alternative Waste Technologies The processes, practices and procedures that recover resource value from materials that would have otherwise been disposed of to landfill.
Animal Welfare Screens An investment screen applied by socially responsible investment (SRI) funds on the basis of excluding companies that gain revenue from conducting cruel or inhumane animal testing or promoting companies with good animal welfare polices such s no animal testing of products, organic and biodynamic farming practices.
Anthroposhphere Also known as the 'humansphere' refers to the structures and systems that have been created by direct human activity
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Basel Convention The Basel Convention is an International Treaty that seeks to control the movement of Hazardous Waste across international boundaries. A central component of the Convention is the minimisation of hazardous waste production in order to protect human health and the environment.
Biomimmicry Biomimicry refers to the design of products and processes on the basis of understanding the functions of natural organisms and ecosystems and applying these lessons to the mode of manufacture and the operation of the product itself.
Biosphere The collective sum of all living organisms and the systems that support and are capable of supporting life.
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Carbon Beta The carbon exposure or risk of a company when viewed in comparison with either its industry sector or the market as a whole. For instance if a mining company is emitting twice the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as competitors within its industry, it would face a severe competitive disadvantage under a carbon trading scheme. With a high carbon beta the company is less attractive as an investment option.
Carbon Sequestration The capture and medium-to-long term storage of atmospheric carbon (primarily carbon dioxide) into carbon 'sinks' such as forests, through the process of photosynthesis convert carbon dioxide, water and light (solar energy) into carbohydrates. Carbon sequestration can also involve other sinks such as soil, oceans and geological formations (see geosequestration).
Corporate Cognitive Dissonance The inconsistency between corporate attititudes (beliefs) on sustainability, as expresesd in policy statements and annual reports, and the actions of corporates that run coutner to sustainability principles.
Corporate Law Economic Reform Program CLERP 9 CLERP 9 was the ninth chapter of the Australian Governments' Corporate Law Economic Reform Program that dealt specifically with Corporate Disclosure. The proposed reforms were built into the Corporate Law Economic Reform Program (Audit Reform and Corporate Disclosure) Act 2004, also known as the CLERP 9 Act, which represented a significant amendment to the Corporations Act 2001. CLERP 9 involved a number of changes to corporate disclosure and corporate governance laws, which while providing for flexibility, also provide guidance on acceptable corporate behaviour and effective enforcement should a breach occur.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) CSR is a framework or vision for business to integrate considerations of issues such as impact on the environment, human rights, workplace practices, impact on and relationship with communities and society in general, globalisation, ethics, corruption and philanthropy into their core decision-making processes.
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Dryland Salinity Dryland salinity refers to the degradation of land due to increasing concentrations of salt in soils and watercourses. Specifically, the term refers to salinity in areas which are not irrigated. It includes salinity which is naturally occurring, also known as primary salinity, and that which has developed as a result of human activity in the affected areas, otherwise known as induced or secondary salinity.
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Ecolabelling Ecolabelling refers to voluntary environmental performance certification and labelling of products or services. An 'ecolabel' indicates overall environmental preference of a product or service within a specific product/service category based on life cycle considerations.
Ecological Footprint Ecological Footprint (EF) is a per capita measure of the land equivalent requirement to produce the resources that a given population consumes and to assimilate the wastes that the population produces. The ecological footprint thus estimates a population's consumption of energy, food, and materials in terms of the area of biologically productive land or sea required to produce the natural resources or, in the case of energy, to absorb the corresponding carbon dioxide emissions.
Ecosystem Services The range of services that are provided by the ecosystem (biosphere) including atmosphere and climate maintenance, water regulation and supply, biodiversity and genetic resources, soil formation and raw materials in addition to food production.
Environmental Acquis The body of European Union law concerning the environment.
Environmental Externalities The damage done to the environment by pollution that impacts on a range of third parties who were not involved with the activity that caused the environmental pollution in the first instance. The cost of these negative environmental impacts are also not paid for by the company or organisation that caused the impacts, but by the broader society at large.
Environmental Pollution Refers to environmentally damaging emissions arising as a result of human activity by way of emissions to air (for example greenhouse gases, oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulphur), water (for example sewage and agricultural run off) and land (for example waste to landfill and contaminated soils).
Environmental Taxes The imposition of a tax regime in order to internalise previously externalised costs of resource extraction, manufacture, distribution and waste generation.
Environmental Trading Markets Trading of assets other than monetary units, - eg. carbon, NOX, SOX, salinity, biodiversity, water.
Erosion The wearing away of soil and rock as a result of a variety of processes, including natural weathering. Erosion is usually used to describe the impact of human interference on these processes, including inappropriate land use and land clearing resulting in raised water tables and accelerated run-off and flooding.
European Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme The European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is a framework for companies from EU member states to enable the trading of carbon allowances, and so assist member states in meeting their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
Excludability Used to describe private property (and externalities) where the benefits (or costs) of an item or event can be excluded through the exercising of ownership rights from other individuals.
Extended Producer Responsibility EPR is the extension of a producer responsibility into the post-consumer stage of their product's life cycle. It involves a variety of product takeback, economic instruments and performance standard initiatives aimed at spreading the cost of improved environmental outcomes throughout the supply chain. Either on a regulatory or voluntary basis. EPR is often referred to as product stewardship, however it should not be confused as EPR, rather than a sharing of responsibility amongst all parties, places the onus for action directly on producers.
Externalities In economic theory an externality refers to the instance where a decision causes impacts (positive or negative) on third parties who were not involved with the original decision. Costs associated with negative impacts (such as environmental pollution) are said to be externalised when they are not included in the price of a good or service. This can provide a cost advantage to companies who avoid paying for the damage that their activities cause.
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Fossil Fuel Replacement Replacement of fossil fuels including coal, gas and oil with renewable alternatives such as biomass, solar, wind, hydro, wave and geothermal.
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Gaming The application of game theory to decision making where 'rational' individuals face choices between acting out of self interest and acting for the common good, but where other participants' decisions in the 'game' are unknown, with a large potential for negative impact and create an incentive to act out of self-interest.
Global Reporting Initiative The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an independent organisation, established to develop a globally applicable set of Sustainability Reporting Guidelines for organisations reporting on the economic, environmental and social performance of their activities, products and services.
Global Warming Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere as a consequence of human activities causing a buildup of greenhouse gases.
Global Warming Danger Point The point of no return past which catastrophic changes as a result of global warming are unavoidable. Two degrees warmer that average pre-industrial global temperature in 1750 - concentration level at which this becomes inevetable is 400 ppm of CO2 in atmosphere - current level is 379 ppm (2005) and increasing at 2 ppm per year.
Greenhouse Gases Greenhouse gases are those air emissions that contribute to global warming including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)and other gases generated during industrial processes, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These gase are measured in terms their global warming potential and are reported in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e) or million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCDE). HFCs, PFCs and SF6 are the most heat-absorbent of the greenhouse gases listed above, with Global Warming Potentials of up to 11,700 for HFC-23 and 23,900 for SF6, implying that they trap 11,700 and 23,900 times more heat than carbon dioxide. The 100-year global warming potential for methane and nitrous oxide is 21 and 310 respectively.
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Industrial Ecology Industrial Ecology (IE) provides a framework based on the operation of natural systems to both assess the impacts of industry and technology on the biosphere, and to design industrial systems that reduce these impacts and at the same time leverage advantage from macro interactions between elements of the industrial system and the surrounding biosphere and anthroposphere.
Institutional Investor's Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) Established as a forum for collaboration between institutional investors on issues related to climate change.
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Kyoto Protocol The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty designed to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Protocol, industrialised countries that ratify the protocol are required to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year commitment period from 2008-2012 to below 1990 levels, according to emission targets that vary from country to country.
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Landfill Gas Ultimately all bio-based materials disposed of in landfill will biologically decompose through microbial activity and form a number of gases including methane and carbon dioxide. Collectively these gases are referred to as landfill gas and if released can have a negative environmental impact on global warming, smog formation and odour. Conversely landfill gas can be captured and used as an energy source to generate electricity.
Life Cycle Assessment Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) refers to a methodology that includes consideration of the impacts associated with all stages of the material life cycle of a product and which is used to support decision making such as the selection of a preferred product or process by quantifying the potential environmental impact associated with a product, process or service.
Formal LCA development was initially conducted under the auspices of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). Recently LCA has become more formalised and rigorous and now forms part of the ISO 14 000 set of environmental management system standards; in particular the ISO 14 040 series of standards.
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Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) The Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) is a target set by the Australian government to achieve 9,500 gigawatt hours (GWh) of extra renewable electricity per year by 2010 and then to maintain that level of renewable electricity generation until 2020.
Market Based Instruments (MBIs) Market based instruments (MBIs) seek to harness market forces to assist in meeting a desired environmental goal. Such instruments include charges, fees and taxes, market creation (such as the establishment of tradeable permits/certificates), subsidies, deposit/refunds and improving the operation of the market through non-financial means, such as information provision. Also known as Economic Instruments or Economic Incentives.
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National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) is an Internet database, maintained by the Australian Government through the Department of Environment and Heritage, that gives information on the types and amounts of pollutants being emitted to the environment in Australia. Industrial point sources estimate their emission levels, while government data is used to estimate diffuse sources into aggregated emissions data. .
