Some key definitions


(Source: ABC of SCP-Clarifying Concepts on Sustainable Consumption and Production-UNEP)


Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP)

The use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations.

Agenda 21

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations of the United Nations system, governments, and Major Groups in every area in which humans impact on the environment. It was adopted by more than 178 governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992.


A process by which a company or organisation compares its products and methods with those of the most successful in its field, in order to judge its own performance, or that of other companies of the same type.

Best Available Technologies

The latest stage of development (state of the art) of processes, of facilities or of methods of operation which indicate the practical suitability of a particular measure for limiting environmental and social impacts.

Carbon Footprint (CF)

The total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organisation, event or product. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted.

Cleaner Production

The continuous application of an integrated preventive environmental strategy to processes, goods, and services to increase overall efficiency, and reduce risks to humans and the environment. Cleaner Production can be applied to the processes used in any industry, to goods themselves, and to various services provided in society.


A consequence of consumer choice, guiding the acquisition of a good or service on the basis of the information available. This may include the preference not to consume at all.


Expenditure during a particular period on goods and services used in satisfaction of needs and wants, or process in which the substance of a thing is completely destroyed, and/or incorporated or transformed into something else.

Cradle to cradle

Cradle to cradle promotes the principle that products can be designed from the outset so that, after their useful lives, they will provide nourishment for something new. This could be either as a biological nutrient that will easily re-enter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins or as technical nutrients that will continually circulate as pure and valuable material within a closed loop industrial cycle.

Design for Sustainability/Design Strategy

Design for sustainability takes eco-design approaches further and addresses the social dimension of sustainability in the design process. It also encompasses the broader issue of how best to meet needs (functionality) with minimal environmental and social impacts, rather than focusing on improving existing products.


Ecodesign aims at reducing the environmental impact of products (including energy consumption) throughout their entire life cycle.

Ecological Footprint

A measure of how much biologically productive land and water an individual, population or activity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using prevailing technology and resource management practices. The ecological footprint is usually measured in global hectares (a common unit that encompasses the average productivity of all the biologically productive land and sea area in the world in a given year). Because trade is global, an individual or country’s footprint includes land or sea from all over the world.

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency (EE) encompasses all changes that result in a reduction in the energy used for a given energy service (heating, lighting...) or level of activity. This reduction in energy consumption is not necessarily associated with technical changes, since it can also result from a better organisation and management or improved economic efficiency in the sector (e.g. overall gains of productivity).

End-of-Life (EoL)

Stage in the life cycle of a product when it becomes obsolete or has reached the end of its useful life. When goods become obsolete (such as when they break, have no use, or simply become unwanted) consumers then make decisions about the end of life of the things they buy, which could be reused, recycled, or thrown away for final disposal.

Green Growth

Green Growth is environmentally sustainable economic progress that fosters low-carbon, socially inclusive development. It articulates concise and clear entry points and policy approaches for making real gains in eco-efficiency and transferring to low-carbon development, synergising climate action with development goals.

In March 2005, at the 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development (MCED 2005) in Asia and the Pacific, held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, some 340 delegates, including representatives from 52 member and associate member countries of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) endorsed Green Growth as a policy focus and strategy to promote win-win approaches to reconciling the conflict between the achievement of two important Millennium Development Goals: MDG 1 (poverty reduction) and MDG 7 (environmental sustainability). Green Growth is comprised of the following mutually-reinforcing “paths”, or entry points, through which policy makers can focus interventions: Sustainable Consumption and Production, Greening Business and the Markets, Sustainable Infrastructure, Green Tax and Budget Reform, Investment in Natural Capital, and Eco-efficiency Indicators.

Human Development Index (HDI)

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a method of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index. The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development. The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called goalposts, and then shows where each country stands in relation to these goalposts, expressed as a value between 0 and 1. The HDI facilitates instructive comparisons of the experiences within and between different countries.

Indicators for SCP

Indicators are an important tool for measuring change and for focusing attention on key priorities. The primary focus of SCP indicators is on measuring progress towards more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Recognising that what goes unmeasured is often ignored, indicators are an important tool both for indicating progress – or the lack of it – towards the specific objectives of a particular programme, and for prompting appropriate response strategies. In the context of SCP, indicators can also indicate whether a society’s consumption and production patterns are bringing about more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable development.

