Making Sense of Sustainability 2011 / 2012 Report

a gas that contributes to the natural greenhouse effect, whereby heat is trapped within the Earth”s atmosphere, including: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride



being answerable to all stakeholders, including any natural or social systems affected by a business such as customers, employees and communities
a sustainability organization known for developing the AA1000 series of principles-based standards to help organizations become more accountable, responsible and sustainable, e.g., AA1000AS = Assurance Standard
a standard or practice acting in opposition to impropriety or unlawful behavior
Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
a philosophy of organizational assessment and change that seeks examples of success to emulate organizational or personal strengths to build upon, rather than focusing upon fixing negative or ineffective organizational processes
the act or action of inspiring confidence in specified criteria
a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of how well a project, organization, individual or service is performing in terms of specified criteria
Best Practice
an effective, innovative solution, process or procedure that demonstrates a business’ dedication to making progress in environmental and corporate social responsibility; sometimes shared with collaborators and competitors to shape standards for an industry
a type of fuel made by combining animal fat or vegetable oil (such as soybean oil or used restaurant grease) with alcohol; biodiesel can be directly substituted for diesel (known as B100, for 100% biodiesel) or be used as an additive mixed with traditional diesel (known as B20, for 20% biodiesel)
energy generated from renewable, biological sources (biomass) such as plants, to be used for heat, electricity or vehicle fuel
fuel created from renewable, biological sources such as plants or animal byproducts, but excluding biological material (such as natural gas, coal or methane) which has been transformed by geological processes
living or recently dead organic material that can be used as an energy source or in industrial production; excludes organic material that has been transformed by geological processes (such as coal or petroleum)
a science that studies natural processes and models in order to imitate the designs to solve human problems (i.e., studying a leaf to better understand and design solar cells)
Brown Power/Energy
electricity generated from the combustion of nonrenewable fossil fuels (coal, oil or natural gas) which generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases
land previously utilized by commercial or industrial facilities that remains abandoned with known or perceived environmental contamination
By-Product Synergy
the matching of under-valued waste or by-product streams from one facility with potential users at another facility to create new revenues or savings with potential social and environmental benefits
an investment firm that highlights socially responsible investing and publishes an annual index of the largest U.S. companies that represent socially responsible investments
Cap and Trade System
a strategy to reduce carbon emissions via financial incentives; “caps” establish emissions limits and fines for exceeding those limits, while companies operating below their carbon limits can sell or “trade” their offsets to companies that are operating above the limits
Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)
an independent not-for-profit organization working to drive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainable water use by business and cities
Carbon Footprint
the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through any human activity, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide
Carbon Trading
a trading system for countries, companies and individuals designed to offset carbon emissions from one activity with another, whereby those who cannot meet their emissions goals may purchase credits from those who surpass their goals
Cause-Related Marketing
a business strategy whereby a company aligns its mission and goals to create a specific and tailored partnership with a nonprofit organization or cause
a national network of investors, environmental organizations and other public interest groups working with companies and investors to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change; Ceres hosts an annual competition to highlight the best examples of sustainability reporting in North America; pronounced “series”
Child Labor
the practice of employing children under a specified legal minimum age as set by a country or government; more frequently exploited in developing countries in order to establish competitive labor costs
Clean Air Act
federal legislation passed in 1970 and amended in 1990 that authorizes the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards and to regulate industry in order to meet those maximum emissions levels
Clean Production
a concept developed under the Kyoto Protocol in which manufacturing processes reduce environmental impact and decrease ecological problems by minimizing energy and raw materials use, and making sure emissions and waste are as minimal and as non-toxic to environmental and human health as possible
Clean Water Act
federal legislation passed in 1972 and amended in 1976 that requires the EPA to set maximum pollutant levels for each known contaminant in U.S. surface waters and authorizes the EPA to regulate industrial discharge in order to meet those standards
Climate Change
changes in global climate patterns (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) that last for extended periods of time as a result of either natural processes or human activity; the contemporary concern is that human activity is now transcending natural processes in causing the most prevalent climate changes of our time
Closed-Loop Recycling
a process of utilizing a recycled product in the manufacturing of a similar product or the remanufacturing of the same product
Closed-Loop Supply Chain
an ideal in which a supply chain completely reuses, recycles or composts all wastes generated during production; at minimum “closed-loop supply chain” indicates that the company which produces a good is also responsible for its disposal
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund)
federal legislation passed in 1980 that established a tax on the petroleum and chemical industries to fund cleanup of hazardous waste sites, as well as establishing EPA authority to assign responsibility for that cleanup to the polluters or purchasers of contaminated land
Corporate Citizenship
a company’s responsible involvement with the wider community in which it is situated
Corporate Health
the idea that companies, especially commercial businesses, have a duty to care for all of their stakeholders in all aspects of their operations
Corporate Responsibility
the degree to which companies manage business practices to produce an overall positive impact on society
Corporate Responsibility Report
a published report of a company’s corporate responsibility practices, goals and progress toward achieving those goals that may be included with the company’s annual report or as a separate publication that focuses on the company's social and environmental impact; the process of creating this report is meant to uncover strengths and weaknesses as well as enhance transparency for all company stakeholders; see Corporate Sustainability Report
Corporate Social Responsibility
the continuing commitment by businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life at the workplace as well as the local community and society at large; a company’s obligation to be accountable to all of its stakeholders in all its operations and activities (including financial stakeholders as well as suppliers, customers and employees) with the aim of achieving sustainable development not only in the economic dimension but also in the social and environmental dimensions
Corporate Sustainability Report
a report published by a company to outline its progress toward meeting its financial, environmental and social sustainability goals; often published in compliance with third-party standards such as the UN Global Compact or Global Reporting Initiative; see Corporate Responsibility Report
an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice or discussion
a design philosophy put forth by architect William McDonough that considers the life-cycle of a material or product, and ensures that the product is completely recycled at the end of its defined lifetime
Demand-Side Management (DSM)
the implementation of policies that control or influence demand of certain products or services
the reduction of total materials used in providing customers with products or services
Domini Social Investment
an investment firm specializing exclusively in socially responsible investing based on its own development and application of social and environmental standards
Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI)
the first global indexes to track the financial performance of sustainability driven companies
the creation of more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution
a product, practice or process that is “green” or good for the environment, creating no unnecessary or hazardous waste and minimizing use of non-renewable, natural resources
Ecological Economics
see Natural Capital, Ethical Investments, Environmental Valuation
Ecological Footprint
the total amount of land, food, water and other resources used by, or the total ecological impact of, a person or organization’s subsistence; usually measured in acres or hectares of productive land
Ecological Justice, a.k.a. Ecojustice
the concept that all components of an ecosystem (such as plant and animal life as well as natural resources) have a right to be free from human exploitation and free from destruction, discrimination, bias, or extinction; distinct from Environmental Justice
Employee Engagement
a management concept aimed at measuring and benefitting from employee enthusiasm to move a project or objective forward
Energy Efficiency
the result of actions taken to reduce dependence on or to save fuels (i.e., selection of road vehicles with higher MPG or the use of renewable sources of power for heating and cooling)
Environmental Audit
a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of how well a project, organization, individual or service is performing in terms of environmental impact, including, but not necessarily limited to, compliance with any relevant standards or regulations
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
an assessment of potential environmental effects of development projects; required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for any proposed major federal action with significant environmental impact
Environmental Justice
the concept of equal access to environmental resources and protection from environmental hazards regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or income; distinct from Ecological Justice
Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA)
the tracking and rating of environmental risks, such as emissions, associated with a product and its manufacturing
Environmental Standards
see Standards
Environmental Sustainability
see Sustainability
Environmental Valuation
the inclusion of environmental costs and benefits into accounting practices using such mechanisms as taxes, tax incentives and subsidies; by quantifying environmentally related costs and revenues, better management decisions and increased investment in environmental protection and improvement are encouraged
Environmental, Social and Government (ESG)
an acronym commonly used by investment firms to refer to the types of issues or factors considered in measuring a company's “responsible practices”; these issues or factors include the environmental effects of a company’s business practices, social metrics such as fair pay and treatment of labor and community involvement and ethical corporate governance practices that are both transparent and anti-corruption
Environmental, Social, Economic and Government (ESEG)
an acronym similar to ESG (see above) that includes a company’s economic impact in addition to its environmental, social and governance actions
Ethical Investments
see Socially Responsible Investing
Fair Trade
an international trading partnership that seeks to help marginalized producers and workers achieve financial self sufficiency by establishing direct lines of trade between producers and consumers, guaranteeing producers fair prices for goods, restricting exploitative labor processes, and favoring environmentally sustainable production processes through a system of labeling products as “fair trade”
Fossil Fuels
fuels, such as natural gas, coal and petroleum that formed from the fossilized (or geologically transformed) remains of plants and animals
a financial index designed to objectively measure the performance of companies that meet globally recognized corporate responsibility standards
Geothermal Energy
a natural and sustainable form of heat energy derived from steam and hot water found below the surface of the Earth
Global 100
the most extensive data-driven corporate sustainability assessment in existence and inclusion is limited to a select group of the top 100 large-cap companies in the world; launched in 2005, the annual Global 100 is announced each year during the World Economic Forum in Davos
