Sustainability Glossary: Our Sustainability Definitions List
You may have found yourself wondering about the meaning of ‘greenwashing’ or ‘net zero’. These terms can be confusing, so to help you, we've put together this handy glossary of sustainability terminology. If you come across something you don't understand online, you can find the definitions here - and maybe learn how smart meters go hand in hand with what you're looking up!
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When something is biodegradable, it means it can be broken down by insects, fungi and bacteria. This process is not harmful to the environment.
For example, plants (alive or dead) and food scraps are biodegradable.
Biomass energy is living (or once living) organisms that are grown and used for fuel.
Wood that is grown to be burnt for fuel is one of the most common examples of biomass energy.
Carbon dioxide ( C02 )
Carbon dioxide is an acidic, colourless gas. It is found in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas that helps trap heat in our atmosphere. Without it, our environment would be very cold! However, too much of it can make the planet overheat.
This gas is also necessary for plants to be able to grow.
Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases given off by the things you do every day.
For example, driving a car to work or heating your home gives off carbon emissions, which becomes part of your carbon footprint.
Lowering your carbon footprint is a great way to help battle climate change. You can lower your carbon footprint by walking to destinations instead of driving. Or avoiding single use plastics like plastic straws.
Carbon neutral refers to the amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere being equal to the carbon emitted.
On a personal note, we all individually give off and take in carbon dioxide in our day-to-day lives. So, to become carbon neutral yourself, you will need to reduce the emissions that your actions produce.
Carbon offsetting is a way for a person or business to make up for any emissions they can't avoid. They do this by paying a company to reduce or remove an equal number of emissions somewhere else.
For example, a business could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by planting trees. Trees take in carbon dioxide from the air, so planting more trees reduces the amount of this gas in the atmosphere. This will offset some of the emissions produced by the company through their activities.
Data Communications Company (DCC)
The Data Communications Company provides the communications infrastructure that handles smart meter data. They process smart meter information, keep it secure and send energy consumption information to energy suppliers.
Electric vehicles (EVs):
Electric vehicles (EVs) are cars that run on a rechargeable battery, so they don’t rely on petrol or diesel.
These cars are better for the environment because they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional petrol or diesel cars.
You can charge an electric vehicle by plugging it into a public charging station or at a charging port at home.
Energy tariffs are what energy providers use to charge their customers for their gas and electricity use.
The two main types of tariffs are ‘fixed rate’ and ‘variable rate’:
- Fixed-rate tariffs are when the price per unit of energy (kWh) stays the same each month, even if the real price for gas/electricity goes up.
- Variable rate tariffs are when the price you pay per unit (kWh) can vary at the discretion of your energy supplier. The price usually follows the current price for wholesale energy.
Fossil fuels are formed underground from the remains of dead plants and animals. The main fossil fuels are coal, oil and gas. These are burned by humans to use as energy.
The burning of fossil fuels produces pollution that harms the earth’s environment.
Over the past 100 years, the Earth’s surface temperature has increased at a rate that is not sustainable. This is global warming. Global warming is causing more intense storms, droughts, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warmer seas. This is destroying habitats across the world, including ours, so it needs to be controlled.
Replacing the use of fossil fuels with renewable energy is one of the many ways we can help to overcome global warming.
The greenhouse effect is when the Earth is heated up by the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This is a natural process.
However, since the early 1900s, human beings have been burning more and more gas and coal at a much faster rate. The pollution caused by burning these has increased the number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This, along with other things, is heating up our atmosphere to levels that are harmful to our planet.
A greenhouse gas is a gas in our atmosphere that heats up in the sunlight. This heat gathers in our atmosphere and makes it warmer. So while these greenhouse gases are vital for our environment, we don’t want too much of this in our atmosphere. Otherwise, it’ll continue to warm up.
The main greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere are Water vapours, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.
Greenwashing is when a person or business exaggerates how they help the environment or their eco-friendly practices.
For example, a business could state that their plastic packaging is made from 100% recycled material. But, if this claim is untrue and only part of the plastic used was from recycled materials, then this would be misleading – and greenwashing!
