Low Carbon Information Hub

Net Zero Jargon Buster

The language and terminology used to describe the tools, techniques, and processes used to lower carbon emissions can be daunting! 
If you’re baffled by talk of circular economy, scopes, GHGs, and Footprints, we’re here to help you make sense of it all…

Carbon Footprint
This is the name given to the total amount of greenhouse gases* released into the atmosphere due to the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community.

*emissions are often shown as CO2e which stands for 'Carbon Dioxide Equivalent and includes CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse Gas emissions scopes 1, 2, and 3
The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol; one of the most widely-used international accounting tools for measuring and managing emissions, has grouped greenhouse gas emissions into the following three 'Scopes'

  • Scope 1: direct emissions from owned or controlled sources
  • Scope 2: indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by the reporting company
  • Scope 3: all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain

Table showing the items and actions that fall under each category (scope 1, 2, or 3)

Carbon neutrality
Carbon neutrality equals net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved by balancing carbon dioxide emissions and removal, often through carbon offsetting.

Carbon Neutrality = Matching the emissions you generate with the amount you remove from the atmosphere, via methods of carbon offsetting.. Net Zero = implementing change that reduces carbon emissions to the lowest point possible, only offsetting unavoidable carbon.

carbon negative
This term is used to describe an entity that has reduced its carbon footprint to less than neutral, by removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the amount it adds. Therefore, achieving carbon negativity calls for a more aggressive approach and is often the next step once carbon neutrality has been reached.

carbon offsetting
Offset units are used to negate the residual carbon emissions from a business after it has reduced its carbon footprint as much as possible. Offset units are generated by projects that reduce, remove, or capture emissions from the atmosphere such as:

  • Reforestation: the process of replanting forests that have been destroyed or damaged for the benefit of mankind
  • Renewable energy: clean, sustainable energy that is generated from natural sources that are constantly replenished 
  • Carbon capture and storage: the process of trapping, and safely storing, carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere

circular economy
This term refers to a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible to extend their life cycle and reduce waste to an absolute minimum.

Wherever possible, when a product reaches the end of its life, its materials are kept within the economy to be used repeatedly, therefore creating further value. This is a significant shift from the traditional, linear economic model, which is based on a take-make-use-dispose pattern and depends on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy.

A list of the benefits of moving towards a more circular economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has shared this helpful video to summarise what is meant by 'Circular Economy', and why it should be the business model of the future.

race to zero
Race To Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that:

  • prevents future threats
  • creates decent jobs
  • unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth


If you are a small or medium-sized (SME) manufacturer based in the South West of England, check out SWMAS' funded Make it Net Zero programme, which will offer your business valuable advice and guidance from a low carbon specialist, to help you start, and progress through your net zero journey.

CLICK HERE to see how the Make it Net Zero Programme has already helped businesses to identify, implement, and manage sustainable carbon reductions!



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