Natural Capital Natural Capital refers to the stocks and services of resources and natural systems that are essential to the survival and advancement of society and other living organisms. These resources may be non-renewable (for example, oil, gas, coal and metals), replenishable (for example, groundwater and the ozone layer) or renewable (for example, forests, grasslands and marine life). Natural capital services include waste assimilation, erosion and flood control and protection from ultra-violet radiation.
Natural Resource Management The Natural Step Framework is a set of easily understood, scientifically based principles, that provides businesses, communities, academia, government and individuals with guidance on selecting social, environmental, and economic actions towards becoming more sustainable.
Net Present Highest Resource Value (NPHRV) The resource recovery option for any given material that maximises the positive and minimises the negative relative environmental, techno-economic and socio-political impacts.
Non-excludability Used to describe the provision of public goods (and externalities) where the benefits (or costs) of an item or event can not be excluded from being shared with other individuals regardless of payment.
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Offsets Refer to situations where negative environmental impacts at one location (such as the emission of pollution) are offset by positive contributions at a different site (such as pollution reduction) in order to get an overall desirable balance.
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Pigouvian Taxes Refer to the range of Environmental Taxes that are placed on activities that cause unwanted and damaging externalities. Named after the economist A.C Pigou who developed the concept of externalities in the 1920s.
Property Rights Set and define the rights of ownership and possession that are essential to the functioning of a market. It is recognised that part of the cause of environmental degradation arises from the 'public good' aspect of ecosystem services. The specification and privatisation of environmental property rights is thought by many to be a valid means of controlling pollution.
Public Goods Refers to those goods and services which provide beneficial externalities that are unable to be sold for individual profit because they are available for everyone to share (non-excludable) and do not diminish with use (one person's use does not reduce the amount available to another). Examples include sunlight, air and public recreational space.
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Renewable Energy Renewable energy is energy that is considered to be "carbon neutral" and that does not deplete non-renewable resources for its generation. Energy can be in the form of heat or electricity.
Resource Recovery The process of transforming wrong time/place materials (wastes) into right time/place resources (value) through a range of technologies (processes, practices and procedures) involving mechanical separation, biological treatment, thermal processing and combination systems.
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Soil degradation Loss of soil productivity as a result of changes to structure, nutrient levels, salinity and micorbial life
Soil depletion The depletion of soil nutrients, carbon and microbial life to the extent that productive capacity is greatly diminished. Causes include intensive agriculture and excessive uses of pesticides and fertilisers.
Solar Tower Solar Tower technologies use the sun's radiation to heat a large body of air to create convection currents strong enough to spin turbines and thus generate electricity.
Supply Chain The supply chain refers to the discrete elements involved in the delivery of a product to a consumer. Some of these elements include resource extraction, processing, commodity markets, manufacture, further manufacture and assemply, wholesale distribution and retail sales and distribution. Supply chains traditionally involve only one-way flows of materials, which can be either forwards or reverse, but not at the same time, and is contrasted with the holistic concept of the value chain.
Sustainable Building Sustainable building refers to the design, construction, operation and deconstruction of buildings so as to minimise the total impact of the building on the built and natural environment, in terms of the buildings themselves and their surroundings, while maximising indoor environmental quality and performance.
System Boundary A system boundary is a boundary arbitrarily drawn around one or more industrial processes. It is primarily used when considering environmental impacts such as air, land or water pollution and can comprise for example, a physical factory site boundary, a geographical region, a chain of supply or a political region.
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Value Chain The value chain incorporates all elements of the supply chain and adds to them additional elements that directly impact sustainability outcomes on the basis of design decisions and information flows, in addition to resource recovery and other end-of-life issues arising after a product has served its function within the economy. Some of these additional elements include research, technology development, project development, product research and design, product development, retail advertising, purchasing decisions and end-of-life management. (See also Supply Chain).
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Waste Avoidance Waste Avoidance - there are three interpretations of Waste Avoidance:
i. the goal of avoiding all waste as an end in and of itself
ii. a tool to achieve sustainability outcomes by looking for opportunities within manufacturing or consuming to avoid unnecessary waste
iii. a grouping term that covers all resource recovery activities such as re-use and recycling, because in becoming a resource the "waste" is avoided.
Well-Being Index Well-Being Indexes attempt to overcome the limitations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a societal indicator of progress (namely that GDP sums all economic transactions regardless of ecological impact) by including factors related to human health and happiness and environmental and overall ecosystem impacts. Examples include the Genuine Progress Indicator, Human Development Index, Living Planet Index and the Well-Being of Nations.

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