Introducing Sustainability Terms: A Beginner’s Guide

Sustainability has received increased coverage over the years, but it can feel complex and overwhelming for those deep diving into the topic for the first time.

To help, we briefly introduce a few must-know terms that you will often see in news and developments.

1) Net Zero

“Net zero” refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere, resulting in no additional contribution to global warming.

2) Carbon Footprint

The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions an individual, organisation, or product generates. It includes emissions from energy use, transportation, and production processes.

Understanding your carbon footprint is essential to reducing harm to the environment. Free carbon footprint calculators are readily available online, and banks have begun offering personalised carbon insights sharing how our lifestyles and spending contribute to emissions. Have you tried these out before?

3) Carbon Pricing

Carbon pricing is a policy tool used to put a price on carbon emissions (greenhouse gas emissions). It takes the form of either a carbon tax or a “cap and trade” system — where a quantitative limit for emissions is set and allocated via auction or for free. Organisations that emit less may be able to sell their emissions capacity, usually in credit form, to others who want them.

Singapore was the first country in Southeast Asia to set a carbon tax applicable to any industrial facility that emits direct GHG emissions equal to or above 25,000 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) annually.

4) Circular economy

A circular economy is an economic system that aims to eliminate waste and reduce the consumption of resources. It involves designing products and processes that are sustainable and can be reused, repaired, or recycled. The goal is to create a “closed loop” economy, where zero waste is generated.

5) Sustainable development

As defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, sustainable development aims to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It involves balancing economic, social, and environmental factors.

You would have heard of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to achieve by 2030. These global goals cover a range of issues, including climate action, clean energy, sustainable cities, and responsible consumption and production. All UN member states have adopted the SDGs.

6) United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP)

Held annually, the COP receives huge media coverage for good reason: it brings together world leaders, policymakers, scientists, and activists to discuss global efforts to address climate change. During this event, countries negotiate and agree on climate policies and targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The number behind COP denotes the conference number.

The Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement are the results and milestones of COP3 and COP21 respectively.

7) The Paris Agreement

Legally binding, the Paris Agreement is an international treaty. Under this agreement, countries aim to:

  • Limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
  • Limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

All countries must regularly report on their greenhouse gas emissions and progress towards meeting their targets. This is done through the establishing of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), that must be updated every five years. Singapore’s NDC, for example, aims to limit GHG emissions by 2030 at 60 MtCO2eq after peak.

8) Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Also known as Life Cycle Analysis, LCA is a popular assessment tool used to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. It considers factors such as energy use, water consumption, and emissions to identify areas for improvement and reduce environmental impacts.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has guidelines for LCA processes that can be found in ISO 14040 and 14044. Many organisations obtain these certifications to show their compliance and commitment to environmental management.

What else is good to know?

Did you know green credit cards exist? We share about them and some other good-to-know things below.

Green Credit Cards:

Green credit cards have emerged in recent years to help fight climate change. Your bank may have one of its own, and they come in different varieties. Some are made of recycled plastic, some come with sustainability-focused card rewards, some allow you to set a limit to the climate impact of your spending. It’s something worth exploring if there’s a card that suits your needs!

Sustainability reporting:

In Singapore, sustainability reporting for listed companies in 2016. The reporting requires companies to disclose their sustainability practices, including environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. This helps investors make informed decisions and encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices.

Green finance initiatives:

In Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has introduced several green finance initiatives to encourage companies to invest in sustainable projects. These include the Green Bond Grant Scheme, which provides grants to companies that issue green bonds, and the Green and Sustainability-Linked Loan Grant Scheme, which provides grants to companies that take out green loans.

Green building incentives:

Green building incentives include the Green Mark Certification Scheme, which awards buildings that meet certain environmental standards, and the Enhanced Capital Allowance Scheme, which provides tax incentives for companies that invest in energy-efficient equipment.

We hope this helps you on your journey to learn more about this important field!


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