Green Terms

3Rs: In the world of green, this standard for Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Acid Rain: A term used to describe precipitation that has become acidic (low pH) due to the emission of sulfur oxides from fossil fuel-burning power plants. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Alternative Fuels: Alternative fuels are derived from resources other than petroleum. Some are produced domestically, reducing dependence on foreign oil and some are derived from renewable sources. Often, they produce less pollution than gasoline or diesel. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Appliance Energy Efficiency Ratings: The ratings under which specified appliances convert energy sources into useful energy, as determined by procedures established by the U.S. Department of Energy. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Bioaccumulation: Where toxins taken up by plants and animals from their environment become concentrated in body tissues.

Biodegradable: The ability of a material to decompose through natural processes and eventually be reabsorbed by the natural environment. Biodegradable products include all plant and animal material, paper, food waste and fibers. Plastic, glass and metals are not biodegradable. However, even biodegradable materials will not break down once they are buried in a landfill because they are deprived of oxygen, which is necessary for decomposition. Composting provides optimal conditions for biodegradation. The "Biodegradable" label on products like cosmetics, cleaning supplies, packaging or household items is not necessarily reliable because it is not verified and follows no uniform standards.

Biodiesel: Alternative fuel made from virgin vegetable oil or used vegetable oil. Even animal fats like beef tallow and fish oil can be used to make biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel may be blended with conventional diesel to get different blends such as B2 (2% biodiesel and 98% conventional diesel) or B20 (20 percent biodiesel) or it can be used as 100% biodiesel (B100). Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Biodiversity: The scope of different living things within an area - the plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms and the ecosystems they are part of.

Biofuels: Any fuel derived from biomass. Agricultural products specifically grown for conversion to biofuels include corn and soybeans. R&D is being conducted to improve the conversion of non-grain crops, such as switchgrass and a variety of woody crops, to biofuels. The energy in biomass can be accessed by turning the raw materials of the feedstock, such as starch and cellulose, into a usable form. Transportation fuels are made from biomass through biochemical or thermochemical processes. Known as biofuels, these include ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, biocrude and methane. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Biomass Program

Biomass: Any organic material made from plants or animals. Domestic biomass resources include agricultural and forestry residues, municipal solid wastes, industrial wastes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops grown solely for energy purposes. Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy and is an attractive petroleum alternative for a number of reasons. First, it is a renewable resource that is more evenly distributed over the Earth's surface than are finite energy sources, and may be exploited using more environmentally friendly technologies. Agriculture and forestry residues, and in particular residues from paper mills, are the most common biomass resources used for generating electricity and power, including industrial process heat and steam, as well as for a variety of biobased products. Use of liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, however, currently derived primarily from agricultural crops, is increasing dramatically. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Biomass Program

Bioremediation: Any process that uses microorganisms, fungi, green plants or their enzymes to return the natural environment altered by contaminants to its original condition.

Blackwater: Water effluent containing fecal matter and urine - i.e. sewage

Brownfield Site (or simply a brownfield): Land previously used for industrial purposes or certain commercial uses. The land may be contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution, and has the potential to be reused once it is cleaned up.

Carbon Dioxide: A colorless, odorless noncombustible gas with the formula CO2 that is present in the atmosphere. It is formed by the combustion of carbon and carbon compounds (such as fossil fuels and biomass), by respiration, which is a slow combustion in animals and plants, and by the gradual oxidation of organic matter in the soil. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Carbon Footprint: A measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. Source: Carbon Footprint The total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full lifecycle of a product or service, expressed as grams of CO2 equivalents.

Carbon Offset: Carbon offsetting is the act of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through emissions trading. For example, a factory or production facility may not be able to reduce its own carbon footprint any further through its own actions, so it may voluntarily purchase credits for another party to offset their actions. The goal of carbon offsets is to attain a carbon neutral overall effect.

Certification: This is the process by which a third-party, typically a nonprofit evaluates a product according to a specific standard to “certify” that the product meets the stated requirements. Certification makes it easier for both manufacturers and purchasers to address complicated health, safety, environmental and performance criteria and have become an important tool used to accelerate the adoption of green cleaning.

