Sustainability is a priority for nearly everyone; from end-customers to policy makers. Since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, accurate language around climate change mitigation efforts and emissions goals has become more and more important. As the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, making sure that companies and cultures understand the (at times very confusing) terminology of sustainability can be the difference between sanctions or success.

Here we break down some of the terms of green logistics with a sustainability glossary:

Alternative energy: Alternative energy is an energy source that does not come from fossil fuels, and thus produces less carbon dioxide than traditional fuel sources (such as coal, oil, and natural gas).

Biodiesel: A form of diesel fuel produced from fats and oils occurring in plants or animals. Biodiesel can be utilised as a drop-in fuel, meaning that it is compatible with existing diesel engines.

Biogas: Primarily comprised of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), biogas is a mixture of gases produced from raw material wastes (such as sewage, municipal waste, food waste, and agricultural waste). Biogas can be compressed or liquified after removing carbon dioxide and trace gases and used to power motor vehicles. Additionally, methane, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide can be combusted with oxygen; creating an energy release that can be harnessed as fuel for heating or electricity. As biogas produces no net carbon dioxide, it is a renewable resource.

Bio-LNG: Liquified biomethane (also known as liquified bio-natural gas or liquified biogas) is the liquified form of biomethane. Liquified, the gas is more easily transportable in tanks.

Biomethane: Biomethane is a methane produced from biogas that has had its trace gases and carbon dioxide removed. Biomethane can be injected into the existing gas grid and used as fuel for heat, electricity, or automobiles.

Biomethanol: Alcohol produced from biomass such as wood waste, biomethanol is a biofuel that can be used in specifically-adapted internal combustion engines in combination with gasoline or independently.

Carbon capture: The process of capturing carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere. It is usually captured from, but not limited to, chemical or biomass power plants. Carbon capture is practiced with the goal of preventing the release of carbon dioxide in order to mitigate environmental impact and acceleration of climate change.

Carbon intensity indicator: The carbon intensity indicator (also referred to as CII) is a measure of the operational efficiency of a ship transporting passengers or goods in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. The CII is calculated by dividing the grams of carbon dioxide emitted per deadweight nautical mile.

Carbon neutral: Refers to a specific standard, the ISO 14068, which defines that a product or organisation can achieve carbon neutrality by measuring its greenhouse gas (not only carbon) emissions and compensating with offsets or removals. Note that this is a different concept to net zero — please refer to the ‘Net zero’ entry further down the page.

Carbon offset: Often deployed to achieve carbon neutrality, carbon offsets avoid  or remove carbon dioxide in order to compensate for emissions elsewhere. Measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalents, carbon offsets act as a way of cancelling out other emissions, thus achieving 'neutral' carbon emissions.

Carbon tax: Carbon taxes are taxes levied on carbon dioxide emissions, in order to provide financial incentives to reduce emissions. Most commonly carbon taxes target carbon dioxide emissions, though they can also include other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide or methane.

Circular economy: As opposed to a traditionally linear economic model; of production, use, and disposal -- the circular economy aims to turn the 'disposal' phase back into the 'production' phase. Whereas recycling a plastic bottle to be remade into another plastic good after use would be circular. This may also be referred to as a 'cradle to cradle' economy.

Direct emissions: Direct emissions, or direct greenhouse gas emissions, are emissions that come from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity. Direct emissions can also be referred to as Scope 1 emissions, according to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol standard.

E-fuel: Also known as Electrofuel, e-fuels are manufactured using captured carbon dioxide and fuelled by renewable electricity sources like wind or solar power. E-methanol is an example of an e-fuel.

Environmental, Social, and Governance: Also known as ESG, this refers to the corporate management of environmental and social impacts. ESG data can include but is not limited to data such as employee engagement surveys, carbon emissions, water consumption, and demographic makeup of senior leadership.

Indirect emissions: Indirect emissions are greenhouse gas emissions that result from a reporting entity but are derived from sources owned by other entities. Indirect emissions can occur through the use of purchased electricity for operations, or emissions produced by the transportation of goods for a company. Indirect emissions can be referred to as Scope 2 and 3 emissions, according to the GHG Protocol standard.

Methane: A primary component of natural gas and biogas, methane is a greenhouse gas that can be converted into liquid form and used as a fuel. It has an extremely high global warming potential — higher than carbon dioxide. 

Methanol: A type of alcohol that can be used as fuel for automobiles, ships, fuel cells, and stoves.

Net zero: According to the Science Based Targets initiative, net zero is the reduction of scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions to zero, or a residual level that is consistent with reaching net zero emissions at the global or industry level in eligible pathways to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees.

Offsetting: Similar to carbon offsets, offsetting or climate offsetting, refers to the compensation of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to compensate for emissions elsewhere.

Scope 1: Scope 1 emissions are defined by the GHG Protocol as direct greenhouse gas emissions, coming from sources that are owned or controlled by an organisation or company.

Scope 2: Scope 2 emissions are defined by the GHG Protocol as indirect emissions from purchased energy to aid in the manufacturing and operations of a company's workflow.

Scope 3: Scope 3 emissions are classified by the GHG Protocol as indirect emissions generated from a third party within a company's supply chain, such as fuel burned by a logistics provider.

Sustainable Development Goals: Commonly referred to as SDGs, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals are 17 goals to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted by all the United Nations' member nations in 2015 the SDGs address everything from world hunger to climate change.

Technology readiness scale: Also known as a technology readiness level (or TRS/TRL) the scale of 1-9 indicates the maturity of technology, with 1 at the lowest and 9 at the most ready. Level 1 would indicate the research stage, while level 9 would refer to operation.

Well-to-tank (WTT) emissions: Also known as upstream emissions, well to tank emissions are the greenhouse gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere from the production, processing, and delivery of a fuel or energy source.

Well-to-wake: Sometimes referred to as well-to-wheel, this term goes one step further than well-to-tank to describe the emissions that take place from the extraction of fuel to the end of its use cycle.

This article has been updated in April 2024. Due to the shifting nature of the sustainability landscape, it will continuously be reviewed and updated.

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