Environmental buzzword collection

15 Common Environmental Buzzwords Explained

As more people are talking about the climate crisis, more words seem to be thrown out there with little explanation on their meaning. These 15 common environmental buzzwords are probably ones you have seen, here’s what they mean.


Right now, people are emitting excess greenhouse gases through the burning of fossil fuels. This fact is what is causing our climate to grow warmer, and our dependence on fossil fuels is what is making it so hard to just stop.

When businesses and government talk about finding ways to stop emitting greenhouse gases or reduce them, they use the term mitigation. Mitigation simply means the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions.


Another common term that pops up frequently is “greenwashing.” Many companies want to look like they are a good company that cares about the environment, but their actions say otherwise. Read our comic here on greenwashing.

Essentially, if someone is lying about their environmental efforts, they’re greenwashing.

Carbon Footprint

Your carbon footprint refers to how much carbon you are personally emitting. This can be the carbon footprint of a government, company, or individual. Some people say that carbon footprints were coined by the fossil fuel industry as a way to move the blame of the climate crisis to individuals, but regardless it has remained as a way to measure carbon emissions. Fix this unclear


Have you ever chosen a new product because it has “made out of plants!” stamped all over it? Welcome to bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from plant parts instead of fossil fuels. This is great because no fossil fuels were needed in order to make the plastic, but still has all the usual problems of plastic—namely that it’s here forever.


If something is compostable it means that when in the correct environment (high-heat, industrial facilities) a product is biodegradable. This does not mean you can stick it in your backyard and it will disappear. It won’t. It will be there forever.


Biodegradable is used to mean that it will degrade back into its natural components relatively quickly, without the need for industrial composters.

Carbon Neutral and Net Zero

It’s unlikely that we will ever completely stop emitting greenhouse gases. Both “Carbon Neutral” and “Net Zero” are about finding ways to balance emissions so that as much greenhouse gases are being taken out of the atmosphere as put into it.

Carbon Offsets

Carbon Offsets are one method companies currently use to claim a “Carbon Neutral” title. If they can’t avoid emissions (and many companies don’t bother trying) they’ll pay for someone else to “offset” their carbon.

A planted tree for example, absorbs carbon emissions. Thus if they plant enough trees that weren’t there before, they can say those trees are offsetting their carbon emissions. Another example would be investing in clean energy that replaces dirty energy, or in lighter car parts which overtime reduce emissions needed to run the car.

If the carbon emissions prevented or absorbed would not have been without the intervention, this is a carbon offset.

This can be a useful tool to combat climate change but should never be used as the whole solution. Carbon offset forests can be burned down, not be done at all, or amounts reduced guessed at or exaggerated.

These are still essential for the future of the world, but not as the only solution.


Sustainable is a term used to mean that the practice can go on forever. Fossil fuels are not sustainable because eventually fossil fuels will run out. Logging more forest than can grow back is unsustainable because eventually there will be no forests.

When something is sustainable, it takes no more than the planet is capable of replenishing.


At this point, we are already feeling the beginning of climate change. It will get worse. Adaptation means that we find ways to cope with the new world we have created, from making our homes resistant to wildfires, flooding, and finding new ways to cope with droughts.

Any changes we need to make in order to survive and thrive in a new climate is climate adaptation.

Nature-Based Solutions

Lots of scientists have put out lots of ideas on how to solve the climate crisis. These can be clumped into fairly broad groups. Things like geoengineering and direct carbon capture facilities are manmade solutions to the climate crisis. Nature-based solutions however, rely on restoring wild areas to bring balance back naturally.


Some scientists have suggested spraying sunscreen into the atmosphere, to filter out some of the sun’s rays and protect us from global warming. Changing something on a planetary scale, such as our atmosphere, is an example of geoengineering.


In the natural cycle, carbon is drawn into trees and stored deep beneath the soil. Whales sequester carbon in their poop sent to the bottom of the ocean. When carbon is stored long term in such a way, it’s called sequestration.


Drawdown refers to pulling carbon already in the atmosphere. Trees do this when they absorb carbon from the air. Drawdown is frequently used when talking about trying to stop global warming, because some amount of drawdown will be necessary to keep the world a pleasant place to live in.

These 15 common terms have been thrown around frequently. If you’ve been confused by them, we hope this article has helped spell out what they mean.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.