Jargon Buster

AI (artificial intelligence) Uses algorithmic programming, modelling and machine learning to automate human tasks, such as visual perception, speech recognition and decision-making.

Behavioural economics The study of the effects of psychology on decisions by consumers and businesses, and how they contradict traditional economic thinking around consumer sovereignty and the profit motive.

Buycotts Deliberately shopping at ethical companies to support responsible business practices; often done in conjunction with a consumer boycott of unethical firms.

Carbon footprint The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of a business’s activities. Can include other greenhouse gas emissions and extend across supply chains and secondary operations.

CAS (complex adaptive system) theory Sees the world as a series of systems with a large number of components or agents that interact and adapt or learn from each other, such as climate change and natural ecosystems.

Circular economy Or circularity, a model of production and consumption that aims to eliminate waste and pollution by regenerating and reusing as many materials as possible, rejecting the business practices of ‘make-take-waste’ and end-of-life for products, and instead working with natural ecosystems to minimize impact and aid their restoration.

Citizen scientist Any member of the general public who helps collect and analyse data as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.

Closed-loop solution Any strategy that addresses or takes ownership of the full circularity of a company’s products and operations, from extraction of raw materials to the disposal, recycling and reuse of unwanted products.

Community ownership A business owned or run by a community, often as a legally designated ‘community asset’ in the UK.

Consumer sovereignty An economic concept that sees the consumer as an entirely rational and self-interested operator, who is the best judge of their own welfare and is the controlling power of what goods and services are produced.

CSR (corporate social responsibility) Also known as ‘corporate citizenship’, CSR is the idea that companies should be accountable to their stakeholders and wider society for the impacts of their operations. It’s generally considered to be an outdated model that offsets irresponsible activities through philanthropic projects, rather than incorporating responsibility into everyday strategy and operations, such as the responsible business model.

ESG (environmental, social and governance) Factors that are used to measure the sustainability and social impact of a company or investment.

Externalities A cost or benefit caused by a business that isn’t financially accounted for, which are usually social or environmental impacts.

Financialization The increasing dominance of the financial sector in Western economies since the 1980s, and the resulting marketization of every aspect of society and the environment for profit.

Global Goals The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Greenwashing The superficial promotion of green values by a company without any substantive changes to their ‘business-as-usual’ activities, in order to boost their commercial appeal and appear more environmental or ethical to their customers and stakeholders. Purpose-washing and woke-washing have similar meanings.

Intersectionality The interconnected nature of business, society and the environment, which means any issue has multiple dimensions that intersect. Traditionally, intersectionality was used to describe the overlapping social categories of race, class, sexuality and gender, but it is expanded in this book to include how the 17 Global Goals and socioecological systems intersect too.

Net zero Or carbon neutrality, is the idea that a business offsets or sequesters as much carbon dioxide as it produces in emissions from its operations. How those total emissions are measured is still a source of debate.

Purpose Or social purpose, is the reason a business exists and adds value to society beyond just making money and gives meaning to its activities, employees and stakeholders.

Resilience The level of disturbance a system can absorb without shifting to a different, often hostile or undesirable, configuration. A responsible business should try to avoid compromising the resilience and integrity of the planet’s many life support systems as a whole.

Responsible business A company that judges its purpose and practices against all of the Global Goals, embedding them in its business strategy and operations. Sustainability is just one vital part of being a responsible business.

Social contract In business, this is the convention that companies operate with the consent of society according to obligations and rules that benefit everyone. The contract can be formally written and agreed as part of a company’s charter, but is usually informal and subject to changing public opinion.

Social value The benefits to the wellbeing of society and the environment from a company’s activities beyond just its financial value.

Socio-ecological system A concept that refutes any delineation between society and nature, seeing the world as an interaction between humans and the natural world. Any human activity, such as business, is done within this overarching complex and adaptive system (CAS).

SRI (socially responsible investing) Being ethically conscious about the social impacts of a company’s activities. This usually means eschewing investments in firms involved in alcohol, tobacco, pornography, arms and animal testing as standard, but can also involve investors working with firms to improve their behaviour and social or environmental impacts.

Stakeholder Anyone (person, animal or entity, such as government) that has an interest in a company or is affected by its activities, including staff, suppliers, investors, customers and their wider communities and ecosystems.

Sustainability Meeting the needs of society without compromising the planet’s ability to replenish itself or function properly. More specifically in business, the concept of balancing people, planet and profit in a way that benefits all three.

System 1 and System 2 thinking Conceived by psychologist Daniel Kahneman to describe the emotional and rational ways the mind processes information. System 1 thinking is fast, automatic and intuitive; System 2 is slower and more analytical.

Value chain A business model that describes the full range of activities needed to create a product or service, including all stakeholders and the full life cycle of a product or process.