a guide to green terminology

Feb 24, 2021

We all want to do our bit to save the planet 🌎  – but with so much jargon thrown around understanding how to do it can be pretty confusing!

We get it, that’s why we’ve pulled together this ‘guide to green terminology’. We hope you can use it to make sense of what different companies are doing to stop the climate crisis – or if you own a business maybe to start setting some goals 💪

the greenhouse effect

You may remember this one from school 📚 Carbon dioxide, methane 🐄  and nitrous oxide (the greenhouse gases) trap heat near the Earth’s surface – acting like a blanket around it. This process of trapped heat warming the Earth is the greenhouse effect – it’s important because without it the Earth would be too cold for most living things to survive. But as the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased over the last few decades even more heat has been trapped near the surface of the Earth, causing temperatures to rise. This is global heating.

global warming or heating or climate change or climate crisis..? 🤔

Global warming or global heating are terms used to describe the rise in temperature near the Earth’s surface. Recently scientists and journalists have started calling it global heating instead of global warming to show more clearly how quickly temperatures have been rising – nearly 1°C over the past 100 years. To stop the worst effects of climate change temperature rises need to be kept below 1.5°C but at the moment we are heading towards rises of up to 4°C or higher.

Global heating and climate change are similar – but not the same. As the world continues to get hotter, climate patterns change – and have been changing over a long period of time. So climate change includes all extreme weather like flooding, storms, droughts, rising sea levels and changes in wind patterns – not just temperature increases. In 2019 The Guardian decided to start using the term climate crisis to make their journalism more “scientifically precise”. This is in line with lots of scientists who think that terms like ‘climate crisis’ and ‘climate emergency’ make clearer the seriousness and urgency of the situation.

carbon footprint

People, businesses, products, services and events all have a carbon footprint 👣 – the amount of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. You can measure your footprint using a carbon footprint calculator to see where you might be able to reduce your environmental impact 💚

Some people choose to switch to a renewable energy supplier 💡 or take one less flight a year ✈️  Whilst others cut down their meat consumption, opt to take public transport 🚌  or switch to Honest Mobile – a Carbon Negative mobile network 😊

carbon sequestering

Removing carbon from the air and storing it somewhere safely for a long period of time or turning it into something else is called carbon sequestration. This is really important if we want to stop climate change as it reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere causing global heating. It happens naturally in oceans and forests – for example trees are ‘carbon sinks’ 🌳  – absorbing CO2 from the air and releasing oxygen. Peat bogs and soil are also ‘carbon sinks’. In fact peatlands are the UK’s largest store of carbon – so it’s really important that we protect them. There are also artificial ways of capturing carbon from the atmosphere – these are being developed by scientists right now 🤓  Elon Musk recently launched a competition looking for the best solution to remove carbon from the air 🚀  with a prize of $100 million 💸

carbon neutral or climate neutral

Carbon Neutral means that the carbon that is released into the air in the process of making a product or delivering a service has been ‘offset’. This usually involves planting trees 🌳  but there are other ways to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Honest has had Carbon Neutral calls, messages and data since the beginning and in 2019 became Carbon Neutral across the whole business – before going Carbon Negative this year 🏆

Lots of people use the terms Carbon Neutral and Climate Neutral interchangeably – although some think Climate Neutral should include not just offsetting carbon emissions but other greenhouses gases as well – like methane 🐄

Carbon Neutral and Climate Neutral are often confused with Net-Zero – but there are two small yet important differences – see the Net-Zero explanation below 👇

carbon negative or positive… or climate positive 🤷

For a business to be called carbon negative it should take out twice as much carbon from the air as it emits. For Honest Mobile this means we plant enough trees 🌳 to absorb double the amount of carbon emissions from all calls, messages, data, charging and the manufacture of your mobile phone, as well as the running of Honest HQ 🏢

The term carbon negative can be a bit confusing because it’s actually a really positive thing 🎉  Which is why some companies prefer to call it being carbon positive ✅

Like we said – a bit confusing!

Some say Climate Positive and Carbon Positive are the same but like with Carbon Neutral and Climate Neutral you could argue that Climate Positive goes beyond just absorbing carbon emissions to include methane 🐄  and other greenhouse gases.


A useful way to think about Net-Zero is:

actively removing all greenhouse gas emissions possible and offsetting any unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions

There are two key differences between Carbon Neutral and Net-Zero. Firstly, a Net-Zero business has to consider all greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons)  – not just CO2. Secondly, a Net-Zero business must have actively reduced its greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible – not only its direct emissions but those of their suppliers and their customers – and then must offset any remaining emissions.

The UK aims to be ‘Net-Zero’ by 2050 – which means it’s trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and also remove all the emissions it produces from the air. The UK will have reached ‘Net-Zero’ when the amount of gases released and the amount being removed are in balance ⚖️

Honest Mobile is working hard on this – the key challenge for us is working with our supplier to shift their usage to lower carbon sources 💪

carbon zero

Last, but by no means least, Carbon Zero means that there are no carbon emissions being released into the air so there’s no need to reduce or offset them. This is the best – but trickiest – goal to have if we want to make a real impact on slowing down the climate crisis.

take action

Hopefully this guide has refreshed your memory 🧠  on what these terms mean and will make it a little easier to make some sustainable changes in your life. If you’re looking to take your business’ sustainability goals to the next level check out our latest blog post: 8 ways to make your business more sustainable