CFL: Compact Fluorescent Lamp - an energy saving light bulb rapidly replacing traditional incandescent bulbs.

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC): A family of chemicals composed primarily of carbon, hydrogen, chlorine and fluorine whose principal applications are as refrigerants and industrial cleansers and whose principal drawback is the tendency to destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Circulating Fluidized Bed Combustion Technology (CFB): A type of furnace or reactor in which the emission of sulfur compounds is lowered by the addition of crushed limestone in the fluidized bed, thus obviating the need for much of the expensive stack gas clean-up equipment. The particles are collected and recirculated, after passing through a conventional bed, and cooled by boiler internals. CFB technology is recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as a clean-coal technology. CFB technology has strong environmental performance, and a record of dependable, cost-effective service. CFB boilers are very flexible and can utilize a wide range of fuels, including run of mine coal, waste coal and biomass. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Clean Power Generator: A company or other organizational unit that produces electricity from sources that are thought to be environmentally cleaner than traditional sources. Clean, or green, power is usually defined as power from renewable energy that comes from wind, solar, biomass energy, etc. There are various definitions of clean resources. Some definitions include power produced from waste-to-energy and wood-fired plants that may still produce significant air emissions. Some states have defined certain local resources as clean that other states would not consider clean. For example, the state of Texas has defined power from efficient natural gas-fired power plants as clean. Some northwest states include power from large hydropower projects as clean although these projects damage fish populations. Various states have disclosure and labeling requirement for generation source and air emissions that assist customers in comparing electricity characteristics other than price. This allows customers to decide for themselves what they consider to be "clean." The federal government is also exploring this issue. Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Climate Change: Refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from:
·  Natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun
· Natural processes within the climate system (e.g., changes in ocean circulation)

Human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g., through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g., deforestation, reforestation, urbanization and desertification) Source: Environmental Protection Agency

co2: chemical shorthand for carbon dioxide - the greenhouse gas that is contributing greatly to global warming.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL): Combine the energy efficiency of fluorescent lighting with the convenience and popularity of incandescent lamps. CFLs can replace incandescents that are roughly 3 to 4times their wattage, saving up to 75% of the initial lighting energy. Although CFLs cost 3-10 times more than comparable incandescent bulbs, they last 6-15 times as long (6,000-15,000 hours). Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Compost: the product resulting from the decomposition of organic materials such as yard trimmings and food scraps.

Compostable: A material that breaks down to become what is effectively dirt. It contains no toxins and can support plant live.

Composting: the conversion of organic material to compost by microorganisms. Composting is an effective solid waste management method for reducing the organic portion of garbage including yard trimmings, leaves and food scraps.

Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG): Guidelines established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) CPG program that promotes the use of materials recovered from solid waste. One key component of the program is EPA's list of designated products with recycled-content recommendations. Products are grouped into eight categories: construction; landscaping; non-paper office; paper and paper products; park and recreation; transportation, vehicles and miscellaneous.

Conservation: The preservation of resources through efficient and careful use. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Construction Waste Management Plan (CWMP): A plan that diverts construction debris from landfills through conscientious plans to recycle, salvage, and reuse. For best results, this type of plan should also eliminate packaging of materials when possible and be carefully monitored or audited by the contractor.

Consumption: Used to describe acts of acquisition – generally, the acquisition of things, in exchange for money. Unconsumption means the thrill of finding a new use for something that you were about to throw away.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE): Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is a way to measure the fuel economy of specific manufacturers' vehicles. It is expressed in miles per gallon (mpg) for a manufacturer's entire fleet of cars and light trucks. Source: National Housing, Transportation and Safety Administration

Daylighting: The use of direct, diffused or reflected sunlight to provide supplemental lighting for building interiors. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

D.O.E.: U.S. Department Of Energy; federal agency that promotes energy conservation.

DIY: Do-It-Yourself. Creating things yourself without the help of professionals. A mentality that often goes hand-in-hand with recycling and conserving resources.

Eco-chic: A product or good that is both eco-friendly and hip.

Eco-friendly: An alternative to goods usually bought in most stores. These products are made with ecology and the environment in mind.

Eco-savvy: Someone who is environmentally aware.