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
a reporting framework generally accepted to be the leading international standard for reporting social, environmental and economic performance
Global Warming
the gradual, average increase of temperature of the Earth’s near-surface atmosphere that is accelerated by the greenhouse gases emitted by human industry; global warming is one type of and a contributor to other types of global climate change in general, such that at individual locations the temperature may fluctuate or drop even though the global average is rising
the roles and relationships between an organization’s management, board, shareholders and stakeholders, as well the goals and mission by which the organization is governed
Green Accounting
the incorporation of the amount of natural resources used and pollutants expelled into conventional economic accounting in order to provide a detailed measure of all environmental consequences of any and all economic activities
Green Building
a comprehensive process of design and construction that employs techniques to minimize adverse environmental impacts and reduce the energy consumption of a building, while contributing to the health and productivity of its occupants; a common metric for evaluating green buildings is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification
Green Claims
a company’s public advertisements or marketing tools aimed at informing consumers about its environmentally friendly products or practices
Green Design
the design of products, services, buildings or experiences that are sensitive to environmental issues and achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in terms of energy and materials use
Greenhouse Effect
the trapping of heat within the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as CO2, which is necessary to keep the planet at a temperature warm enough to sustain life, but becomes dangerous when greenhouse gases produced by humans cause the effect to intensify and push the global temperature to too high a level
Greenhouse Gas
a gas that contributes to the natural greenhouse effect, whereby heat is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride
Green Guides
a set of guidelines produced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) providing the basis for voluntary compliance with laws pertaining to environmental advertising and marketing practices
Green Teams
dedicated groups of employees, regardless of discipline or organizational level, which facilitate the pragmatic implementation of sustainable operations
the process by which a company publicly and misleadingly declares itself to be environmentally friendly but internally participates in environmentally or socially unfriendly practices
version 3.1 of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Framework
the fourth generation of Sustainability Reporting Guidelines currently in development by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) acting in opposition to impropriety or unlawful behavior
Health and Wellness
the condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet and exercise habits
Human Rights
inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because he or she is a human being (i.e., freedom, justice and equality)
International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC)
a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, standard setters, accounting professionals and NGOs
Impact Assessment
an assessment of the positive and negative consequences of a proposed action or project
ISO 14000
a family of accounting standards addressing various aspects of environmental management; provides practical tools for companies and organizations looking to identify and control their environmental impact and constantly improve their environmental performance
ISO 26000
a family of accounting standards intended to assist organizations in contributing to sustainable development; also intended to promote common understanding in the field of social responsibility, and to complement other instruments and initiatives for social responsibility
no current terms for J
Kyoto Protocol
an international agreement reached during a 1997 summit in Kyoto, Japan, the Kyoto Protocol builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and sets targets and timetables for industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; so far, 175 parties have ratified the Protocol and are legally bound to adhere to its principles
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
quantifiable measurements of performance in areas critical to an organization’s progress or performance
LEED Certification
an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design sponsored by the United States Green Building Council that creates standards for developing high performance, sustainable buildings
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
a process of evaluating the effects of a product or its designated function on the environment over the entire period of the product's life in order to increase resource-use efficiency and decrease liabilities; commonly referred to as “cradle-to-grave” analysis
LOHAS Market
an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability; a market that consists of mindful consumers passionate about the environment, sustainability, social issues and health
a legal or accounting concept aimed at emphasizing the importance of a specific action, transaction or discrepancy
Measurement and Management
terms used to describe an organization’s efforts to measure and manage its environmental, social, economic and governance impact
a global and overarching force that will affect many multidimensional changes; for example, environmental impacts on business, individuals and countries
Natural Capital
a company’s environmental assets and natural resources existing in the physical environment, either owned (such as mineral, forest or energy resources) or simply utilized in business operations (such as clean water and atmosphere); often traditional economic measures and indicators fail to take into account the development use of natural capital, although preservation of its quantity and quality and, therefore, its sustainable use is essential to a business’ long-term survival and growth
Newsweek Green List
annual rankings published by Newsweek examining the most eco-friendly companies in the United States and around the world
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
a private, non-profit organization that is independent of business and government that works toward some specific social, environmental or economic goal through research, activism, training, promotion, advocacy, lobbying, community service, etc.
