It can be tough to keep tabs on the most up-to-date language and terminology in the purpose-driven space. Our guide to social impact words and phrases will ensure you’re using the appropriate, politically correct terms when addressing matters of diversity, social justice and environmental issues.

Any questions or new terms to share with us? We’d love to hear from you.

  • Ableism: Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Accessibility: Easily used or accessed by people with disabilities: adapted for use by people with disabilities. (Source: Merriam Webster)
  • Activism: The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Advocacy: Public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. Many conscious leaders see advocating for causes as an important role businesses can and should play in society. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Ageism: Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly. (Source: Merriam Webster)
  • Armchair Activism: Description of a speaker or writer who professes radical aims without taking any action to realize them. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Asexuality: An asexual person (“ace”, for short) is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Aces can be any sex or gender or age or ethnic background or body type, can be rich or poor, can wear any clothing style, and can be any religion or political affiliation. (Source: What Is Asexuality)
  • Bisexual: An umbrella term for people who experience sexual and/or emotional attraction to more than one gender. (Source: Trans Student Education Resources)
  • Brand activism: A company’s public-facing opinion on a social, political, economic, or environmental issue. These public-facing opinions can be made into a campaign, shared on social media, or given by brand representatives, employees, or influencers through media opportunities and thought leadership. (Source: SNJ Today)
  • Brave space: Wherein students, teachers and citizens generally can come together to have hard conversations and hear each other out – even and especially when that is challenging. (Source: All Sides)
  • Cause Marketing: An increasingly popular marketing technique in which a brand aligns with a nonprofit or social cause to raise both money and awareness around an issue and to profit from the “halo effect” of being associated with said cause or issue. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • CEO activism: A phenomenon in which business leaders engage in political or social issues that do not relate directly to their companies. (Source: Harvard Business School)
  • Charity: An organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need. Related to a Non-governmental organization (NGO), Nonprofit organization, Not for profit organization. (Source: Sopact)
  • Circular Economy: A concept of companies integration in the objective of reusing the waste of a company as a resource for another one. This is different from Cradle to Cradle (C2C), a concept of total recycling through design. (Source: A Floresta Nova)
  • Cisgender: Term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth.The term cisgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. (Source: Trans Student Education Resources)
  • Climate emergency / climate crisis: Recommended term replacement for “Climate Change” to better communicate the seriousness of the issue. (Source: The Guardian)
  • Climate justice: Links human rights and development to achieve a human-centered approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly. Climate justice is informed by science, responds to science and acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world’s resources. (Source: Mary Robinson Foundation)
  • Conscious bias: Inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Corporate Purpose: The main objective(s) that is (are) being pursued by a commercial organization, as typically listed in its articles of incorporation or memorandum of association. (Source: MBA Brief)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): A business’ efforts to measure and control its effects on the greater environment and society in which it operates. The term generally refers to work that goes beyond what is legally required and traces its origins as a modern concept to roughly the 1950s. The main categories of CSR practices include environmental sustainability efforts, philanthropy, ethical labor practices, and volunteering. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Cradle to Cradle (C2C): A concept of total recycling through design. This is different from Circular Economy, a concept of companies integration in the objective of reusing the waste of a company as a resource for another one. (Source: A Floresta Nova)
  • Dehumanization: The process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities. When humans are treated like a resource, it can result in a loss of self-esteem, dignity, and character. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Discrimination: An action or a decision that treats a person or a group badly for reasons such as their race, age or disability. (Source: Canadian Human Rights Commission)
  • Disadvantaged communities: A community that, compared to the whole, has a higher percentage of elderly and/or minority populations, populations with below average per capita income, and/or above average unemployment. (Source: Defined Term)
  • Disenfranchise: to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, or of some privilege or immunity. (Source: Merriam Webster)
    Disenfranchised communities/people: Citizens of a certain community who have had the right to vote, or a similar right taken away.
  • Divest: Deprive someone of power, rights, or possessions (Source: Merriam Webster)
  • Diversity: In business, this term usually refers to a heterogeneous mix of attributes within a workforce, including but not limited to gender, race, age, background, and education. Extensive research has documented that increased diversity drives innovation, creativity, and adaptability within a company. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Environmental impact: An environmental impact is the result of environmental impacts on human health and welfare. (Source: Sopact)
  • Environmental justice: The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Source: Global Change)
  • Equality: The same status, rights, and responsibilities for all the members of a society, group, or family. (Source: Collins Dictionary)
  • Equity: Fairness and impartiality towards all concerned, based on the principles of even handed dealing. Equity implies giving as much advantage, consideration, or latitude to one party as it is given to another. (Source: Business Dictionary)
  • Environmental, social and governance (ESG): Environmental sustainability practices, social responsibility commitments, and governance policies are three factors socially conscious investors use to evaluate and screen investments for sustainability and ethical impact. Growing evidence suggests that companies with strong ESG indicators may perform better in the long term and have superior business models. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Food deserts: Areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet. (Source: CDC)
  • Food security: When all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. (Source: Global Change)
  • Foundation: An entity that supports charitable activities by making grants to unrelated organizations or institutions or to individuals for scientific, educational, cultural, religious, or other charitable purposes. (Source: Council on Foundations)
  • Global citizen: Someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place it. They take an active role in their community and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable. (Source: Oxfam)
  • Global heating: Recommended term replacement for “global warming” to better communicate the seriousness of the issue. (Source: The Guardian)
  • Heterosexism: The presumption that everyone is, and should be, heterosexual (Source: University of Massachusetts Lowell)
  • Human rights: Rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. (Source: UN)
  • Identity politics: A tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc, to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics, can be a controversial term because of its connotations. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Impact assessment: The process of identifying the future consequences of a current or proposed action. Analyzing, monitoring and managing the social consequences of development. (Source: Sopact)
  • Impact consulting: Seeks to align messaging with values, and measures the effectiveness of impact approaches beyond traditional media metrics. (Source: Impact Relations)
  • Impact economy: Twin forces of supply and demand, impact investing and social entrepreneurship, that are driving systemic change in the US and around the world. (Source: Aspen Institute)
  • Impact investing: Placing capital into companies, organizations, or funds with the intention to harness the power of enterprise to generate positive social and environmental results alongside a financial return. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Impact measurement: measuring and managing the process of creating social and environmental impact in order to maximize and optimize it. (Source: Impact Relations)
  • Impact outcome: The likely or achieved short-term and medium-term effects of a programme or policy’s outputs, such as a change in vaccination levels or key behaviors. (Source: Unicef)
  • Impact output: The immediate effect of programme/policy activities, or the direct products or deliverable of programme/policy activities. For example, the number of vaccines administered. (Source: Unicef)
  • Impact Relations: A discipline of communications that influences positive social and environmental impact.
  • Impact report: Presentation of an organization’s economic, social and environmental impact. (Source: Conscious Company)(Source: Impact Relations)
  • Impact storytelling: Energizing stakeholder communications through media relations, creative campaigns, social media, event activations, and more – all designed to educate, inspire and empower. (Source: Impact Relations)
  • Inclusion: In the context of workplace culture, inclusion means harnessing the power of diversity by creating a welcoming environment of connection, support, and respect where people of different backgrounds are able to contribute at their fullest. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Intersectionality: The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups. (Source: Merriam Webster)
  • Intrapreneur: An individual who behaves like an entrepreneur by taking initiative to innovate, but from within an existing organization. While the subject of the innovation can vary, the term is often used to describe changemakers who seek to drive a business toward more conscious practices. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Least developed countries (LDCs): low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets. (Source: UN)
  • LGBTQ+: Initialism that means: Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning. (Source: Ok 2 B Me)
  • Marginalize: to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group. (Source: Merriam Webster)
  • Material footprint: the attribution of global material extraction to domestic final demand of a country. It is calculated as raw material equivalent of imports (RMEIM) plus domestic extraction (DE) minus raw material equivalents of exports (RMEEX). (Source: Sustainable Development Goals)
  • Micro finance: Also called microcredit​, is a type of banking service that is provided to unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who otherwise would have no other access to financial services. (Source: Investopedia)
