KraveBeauty Sustainability Glossary: Terms and definitions you need to know
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Navigating the sustainability world can be confusing and complex. There isn’t even a true consensus on what the word “sustainability” itself means. If we want more people to whole-heartedly join the movement and become conscious consumers, then we need to be better about educating on the many terms often thrown around. Hopefully, this glossary will help do just that!
It’s also important for us as a brand to be clear on the words and phrases we use with regards to our sustainability strategy and communication. This glossary is also a part of our commitment to intentional, non-greenwashing communication.
Tip: If there’s a particular word you’re searching for, use Command/Control + F to search!
Afforestation: Planting new forests on lands that have not been recently forested (creating a forest).
Biodegradable: Able to be decomposed (by bacteria or other living organisms) into Earth on its own.
Biodegradability testing: Methods used to measure the complex biochemical process that occurs when microorganisms consume a material. These tests help substantiate that a product will degrade in a relatively short period of time. “Readily biodegradable” materials degrade >60% within 28 days, whereas “inherently biodegradable” ones degrade >20% but <60%. The OECD has developed guidelines for testing chemical and liquids.
Carbon credit: A permit which allows a company to produce a certain amount of carbon emissions and which can be traded if the full allowance is not used.
Carbon dioxide (CO2): Natural greenhouse gas emitted when fossil fuels burn. It is the most prevalent greenhouse gas after water vapor and has become a proxy by which we measure greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e/CO2eq.): Metric used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential. For any quantity and type of greenhouse gas, it signifies the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent impact.
Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases generated by our actions, directly or indirectly. A key here is that greenhouse gases do not just include carbon dioxide. It is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). See greenhouse gasses for the full list.
Carbon neutral: Balancing carbon emissions with an equivalent amount of verified carbon offsets. Also referred to as net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Also see Climate Neutral.
Carbon offsetting: An individual or organization pays to reduce carbon emissions somewhere else/for someone else with the final reduction in emissions ultimately canceling out the purchaser’s official emissions. Purchasing one carbon credit is equal to avoiding or removing one metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. *
*While carbon offsets can help rebalance the atmosphere, it’s important to remember that they don’t necessarily reduce emissions.
Carbon sinks: Places that absorb more carbon than they release. Forests are typically carbon sinks. They continually take carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
Carbon source: A process that releases more carbon into the atmosphere than it absorbs. Any process that uses fossil fuels, such as burning coal for electricity, is a carbon source.
Circular economy: An economy where waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use, and natural systems are regenerated. It involves gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out.
Climate change: Long-term change in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts can happen naturally, but since the 1800s, human activity has been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to burning of fossil fuels.
Climate neutral: Removing as much greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as are emitted (net-zero). Climate neutral refers to the emission and mitigation of all greenhouse gases.
Compostable: A biodegradable material that breaks down naturally in a compost site, benefiting Earth’s soil. Compostable items are also biodegradable, but biodegradable items are not always compostable.
Conscious capitalism: This is a version of capitalism that focuses on people and the environment. A conscious business is one that follows a business strategy that aims to support both people and the environment and operates ethically while pursuing profits.
Cradle to Cradle: Specific kind of cradle-to-grave assessment, where the end-of-life disposal step is a recycling or upcycling process.
Cradle to Gate: Assessment of a product’s partial life cycle from resource extraction (cradle) to retail or distribution (factory gate).
Cradle to Grave: Assessment of a product’s full life cycles from resource extraction (cradle) to use and disposal phase (grave).
Deforestation: Intentional clearing of forested land. Forests are often cleared to make space for agriculture and animal grazing and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing, and construction.
Downcycling: Recycling something in such a way that the resulting product is of a lower value than the original item.
Downstream emissions: Emissions that occur after a product leaves the company’s control. Downstream includes emissions such as those from transportation and distribution, the use of the product, and the disposal of the product.
Ecotoxicity: Analyzing chemical effects on birds, fish, and other wildlife. We test for this to make sure our ingredients don’t have significant harm on wildlife (specifically fish).