Ecosystem: The physical and biological elements of an area co-existing to form a self supporting environment.

Efficacy: The amount of energy service or useful energy delivered per unit of energy input. Often used in reference to lighting systems, where the visible light output of a luminary is relative to power input; expressed in lumens per Watt; the higher the efficacy value, the higher the energy efficiency. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Efficiency: Under the First Law of Thermodynamics, efficiency is the ratio of work or energy output to work or energy input, and cannot exceed 100 percent. Efficiency under the Second Law of Thermodynamics is determined by the ratio of the theoretical minimum energy that is required to accomplish a task relative to the energy actually consumed to accomplish the task. Generally, the measured efficiency of a device, as defined by the First Law, will be higher than that defined by the Second Law. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT): Procurement tool to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.

Emissions: Emissions are particles and gases released into the air as byproducts. There are many types of emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions, for example, contribute to global warming and is not sustainable to the health of the earth.

Emissions Inventory: A list of air pollutants emitted into a community's, state's, nation's, or the Earth's atmosphere in amounts per some unit time (e.g., day or year) by type of source. An emission inventory has both political and scientific applications. Source: Natsource

Energy Audit: The process of determining energy consumption, by various techniques, of a building or facility. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Energy Efficient: Products and systems that use less energy to perform as well or better than standard products. While energy-efficient products sometimes have higher up-front costs, they tend to cost less over their lifetime when the cost of energy consumed is factored in. An example of this is fluorescent light bulbs vs. incandescent bulbs.

Energy Performance Contracts: Energy performance contracts are generally financing or operating leases provided by an Energy Service Company (ESCo) or equipment manufacturer for energy-saving installations. What distinguishes these contracts is that they provide a guarantee on energy savings from the installed retrofit measures, and they usually also offer a range of associated design, installation, and maintenance services. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Energy Performance Ratings: You can use the energy performance ratings of windows, doors, and skylights to tell you their potential for gaining and losing heat, as well as transmitting sunlight into your home.Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Energy Services Company: A company that offers to reduce a client's utility costs, often with the cost savings being split with the client through an energy performance contract (EPC) or a shared-savings agreement Source: Think Energy

Energy Star: A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In 1992 EPA introduced ENERGY STAR as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Source: Energy Star

Engineered Lumber: Recycled or reconstituted wood materials, may employ laminated wood chips or strands and/or finger joints.

Environmentally Preferred: products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment over the life cycle of the products and services when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. This comparison applies to the acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, use, reuse, operation, maintenance and end-of-life management.

Environmental Performance: considerations include the use of renewable resources, improved energy and water efficiency, the reduction of air contaminants and greenhouse gas emissions, waste reduction, increased reuse and recycling, and the reduction of hazardous waste and toxic pollutants.

E.P.A.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal agency that leads the nation's environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts to protect human health and the environment.

E.P.A. guidelines: Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for federal agency purchases as of May 2002 and any subsequent versions adopted.

Ethanol (CH3-CH2OH): A clear, colorless, flammable oxygenated hydrocarbon. Ethanol is typically produced chemically from ethylene, or biologically from fermentation of various sugars from carbohydrates found in agricultural crops and cellulosic residues from crops or wood. It is used in the United States as a gasoline octane enhancer and oxygenate (blended up to 10 percent concentration). Ethanol can also be used in high concentrations (E85) in vehicles designed for its use. Source: Energy Information Administration

Fair Labor: A code of conduct by which participating companies—mostly in the clothing and shoe industries—agree to provide factory workers with fair wages, reasonable work hours, the right to collective bargaining, a safe and healthy workplace free from abuse and discrimination and fair overtime compensation. Forced and child labor are not allowed. 

Fair Trade: A social movement that promotes standards for international labor and gives workers a sense of economic self sufficiency through fair wages and good employment opportunities to economically disadvantaged populations.

Flat Pack: An increasingly popular way of producing goods that the end user assembles. The unfinished product takes up far less space, so more can be shipped - saving fuel and emissions.

Fossil Fuel: Any hydrocarbon deposit used for fuel such as oil, coal and natural gas. These are called "fossil" fuels as it takes many years for them to be created in the natural environment.