  • Mobilization: The action of organizing and encouraging a group of people to take collective action in pursuit of a particular objective. (Source: ‘Mobilization of the working class against big business’)
  • Non-Governmental Institution (NGO): A non-profit, citizen-based group that functions independently of government. NGOs, sometimes called civil societies, are organized on community, national and international levels to serve specific social or political purposes, and are cooperative, rather than commercial, in nature. (Source: Sopact)
  • Nonprofit: Also known as “not-for-profit,” these organizations conduct business for the benefit of the general public, and legally must reinvest any profits beyond normal operating expenses into the cause or mission they serve. The legal structure does not allow for private owners or shareholders. Nonprofits are usually exempt from income taxes and able to accept tax-exempt donations. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Nonbinary: People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female. (Source: National Center for Transgender Equality)
  • Official development assistance (ODA): Flows of official financing administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as the main objective, and which are concessional in character with a grant element of at least 25 percent (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Pansexuality: Capable of being attracted to many/any gender(s). (Source: Trans Student Education Resources)
  • Philanthropy: An act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes. The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. (Source: Sopact)
  • Racism: Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Slacktivism: The practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Social enterprise: An organization that promotes economic, social and environmental impact alongside generating revenue. When the business grows, impact grows. (Source: Sopact)
  • Social entrepreneur: a person who pursues novel applications that have the potential to solve community-based problems. (Source: Investopedia)
  • Social finance: Social finance is an approach to mobilizing private capital that delivers a social dividend and an economic return to achieve social and environmental goals. Mobilizing private capital for social good creates opportunities for investors to finance projects that benefit society and for community organizations to access new sources of funds. (Source: Government of Canada)
  • Social good: Also known as ‘cause marketing’ and refers to corporate social responsibility that benefits others and not the brand—but in turn, by doing so, the brand receives new trust and respect from consumers. E.g. donating to charity, creating sustainable packaging, reducing one’s carbon footprint, or employing campaigns directed at shifting the culture of the industry a brand resides in. (Source: SNJ Today)
  • Social impact: The effect of an activity on the social fabric of the community and well-being of the individuals and families. (Source: Sopact)
  • Social innovation: A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Social justice: The political and philosophical concept which holds that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well-being, justice and opportunity. (Source: Investopedia)
    Socially responsible investing (SRI): Independent, nonprofit research center that works with clients to take the most advanced R&D from the laboratory to the marketplace. (Source: SRI.com)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 17 global goals, established by all 193 members of the United Nations in 2015, lay out a path to creating the world we want for the wellbeing of all by 2030, including ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and protecting the planet. The SDGs’ non-binding targets provide a framework for all kinds of organizations, including businesses, to think about and begin addressing the most important challenges the world faces. (Source: Conscious Company)
  • Sustainability: To be able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Source: Sopact)
  • TERF: A radical feminist who does not consider trans women to be women, and thinks they should not be included in ‘female’ spaces and organizations, originally a fringe internet term, but now recognized in mainstream (Source: Wiktionary)
  • Thriving communities: Arise out of the fundamental truth that all people, regardless of income or social status, deserve healthy, beautiful homes where they feel safe and that connection is the foundation of thriving. (Source: Thriving Communities)
  • Tipping point: The point at which a change in the climate triggers a significant environmental event, which may be permanent, such as widespread bleaching of corals or the melting of very large ice sheets. (Source: Global Change)
  • Tokenism: The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Transgender: encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life. (Source: Trans Student Education Resources)
  • Truth and reconciliation commission: Commission tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government (or, depending on the circumstances, non-state actors also), in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past. (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Two Spirit: A First Nations term for individuals who identify as both men and women, or fulfill a third-gender role their communities (Source: Wikipedia)
  • Unconscious bias: Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. (Source: UCFS)
  • Value chain: a tool that analyzes all of the activities that a business employs in order to create a product or service. (Source: YouTube)
  • Volunteer: A person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries)
  • Water stress: Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available volume during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use. (Source: IOP Science)

Any questions or new terms to share with us? We’d love to hear from you.