Sustainability jargon buster

Confused by all the terms, acronyms and alphabet soup? What does CSR stand for? ESG? SDG? Find all the definitions you need below.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

The responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, resulting in ethical behavior and transparency which contributes to sustainable development, including the health and well-being of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; complies with current laws and is consistent with international standards of behavior; and is integrated throughout the organization and implemented in its relations.

ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility

Environmental, social and governance (ESG)

Criteria used to evaluate companies' performance alongside financial considerations. Closely related to the triple bottom line, the term is primarily used in the investment arena. Environmental criteria generally include contribution to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency, along with waste management. Social criteria examine how the company manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights. 

Investopedia's Guide to Sustainable Investing


The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service to make them seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. This is generally based on unsubstantiated, vague or irrelevant claims, incomplete information, or simply false information.

See the 7 Sins of Greenwashing for more detail


The effect an organization has on the economy, the environment, and/or society, which in turn can indicate its contribution (positive or negative) to sustainable development. The term can refer to positive, negative, actual, potential, direct, indirect, short-term, long-term, intended, or unintended impacts.

GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards

Life cycle

Consecutive and interlinked stages of a goods or services system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal. This is distinguished from a value chain in that it is focused on individual goods or services instead of the entire organisation and it encompasses the end of life of goods.

GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards


A measure of how important a piece of information is when making a decision (Cambridge Dictionary). The term has been adopted from financial reporting into sustainability / CSR reporting and strategy.

The Global Reporting Index, the most common framework used for CSR reporting, defines material information as that which "can reasonably be considered important for reflecting the organization’s economic, environmental, and social impacts, or influencing the decisions of stakeholders.” Similarly, ISO 26000, Guidance on Social Responsibility, determines the ‘significance’ of an issue by considering the extent of the impact, potential effect of action, stakeholder concern and societal expectations.


Entity or individual that can reasonably be expected to be significantly affected by the reporting organization’s activities, products and services, or whose actions can reasonably be expected to affect the ability of the organization to successfully implement its strategies and achieve its objectives
- Stakeholders include entities or individuals whose rights under law or international conventions provide them with legitimate claims vis-à-vis the organization.
- Stakeholders can include those who are invested in the organization (such as employees and shareholders), as well as those who have other relationships to the organization (such as other workers who are not employees, suppliers, vulnerable groups, local communities, and NGOs or other civil society organizations, among others).

GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards

Supply chain

Sequence of activities or parties that provides goods or services to the organization. This is distinguished from a value chain as it only includes the upstream activities, or supply.

ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility


State of the global system, including environmental, social and economic aspects, in which the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
- The environmental, social and economic aspects interact, are interdependent and are often referred to as the three dimensions of sustainability.
- Sustainability is the goal of sustainable development.

ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement - Guidance

Sustainable development

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Brundtland definition from Our Common Future 1987)
- Sustainable development is about integrating the goals of a high quality of life, health and prosperity with social justice and maintaining the earth’s capacity to support life in all its diversity. (ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility)
- Sustainable development refers to broader environmental and societal interests, rather than to the interests of specific organizations. (GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards)

Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

17 global goals established by the UN and adopted by all UN Member States as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The goals represent a consensus of business, government, NGOs and academia on the most important challenges facing the world in achieving sustainability. These followed the previous Millennium Development Goals 2000-2015. 

Triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL)

Net profit and loss across social, environmental, and economic capital (also referred to as people, planet and profit, or 3Ps) coined by John Elkington in 1994. It is more a thinking tool or hypothetical framework than a quantified measurement as a single methodology has not been agreed. It recognises that all businesses have both positive and negative impacts, and the aim is to achieve the best possible outcomes across all three areas without negatively impacting this others. 

Investopedia's Guide to Sustainable Investing

Value chain

Entire sequence of activities or parties that provide or receive value in the form of goods or services. (ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility)

-        It includes entities and individuals with which the organization has a direct or indirect business relationship and which either (a) supply products or services that contribute to the organization’s own products or services, or (b) receive products or services from the organization.

-        The value chain covers the full range of an organization’s upstream and downstream activities, which encompass the full life cycle of a product or service, from its conception to its end use. (GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards)