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Millions of Brits use sustainability buzz words – but have no clue what they are

Sustainability buzz words such as biomass, carbon neutral and greenhouse effect are regularly used by Brits – despite millions having no idea they mean.

A study of 2,000 adults found they use terms such as 'green', 'eco-friendly', and 'sustainability' as often as once a day – but almost two thirds don’t completely understand them.

Other confusing words included ‘carbon footprint’, ‘regenerative’ and ‘ecological’.

The research also found 81% of adults think there is lots of jargon when it comes to sustainability and being environmentally friendly.

And 73% think there are too many eco-related words which makes it difficult to differentiate the meanings.

However, 58% would like to be more educated on words and phrases associated with sustainability.

It also emerged 74% think there should be more education about saving and caring for the planet in schools.

While 61% believe that if we had more education around the jargon, it would lead to more people doing their bit for the planet.

The study, commissioned by Yeo Valley Organic, is one of the first brands to introduce regenerative farming into their produce process.

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Yeo Valley Organic managing director, Adrian Carne, said: “There is so much jargon around saving the planet and each word has a different meaning, so it can get very confusing.

"As the world acts against climate change, we must understand these terms.

“We want everyone to feel included and join the conversation, and really understand how you can do your part to help slow down climate change.

“Whether its buying organic products to cut down on your carbon footprint, turning lights off to save energy, or simply educating yourself on the topic, small steps can make a big difference.”

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Confusion around the topic has led to 36% using a word or phrase related to sustainability in conversation, without being fully confident they were using it correctly.

The survey, by OnePoll, even revealed a quarter have corrected someone else on the meaning or use of a word or phrase related to sustainability.

As a result, 79% think these buzzwords should be shared in layman’s terms for everyday people to understand.

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Lexiographer Susie Dent said: “Language shapes our environment, but our environment also shapes our language, in quite fundamental ways.

"What has become known as ‘ecolinguistics’ is a powerful tool in fighting climate change – our understanding of its vocabulary and the stories it tells determine how we feel about our planet and its future.

"Our children are immersed in the language of sustainability: to them, words like ‘regenerative’ will be as normal as ‘recycling’ has become to us.

"But as adults we too can increase our understanding and involvement, by exploring and decoding the language of the environment and, crucially, its application to our daily lives."

Test your own ecolingustics knowledge with this quiz:

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Sustainability Buzz words – from most to least understood


Climate change

Global warming

Energy efficient





Renewable energy


Green (in an environmental context, not the colour)




Climate crisis


Carbon footprint



Greenhouse effect

Greenhouse gas

Zero waste



Carbon neutral


Carbon offsetting

Net zero


Carbon credits

Zero carbon

Carbon sequestration


Carbon locking

Natural capital



Regenerative farming

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