38 sustainability terms that are frequently used – but not always understood

Monday, 16th August 2021, 5:25 pm

Sustainability buzz words such as biomass, carbon neutral and greenhouse effect are regularly used by Brits – despite millions having no idea they mean.

A study of 2,000 adults found they use terms such as 'green', 'eco friendly' and 'sustainability' as often as once a day - but almost two thirds don’t completely understand them.

Other confusing words included ‘carbon footprint’, ‘regenerative’ and ‘ecological’.

The research also found 81 per cent of adults think there is lots of jargon when it comes to sustainability and being environmentally friendly.

And 73 per cent think there are too many eco-related words which makes it difficult to differentiate the meanings.

However, 58 per cent would like to be more educated on words and phrases associated with sustainability.

It also emerged 74 per cent think there should be more education about saving and caring for the planet in schools.

While 61 per cent believe that if we had more education around the jargon, it would lead to more people doing their bit for the planet.

Adrian Carne, managing director at Yeo Valley Organic, which commissioned the study, said: “There is so much jargon around saving the planet and each word has a different meaning, so it can get very confusing.

"As the world acts against climate change, we must understand these terms.

“We want everyone to feel included and join the conversation, and really understand how you can do your part to help slow down climate change.

“Whether its buying organic products to cut down on your carbon footprint, turning lights off to save energy, or simply educating yourself on the topic, small steps can make a big difference.”

Confusion around the topic has led to 36 per cent using a word or phrase related to sustainability in conversation, without being fully confident they were using it correctly.

The survey, by OnePoll, even revealed a quarter have corrected someone else on the meaning or use of a word or phrase related to sustainability.

As a result, 79 per cent think these buzzwords should be shared in layman’s terms for everyday people to understand.

Lexicographer Susie Dent said: “Language shapes our environment, but our environment also shapes our language, in quite fundamental ways.

"What has become known as ‘ecolinguistics’ is a powerful tool in fighting climate change - our understanding of its vocabulary and the stories it tells determine how we feel about our planet and its future.

"Our children are immersed in the language of sustainability: to them, words like ‘regenerative’ will be as normal as ‘recycling’ has become to us.

"But as adults we too can increase our understanding and involvement, by exploring and decoding the language of the environment and, crucially, its application to our daily lives."

Test your own ecolingustics knowledge with this quiz: www.yeovalley.co.uk/sustainability-quiz

SUSTAINABILITY BUZZ WORDS - IN ORDER OF MOST TO LEAST UNDERSTOOD

Recycle

Climate change

Global warming

Energy efficient

Organic

Sustainable

Eco-friendly

Sustainability

Renewable energy

Composting

Green (in an environmental context, not the colour)

Fairtrade

Ethical

Conservation

Climate crisis

Biodegradable

Carbon footprint

Emissions

Deforestation

Greenhouse effect

Greenhouse gas

Zero waste

Ecological

Carbon

Carbon neutral

Rewilding

Carbon offsetting

Net zero

Biofuel

Carbon credits

Zero carbon

Carbon sequestration

Regenerative

Carbon locking

Natural capital

Agroforestry

Biomass

Regenerative farming