Industrial Ecology

Industrial ecology is a science researching the shifting of traditional waste-producing industrial processes to closed-loop systems, where wastes become inputs for new processes. Industrial Ecology researches more effective use of internal resources, or clustering with other industrial processes. It studies the redesign of manufacturing processes and business relationships to use less energy, reject less waste, and substitute non-polluting catalysts and enzymes instead of using more traditional chemical processes. Industrial ecology covers the network of all industrial processes as they may interact and live off each other, not only in the economic sense, but also in the sense of direct use of each other’s material and energy wastes. It recognises that there is a constant flow of energy and recycling of matter. There is in reality no such thing as waste –one industry’s by-product becomes the raw material for another. The premise of industrial ecology is that the industrial economy should, as far as possible, imitate the cycling of materials and energy as it occurs in a natural ecosystem.

Integrated Product Policies

Integrated product policies is an approach that begins by asking how the environmental performance of products can be improved most cost-effectively. It is founded on the consideration of the impacts of products throughout their life-cycle, from the natural resources from which they come, through their use and marketing, to their eventual disposal as waste. It is also a relatively new approach to environmental policy.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool to evaluate the environmental and social performance of products or services along their life cycle.

Life Cycle Management (LCM)

Life cycle management (LCM) is a product management system aimed at minimising the environmental and socio-economic burdens associated with an organisation’s product or product portfolio during its entire life cycle and value chain. LCM supports the business assimilation of product policies adopted by governments. This is done by making life cycle approaches operational and through the continuous improvement of product systems.

Low Carbon Economies/Societies

A Low Carbon Economy (LCE) is defined as a new economic, technological and social system of production and consumption to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, compared with the traditional economic system, whilst maintaining momentum towards economic and social development.

Low Carbon Technology

Existing and emerging industrial technologies, which aim to deliver low or zero carbon emissions when fully developed and implemented.

Non-Renewable Energy

Energy can generally be classified as non-renewable and renewable. Over 85% of the energy used in the world is from non-renewable supplies. Most developed nations are dependent on non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels (coal and oil) and nuclear power. These sources are called non-renewable because they cannot be renewed or regenerated quickly enough to keep pace with their use. Oil, gas and coal are the most commonly used types of non-renewable energy.


Production is the conversion of resources into usable products, which may be either goods or services. The economic activity of production converts some resources, which we call inputs, into new goods and services, which we refer to as outputs, as a flow over some period of time. The way in which this production occurs depends on available technologies. Production processes can also lead to undesirable outputs, such as waste products. We consider only useable outputs to be economic goods and services.


Products, also called “goods and services”, are the result of production. They are exchanged and used for various purposes: as inputs in the production of other goods and services, for final consumption or for investment.

Public Goods

Public goods are goods, services or resources that are available for all, involving non-rivalry (the consumption of this good by one individual does not prevent its consumption by another) and non-excludability (nobody can be excluded from consuming this good). Examples are air quality and control of epidemic diseases. If both conditions are fully satisfied, the public goods are said to be pure. If only one is satisfied, they are said to be impure: • the non-rivalry principle be satisifed when consumption moves towards saturation (e.g. urban highways in the rush hour); • the non-excludability principle may be violated by imposition of

a right to access (e.g. toll highways).

Reduce-Reuse-Recycle (3Rs)

The 3R Initiative aims to promote the “3 Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle) globally so as to build a sound-material-cycle society through the effective use of resources and materials. Agreed upon

at the G8 Sea Island Summit in June 2004, it was formally launched at a ministerial meeting in Japan in the spring of 2005.Reducing means choosing to use things with care to reduce the

amount of waste generated. Reusing involves the repeated use of items or parts of items which still have usable aspects. Recycling means the use of waste itself as resources. Waste minimisation can be achieved in an efficient way by focusing primarily on the first of the 3Rs, “reduce,” followed by “reuse” and then “recycle”.

Renewable Energy

Energy sources that are, within a short time frame relative to the earth’s natural cycles, sustainable, and include non-carbon technologies such as solar energy, hydropower, and wind, as well as carbon-neutral technologies such as biomass.


The naturally occurring assets that provide use benefits through the provision of raw materials and energy used in economic activity (or that may provide such benefits one day) and that are subject primarily to quantitative depletion through human use. They are subdivided into four categories: mineral and energy resources, soil resources, water resources and biological resources.

Resource Efficiency

Resource efficiency is about ensuring that natural resources are produced, processed, and consumed in a more sustainable way, reducing the environmental impact from the consumption and production of products over their full life cycles. By producing more wellbeing with less material consumption, resource efficiency enhances the means to meet human needs while respecting the ecological carrying capacity of the earth.


Economists divide all economic activity into two broad categories: goods and services. Goods-producing industries include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and construction; each of them creates some kind of tangible object. Service industries include everything else: banking, communications, wholesale and retail trade, all professional services such as engineering, computer software development, medicine, non-profit economic activity, and all consumer and government services, including defense and administration of justice. A services-dominated economy is characteristic of developed countries. In less-developed countries most people are employed in primary activities such as agriculture and mining.