Ecological footprint: Measurement based on the amount of environmental resources we consume and how fast. It includes plant-based food & fiber products, livestock & fish products, timber & other forest products, and space for urban infrastructure. It also tracks the use of productive surface areas and waste.
End of Life: The phase in a product’s life cycle where it is no longer being sold or promoted and is in the final stage of its existence. This is usually marked by disposal, recycling, or reuse.
Fossil fuels: Fuels generated remains of plants and other organisms. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Extraction, transport, and burning of fossil fuels all generate harmful levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Global warming: Overall increase in global average temperatures attributed to the greenhouse gas effect. See Greenhouse Gas Effect.
Greenhouse effect: The sun’s heat becoming trapped in the atmosphere due to an increase in gases. Greenhouse gases, like CO2, change the climate by letting sunlight pass through the atmosphere and warm the planet, but hindering the escape of heat to outer space.
Greenhouse gases: Gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorb heat from the sun and trap heat Includes carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, and water vapor.
Greenwashing: Activities, usually marketing, intended to make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.
Life Cycle Assessment: Analyzing the environmental impact of a functional unit (often 1 product) from creation to end-of-life. The 5 steps of a product lifecycle are raw material extraction, manufacturing & processing, transportation, usage & retail, and waste disposal.
Microplastics: Small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life.
PCR: Post-consumer recycled material. Materials that consumers toss into the recycling bin, such as empty plastic bottles, are collected by recycling programs and sent to recycling facilities. The materials are then purchased, melted/ground into small pellets, and molded into new products. Products with PCR use less virgin materials and don’t create as much waste.
Plastic: A type of synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, etc. To learn more about the plastics we use and their definitions, check out our recycling guide.
Recyclable: A product or material that can be collected, processed, and manufactured into a new product.
*While many plastics are recyclable (aka capable of being recycled), most never are, and recycling varies greatly with geographic location. We should be careful with assuming all products that are recyclable will be recycled.
Recycling: Processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away and turning them into reusable material. In closed loop recycling, materials are recycled to make the same or similar product. In open loop recycling, materials are used to make a different type of product.
Reduce: Use fewer resources in the first place. It takes resources to manufacture, transport, and dispose of products, so reducing consumption minimizes the use of new resources.
Reforestation: Replanting trees as a solution to deforestation. This involved planting new trees in areas where they have been removed by cutting or destroyed by fire or disease.
Science-based targets: A set of goals developed to provide businesses with a clear route to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Targets are considered “science-based” if they align with the latest climate science and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Sustainability: Generally, it is the ability to maintain something over time without harming or depleting it. We use this term most often when speaking about our planet. It can refer to the capacity to create and maintain healthy, equitable, and diverse communities now and into the future in a way that does not exceed the planet’s limits.
Sustainable development: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Upcycling: Reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
Upstream emissions: Emissions that occur prior to a product leaving the company’s control. These include emissions from purchased goods and services, fuel and energy, business travel, etc.
Value chain: Business model that describes the full range of activities needed to create a product or service. A value chain comprises the steps that involve bringing a product from conception to distribution and everything in between, such as procuring raw materials and marketing activities.
Virgin materials: Plastic resin that has been newly created without recycled materials.
Virtual water: Water hidden in the products, services, and processes people buy and use every day.
*Example: It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef
Waste stream: The complete flow of waste from its domestic or industrial source through to recovery, recycling, or final disposal.
Water footprint: Measurement of the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use. It has three components: green, blue, and gray water.
Wish-cycling: The practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin, hoping that they can be recycled. Many of us want to recycle and so, rather than risk it going to a landfill, we decide to put an item in the recycling bin. However, this can cause more harm than good. Things like plastic bags can jam up machinery, and if a non-recyclable item makes its way into a batch, it risks contamination and creating more waste.
Zero-waste: Creating no (zero) waste. This is a tricky term, because most processes produce at least
some waste and it is very difficult to produce zero waste. Some have begun to define the term to be more about the conservation of resources through responsible production & consumption, reuse, and recovery of products/materials.
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