Free Range: A method of farming where the animals are permitted to roam freely instead rather than being confined in an enclosure.

Geothermal Energy: Energy from rock and/or water that is heated by contact with molten rock deep in the earth’s core (i.e., magma). The heat can be extracted and used for space heating or to generate electricity.

Global Warming: An increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural, and human-induced. In common usage, "global warming" often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

GMO (or just GM): A genetically modified organism. An organism whose genetic structure has been artificially altered through the introduction of genes not normally found in that organism.

Going Green: A phrase referring to individual action that a person can consciously take to curb harmful effects on the environment through consumer habits, behavior, and lifestyle.

Gray Water: Wastewater captured from washbasins, bathtubs, showers, and clothes washers; can be recycled to flush toilets or for irrigation. Does not contain sewage.

Green: The adjective used to describe people, behaviors, products, policies, standards, processes, places, movements or ideas that promote, protect, restore or minimize damage to the environment. Anything considered environmentally friendly.

Green Building: Designed to conserve resources and reduce negative impacts on the environment - whether it is energy, water, building materials or land. Compared to conventional construction, green buildings may use one or more renewable energy systems for heating and cooling, such as solar electric, solar hot water, geothermal, bio mass, or any combination of these.

Green Building Practices: a whole-systems approach to the design, construction, and operation of buildings and structures that help mitigate the environmental, economic, and social impacts of construction, demolition, and renovation. Green Building Practices such as those described in the LEEDTM Rating System, recognize the relationship between natural and built environments and seeks to minimize the use of energy, water, and other natural resources and provide a healthy productive environment.

Green Design: A term used in the building, furnishings, and product industries to indicate design sensitive to environmentally-friendly, ecological issues.

Green Globes: Green Globes is a Green Building Rating System for new and existing buildings used in Canada and the USA. In the USA, Green Globes is owned and operated by the Green Building Initiative (GBI).

Green Seal: an independent, non-profit environmental labeling organization. Green Seal standards for products and services meet the U.S. EPA's criteria for third-party certifiers. The Green Seal is a registered certification mark that may appear only on certified products

Greenhouse Gases (GHGs): Gases in the Earth's atmosphere that produce the greenhouse effect. Changes in the concentration of certain greenhouse gases, due to human activity such as fossil fuel burning, increase the risk of global climate change. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halogenated fluorocarbons, ozone, perfluorinated carbons, and hydro fluorocarbons. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Greenwashing: A superficial nod to the environment that marketers and businesses that historically were not interested in sustainable concerns, are doing in order to improve their public relation standings with the consumer or public. Analogous to brainwashing. Don't be fooled by dishonest companies employing greenwashing techniques.

Hardscape: part of a building's grounds made with hard materials such as patios, retaining walls, and walkways.

Heat-Island Effect: warmer temperatures in urban areas compared to adjacent rural area as a result of solar energy retention on constructed surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, parking lots and buildings.

Heavy Metal: A poisonous metal, including lead and mercury that builds up in the tissues of organisms

Herbicide: Any chemical agent that kills or inhibits plant growth.

High Performance Building: Building with energy, economic and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice. It is energy efficient, so it saves money and natural resources. It is a healthy place to live and work for its occupants and has relatively low impact on the environment. All this is achieved through a process called whole-building design. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Hybrid: Refers to vehicles that use two systems to propel the vehicle, using a rechargeable electric system as well as burning gasoline. Such vehicles typically have higher gas mileage and lower air emissions.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC): Chemical compound used in aerosol cans.

Hydronic Heating: In-floor heating system; hot water is pumped through a thermal mass floor that absorbs the heat and evenly radiates it over an extended period of time.

Hydropower: Production of electricity by harnessing the power of flowing water, usually through the use of a waterwheel.

Impervious: Surfaces that do not permit the penetration or passage of liquids.

Incandescent Lamps: Operate without ballast. They light up instantly, providing a warm light and excellent color rendition. You can also dim them. Light is emitted when electricity flows through-and heats-a tungsten filament. However, incandescent lamps have a low efficacy compared to other lighting options (10-17 lumens per Watt) and a short average operating life (750-2500 hours). Incandescent lamps are the least expensive to buy, but because of their relative inefficiency and short life spans, they usually are more expensive to operate. Source: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): Assessment of the indoor air to determine levels of molds, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals produced by off-gassing of products used in the building or carried into the building by the HVAC system.