If you get a smart meter installed in your home, you’ll be offered an in-home display (or smart meter display).
This is a portable, handheld device which displays your energy consumption in kWh and pounds and pence, in near-real time. You can use this information to understand your energy usage in your home, and try to reduce it.
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Kilowatt hour (kWh)
A kilowatt hour (kWh) is the standard unit used by energy suppliers to calculate your gas and electricity bill. When you hear energy companies talking about unit costs of energy this is usually referring to the kilowatt hour.
Kilowatt is another way of saying 'a thousand watts'. This means that kilowatt hour means using a thousand watts of energy every hour.
For example, you’d use 1 kilowatt hour of electricity to power a 100-watt halogen lightbulb for 10 hours.
100 watts x 10 hours of use = 1000 watt hours or 1 kWh.
If you swapped that halogen bulb for a more efficient LED bulb that uses 10 watts of electricity, you’d get 100 hours of light for the same 1-kilowatt hour of energy.
10 watts x 100 hours = 1000 watt per hours or 1 kWh.
The same principle applies to using gas too.
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Most plastics don’t decompose. Instead, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. These microplastics are hard to remove from our environment. A lot of the time, they end up in our oceans and get eaten by fish and birds. Because of this, microplastics are being detected in our foods and in our drinking water!
Migration (smart meter)
Migration is the process of upgrading all first-generation smart meters from the individual supplier’s network onto a centralised network. This is done to ensure that all smart meters are able to switch seamlessly between suppliers without losing their smart functions. The centralised network is owned and operated by a communications company (DCC).
Ofgem, or the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, are the energy regulator for Great Britain. They work to protect energy consumers, especially vulnerable people, by ensuring they are treated fairly and benefit from a cleaner, greener environment.
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Energy is renewable when it can be produced by natural sources, without any concern that the resource is going to eventually run out. A great benefit to renewable energy is that it creates a lot less pollution than fossil fuels.
Some examples of renewable energy are:
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- Tidal energy
- Geothermal energy
Smart energy system
A smart energy system is an energy system that uses digital technology to actively monitor what energy the country needs and when. This is an upgrade to our traditional energy system to make it more efficient.
Smart meters are helping us to develop a smart energy system. They allow our homes to communicate with energy suppliers to let them know how much energy is needed in the UK and when. Smart meters are a crucial part of the smart energy system.
Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meter. They’re being installed across England, Scotland and Wales to replace traditional energy meters.
The smart meter shows a digital meter reading and uses a secure smart data network (managed by the DCC) to automatically and wirelessly send the readings to your energy supplier so you receive accurate, not estimated bills.
SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications.
It is a document that contains the minimum technical specification for all smart meters in Great Britain. All energy suppliers have to follow these specifications. The document covers everything from physical requirements to functional requirements needed for all smart meters.
SMETS1 is the name given to the first generation of smart meter that was introduced at the beginning of the rollout.
They communicate with the energy supplier through the supplier’s own networks. This has caused some smart meters to lose smart functionality when people switched energy suppliers. SMETS1 meters are being upgraded so that they operate like a SMETS2 meter, which doesn’t have the same switching issue.
Citizens Advice’s webpage has a handy tool that allows you to check what type of smart meter you have in your home (SMETS1 or SMETS2) and if it’s working in smart mode.
Citizens Advice webpage has a handy tool that allows you to check what type of smart meter you have in your home (SMETS1 or SMETS2) and if it’s working in smart mode.
In terms of the environment, sustainability is the goal of being able to grow as a society without damaging the environment for the future.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is a UK government department responsible for:
- delivering security of energy supply
- ensuring energy markets function properly
- encouraging greater energy efficiency
- take on net zero opportunities in order to lead the world in new green industries
With a time-of-use tariff, the price of the energy you use can vary throughout the day.
These tariffs have been designed to help you save money on your bills, as you will be rewarded with cheaper energy for doing things at certain times.
Using the washing machine when there is a lot of renewable energy being generated (on a sunny or windy day) could save you money. You could also charge your phone at night if energy is cheaper while less people are awake and not using it.
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