Non-Renewable Resource
a natural resource that is unable to be regenerated or renewed fully and without loss of quality once it is used (i.e., fossil fuels or minerals)
Open-Loop Recycling
a recycling process in which materials from old products are made into new products in a manner that changes the inherent properties of the materials, often via a degradation in quality, such as recycling white writing paper into cardboard rather than more premium writing paper; often used for steel, paper and plastic, open-loop recycling is also known as downcycling or reprocessing
a term signifying the absence of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic materials in the cultivation of agricultural products; ‘organic’ is also a food labeling term that denotes the product was produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act
Paid Volunteer Time Off
administrative approval for employees to volunteer during work hours without forfeiting wages
People, Planet, Profit
the expanded set of values for companies and individuals to use in measuring organizational and societal success, specifically economic, environmental and social values; “people, planet, profit” are also referred to as the components of the “triple bottom line”; see Triple Bottom Line
Plug Load
Electrical devices and machines that draw power through an electric outlet
Profile Disclosures
four areas of company disclosure, stipulated by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as Strategy and Analysis; Organizational Profile; Report Parameters; and Governance, Commitments and Engagement
no current terms for Q
generated lists of projects or organizations recognized for achievement based on individual performances in terms of critical performance areas
evaluations of performance in specified criteria that are typically quantitative in nature
Renewable Energy
energy derived from non-fossil fuel resources (such as solar, wind or geothermal energy) that can be replenished in full without a loss of quality; separate from sustainable energy because of emissions or other unsustainable impacts of the process of creating renewable energy
Renewable Portfolio Standard
a legislative requirement for a state to meet a certain percentage of its energy needs with renewable energy by a certain date
Responsible Practices
business practices that exemplify corporate responsibility; see Corporate Responsibility
Shareholder Resolution
a corporate policy recommendation proposed by a shareholder holding at least $2,000 of the market value or 1% of the company’s voting shares presented for a vote by other shareholders at the company’s annual meeting; an increasing number of shareholder resolutions request a company and/or its board of directors to carry out responsible business practices, especially regarding social, environmental and human rights issues
Social Entrepreneurship
an entrepreneurial endeavor that focuses on sustainable social change, rather than merely the generation of profit
Social Responsibility
see Corporate Social Responsibility
Social Return on Investment (SROI)
a monetary measure of the social value for a community or society yielded by a specific investment
Social Standards
see Standards
Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
an investment practice that gives preference to companies that value social and environmental impacts in addition to financial gain; socially responsible investments, also known as “ethical investments,” involve companies and practices that cause little or no depletion of natural assets or environmental degradation and that do not infringe the rights of workers, women, indigenous people, children nor animals
an individual or group potentially affected by the activities of a company or organization; in sustainable business models the term includes financial shareholders as well as those affected by environmental or social factors such as suppliers, consumers, employees, the local community and the natural environment
Stakeholder Engagement
the ongoing process of soliciting feedback regarding a company's business practices or major decisions from financial shareholders, as well as individuals or groups affected by corporate environmental or social practices such as suppliers, consumers, employees and the local community
government or privately created lists of social and environmental criteria used to regulate or evaluate the corporate responsibility of various companies; examples include the Global Reporting Initiative and UN Global Compact as well as indexes used by socially responsible investment firms such as CERES, Calvert and Domini
Strategic Philanthropy
a corporate philanthropy or community giving program that maximizes positive impact in the community as well as for the company, including bolstered employee recruitment, retention and a stronger company brand
Supply Chain Responsibility
a commitment to integrating responsible behavior into an organization’s supply chain or logistics in terms of the environment, risk and waste
Supply-Side Economics
the use of policies such as tax cuts and business incentives to control the supply of certain goods or services
an examination of a condition, situation or value
the successful meeting of present social, economic and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs; derived from the most common definition of sustainability, created in 1987 at the World Commission on Environment and Development (a.k.a. The Brundtland Commission)
Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
