Sustainability buzzwords: 20 most important to have on your radar this Plastic Free July

Aka, your go-to glossary of the all the eco terms you need to know about.

sustainability buzzwords: an aerial shot of the ocean
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Aka, your go-to glossary of the all the eco terms you need to know about.

Sustainability buzzwords can seem seriously overwhelming sometimes - the language evolves so quickly that it can be a little hard to keep up with, right?

From terms like carbon footprint to fast fashion to greenwashing, there's a whole world. Lucky for you, this Plastic Free July, not only have we bought you an extensive forty point piece on living more sustainably, but we've compiled a simple glossary of sustainability buzzwords for your viewing pleasure, too.

You can totally thank us later (and read about what happened when one MC staffer went plastic free, here).

Sustainability buzzwords: 20 to have on your radar


Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.


Of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertiliser of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilisers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.

Check out our favourite food waste apps now.


To make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.

MC's guide to greenwashing might just help.


Able to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful or capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things (such as microorganisms).

Making sure we're opting for biodegradable is particularly important for saving our oceans - read why here.

Carbon footprint

The amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person's activities or a product's manufacture and transport) during a given period.

Keen to calculate yours? Our carbon footprint guide will help.

Greenhouse effect

Warming of the surface and lower atmosphere of a planet (such as Earth or Venus) that is caused by conversion of solar radiation into heat.

This process involves selective transmission of shortwave solar radiation by the atmosphere, its absorption by the planet's surface, and re-radiation as infrared, which is absorbed and partly reradiated back to the surface by atmospheric gases.

Waste Management

The collection, transportation, and disposal of garbage, sewage, and other waste products.


Not environmentally harmful - for example, fast fashion isn't deemed eco-friendly (but electric cars are - read our guide to eco-friendly cars, now).

Energy efficient

Used to describe things that use only as much energy as is needed without wasting any. Electricity is the main focus, but it's also key to think about your water usage, too: read our expert-led guide to how to reduce your water usage, if you're worried.

Triple bottom line

A framework or theory that recommends that companies commit to focus on social and environmental concerns just as they do on profits.


To pass again through a series of changes or treatments: such as to process (something, such as liquid body waste, glass, or cans) in order to regain material for human use.

Not so good on the recycling front? Our recycling facts may help encourage you.


Using an object or resource material again for either the same purpose or another purpose without changing the object's structure in a significant way. It is to be differentiated from recycling based on this.

Renewable energy

An energy resource that is replaced rapidly by a natural process such as power generated from the sun or from the wind.


To recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value). Dress rental services sometimes do a good job of this - upcycling old garments so they're used today.


A mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilising and conditioning land.

Sustainability buzzwords: Taking Care of Her Plants


The introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants.

Carbon neutral

The state of an entity (such as a company, service, product or event), where the carbon emissions caused by them have been balanced out by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.

Climate change

A significant change in the measures of climate, such as temperature, rainfall, or wind, lasting for an extended period – decades or longer.

Zero waste

The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.


Made from organic biomass sources, unlike conventional plastics which are made from petroleum. Bioplastics are made through a number of different processes. Some use a microorganism to process base materials, such as vegetable oils, cellulose, starches, acids and alcohols.

Our beauty ed's round up of the best sustainable beauty buys is a good place to start, if your beauty cabinet isn't so planet-friendly.

And there you have it. Your most up-to-date- sustainability buzzwords relating to the environment.

Olivia – who rebranded as Liv a few years ago – is a freelance digital writer at Marie Claire UK. She recently swapped guaranteed sunshine and a tax-free salary in Dubai for London’s constant cloud and overpriced public transport. During her time in the Middle East, Olivia worked for international titles including Cosmopolitan, HELLO! and Grazia. She transitioned from celebrity weekly magazine new! in London, where she worked as the publication’s Fitness & Food editor. Unsurprisingly, she likes fitness and food, and also enjoys hoarding beauty products and recycling.