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture ensures that the basic nutritional requirements of present and future generations are met, while providing a range of economic, social and environmental benefits. It provides durable employment, sufficient income, and decent living and working conditions for all those engaged in agricultural production. It maintains and, where possible, enhances the productive capacity of the natural resource base as a whole, and the regenerative capacity of renewable ressources, without discrupting the functioning of basic ecological cycles and natural balances, destroying the socio-cultural attributes of rural communities, or causing contamination of the environment.

Sustainable Consumption and Production

The use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations.

Sustainable Development

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development includes economic, environmental and social sustainability, which are independent and mutually reinforcing pillars, and can be achieved by rationally managing physical, natural and human capital. Poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development”.

Sustainable Development Indicator

Indicators that measure progress made in sustainable growth and development. They can provide an early warning, sounding the alarm in time to prevent economic, social and environmental damage. Beyond the commonly used economic indicators of well-being, social, environmental and institutional indicators have to be taken into account to arrive at a broader, more complete picture of societal development. A core set of 58 indicators and methodology sheets are now available for all countries to use. This core set was adopted by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at its Third Session in April 1995.

Sustainable Economy

A sustainable economy is one in which resources are not used up faster than nature renews them. It also creates a thriving climate for business that balances environmental, social, and economic vitality.

Sustainable Lifestyles

A “sustainable lifestyle” is a way of living enabled both by efficient infrastructures, goods and services, and by individual choices and actions that minimise the use of natural resources, and generation of emissions, wastes and pollution, while supporting equitable socio-economic development and progress for all.

Creating sustainable lifestyles means rethinking our ways of living, how we buy and how we organise our everyday life. It is also about altering how we socialise, exchange, share, educate and build identities. It is about transforming our societies and living in balance with our natural environment. As citizens, at home and at work, many of our choices on energy use, transport, food, waste, communication and solidarity contribute to building sustainable lifestyles.

Governments have a key role to play by creating the appropriate frameworks and infrastructures (regulatory instruments, technological innovations, new public services) to enable citizens to change. Information and education are essential, as well as the full participation of civil society in the movement and the involvement of the business sector that can develop innovative solutions for sustainable lifestyles.

Sustainable Products

A product that incorporates environmental and social factors and minimises its impact throughout the life cycle, throughout the supply chain and with respect to the socio-economic surroundings.

Sustainable Procurement/Green Procurement

Sustainable Procurement is a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment.

Sustainable Procurement seeks to achieve the appropriate balance between the three pillars of sustainable development i.e. economic, social and environmental.

Economic factors include the costs of goods and services over their entire life cycle, such as: acquisition, maintenance, operations and end-of-life management costs (including waste disposal) in line with good financial management;

Social factors include social justice and equity; safety and security; human rights and employment conditions;

Environmental factors include emissions to air, land and water, climate change, biodiversity, natural resource use and water scarcity over the whole product life cycle.

Green Procurement is a process whereby organisations take into account environmental elements when procuring goods, services, works and utilities and achieve value for money on a whole life-cycle basis.

Sustainable Supply Chain/Responsible Sourcing

Responsible sourcing is a voluntary commitment by companies to take into account social and environmental considerations when managing their relationships with suppliers. This strategy is now an integral part of effective supply chain management. As production chains expand, companies of all sizes and sectors are devoting more efforts to managing supply chain risks and building long-term supplier relationships. Improving social and environmental performance in production chains is becoming a major element of this process.

Technology Transfer

Technology transfer is the flow of knowledge, techniques, experience, and innovation among different stakeholders through assistance, investment, licensing, trade or training. It comprises the process of learning to understand, utilise, and replicate the technology, including the capacity to choose it, adapt it to local conditions, and integrate it with indigenous technologies.

Triple Bottom Line

Triple Bottom Line accounting attempts to describe the social and environmental impact of an organisation’s activities, in a measurable way through the use of environmental sustainability and social responsibility criteria when judging the overall performance of a company, in addition to purely financial considerations.

UN Global Compact

The UN Global Compact was launched in 2000 as a voluntary initiative for the business community to help promote sustainable development through the power of collective action. The Global Compact seeks to promote responsible corporate citizenship so that business can be part of the solution to the challenges of globalisation.

Today, many hundreds of companies from all regions of the world, as well as international labour and civil society organisations, are engaged in the Global Compact. They are working to advance ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption and to catalyse actions in support of broader UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

Water Footprint

The water footprint is a measure of the impacts of the direct and indirect water consumption associated with all activities in a product’s life cycle. This is especially relevant for water-intensive processes and at locations where water scarcity is a serious problem.