a non-profit organization engaged in the development and dissemination of industry-specific sustainability accounting standards
Sustainable Design
a process of product, service or organizational design that complies with the principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability
Sustainable Development
development that utilizes tools, supplies and strategies that protect and enhance the Earth’s natural resources and diverse eco-systems so as to meet the social and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet the needs of the future
Sustainable Energy
energy produced either from renewable resources or by use of clean production technology
Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance that was established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)
Sustainable Supply Chain
an organization’s supply chain or logistics network that exhibits sustainable practices in terms of the environment, risk and waste
Sustainable Supply Chain Policy
a policy aimed at promoting sustainable practices in an organization’s supply chain
Sustainable Supply Chain Survey
an examination of an organization’s practices in terms of the environment, risk and waste
Tragedy of the Commons
the inherent conflict between individual interests and the common good, based on the assumption that an individual uses a public good without considering the impact of his or her use on the availability of that good, therefore resulting in the over-exploitation of a public resource; the concept is explored in a 1968 essay written by Garrett Hardin
the process of substituting a service for a product in order to meet customer needs while reducing the use of materials and natural resources
a measure of increased accountability and decreased corruption in which a business reports on its ethics and performance results through accessible publication of the business’ practices and behavior; there is a strong movement to increase the transparency of business processes via independently verified corporate responsibility reporting
Triple Bottom Line
an expansion of the traditional company reporting framework of net financial gains or losses to take into account environmental and social performance; see People, Planet, Profit
Triple Top Line
a phrase describing a company’s improved top-line financial performance over the long term due to sustainable business practices, including less capital investment and increased revenues
United Nations Global Compact
an international initiative that seeks to bring businesses together voluntarily in order to promote socially and environmentally responsible practices; signatories pledge to uphold the Compact’s 10 Principles
United States Business Council on Sustainable Development (US BCSD)
a non-profit organization promoting sustainable development by establishing networks and partnerships between American companies and government entities; the US BCSD provides a voice for industry and is the U.S. branch of the World Business Council of Sustainable Development
the U.S. membership association for professionals, firms, institutions and organizations engaged in sustainable and responsible investing (formerly called the Social Investment Forum)
Venture Philanthropy
a charitable giving model that bridges venture capital strategies with philanthropic giving, creating strategic relationships among individuals and nonprofit organizations
use of or reliance on volunteers, especially to perform social or educational work in communities
unwanted materials or by-products
Waste Diversion
the prevention and reduction of generated waste through source reduction, recycling, reuse or composting
a recovery process in which waste is incinerated or otherwise turned into steam or electricity and used to generate heat, light or power through the process of combustion
the process of using one company’s waste or by-product as the input or raw material for another company, thereby increasing business profits and decreasing waste; also referred to as byproduct synergy
Water Disclosure Project (WDP)
a component of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) promoting sustainable water practices by businesses and cities
Water Footprint
the total volume of water an organization uses to produce goods and services
Wellness Program
a program initiated to promote good physical and mental health among its participants, especially in regards to proper diet and exercise habits
World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
an association of 170 international companies that provides business leadership with support to operate, innovate and grow through sustainable development initiatives that incorporate the “three pillars of economic growth”—environmental protection, social development and economic growth
no current terms for X
no current terms for Y
Zero Waste
a production system aiming to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials by conserving or recovering all resources
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Play BrownFlynn’s Monthly Sustainability Crossword Puzzle

After you have become familiar with the sustainability terms in our report and glossary, test your knowledge by completing this month’s puzzle—you might learn something new today!

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Melissa Wicinski

Melissa has been an enthusiastic member of the BrownFlynn team since its inception in 1996, when she became the Firm’s first full-time staffer.

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