Integrated Gasification-Combined Cycle Technology: A clean-coal technology that combines coal gasification with combined cycle power generation. Coal, water and oxygen are fed to a gasifier, which produces syngas. This medium-Btu gas is cleaned (particulates and sulfur compounds removed) and is fed to a gas turbine. The hot exhaust of the gas turbine and heat recovered from the gasification process are routed through a heat-recovery generator to produce steam that drives a steam turbine to produce electricity. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): An ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and non-target organisms, and the environment.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988. Its main objective was to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to the understanding of human-induced climate change, potential impacts of climate change and options for mitigation and adaptation. The IPCC has completed three assessment reports, developed methodology guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories, special reports and technical papers. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. An international organization established to investigate climate change, its potential impacts and options for reducing risk.

Landfill: An area where household trash or industrial waste is buried in the ground.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): The nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings' performances. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Source: U.S. Green Building Council

LED: Light Emitting Diode - becoming more common as a replacement for traditional incandescent lighting.

LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a Green Building Rating System established by the U.S. Green Building Council and designed for rating new and existing commercial and residential buildings and community developments.

Life-Cycle Costs Analysis: the study of the costs associated with a product throughout its life cycle - from acquisition to its end-of-life management.

LOHAS: Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability. Jargon that's becoming unfashionable in favor of the word "green".

Low Emitting and Fuel Efficient Vehicle: Any vehicle that has either been classified as a Zero Emission Vehicle by the California Air Resources Board or has achieved a minimum green score of 40 on the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) annual vehicle rating guide.

Low Impact Development (LID): One of LID's primary goals is to reduce runoff volume by infiltrating rainfall water to groundwater, evaporating rainwater back to the atmosphere after a storm and finding beneficial uses for water rather than exporting it as a waste product down storm sewers. The result is a landscape functionally equivalent to predevelopment hydrologic conditions, which means less surface runoff and less pollution damage to lakes, streams and coastal waters. Source: Natural Resource Defense Council

Material Toxicity: Toxic effect of materials used in the built environment, ranges from being an irritant to causing severe health problems; such toxins can be delivered through contact, ingestion, or inhalation.

Multi-functional: Something that serves more than one purpose. In product and furniture design, multi-functional pieces reduce the need for multiple products, thus using less raw resources and reducing clutter in modern homes.

Natural: A product that is made from materials and ingredients found in nature, with little or no human intervention. For example, wood is a natural material while plastic is not.

Net Metering: Special metering and billing agreement between utilities and their customers, which facilitates the connection of small, renewable energy-generating systems to the power grid. These programs encourage small-scale renewable energy systems, ensure that customers always have a reliable source of energy from the grid during times when their renewable generators are not producing energy, and provide substantial benefits to the electric power-generating system, the economy, and the environment.

Non-toxic: Something that is not toxic or poisonous.

Organic: Of or relating to a product that is solely made from plants or insects. Organic materials and products often carry certifications according to industry.

Organic Fabrics and Textiles: Plant and animal fibers like cotton, wool, hemp, linen, cashmere, silk, jute, soy and bamboo can be certified organic if they are produced according to organic standards set by the USDA. However, the organic label does not guarantee that the finished fabric or textile product is free of synthetic chemicals, bleaches or heavy dyes. The Organic Trade Association certifies finished textiles and garments in the United States. 

Organic Meat, Dairy, Poultry, Eggs and Other Livestock Products: Organic animal products come from livestock that are fed organic feed and forage throughout their lives, beginning in at least the last third of gestation before birth. Synthetic hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and genetic engineering are prohibited. The living environment must be stress-free and promote the health and well-being of the animals, as well as prevent the contamination of air, land and water. For a livestock product sold in the United States to be labeled organic, it must meet USDA standards and be certified by third-party accredited inspectors. 

Organic Produce: Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, lentils, etc. produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and with farming techniques that protect soil quality, minimize erosion and actively prevent the contamination of air, land and water. For an agricultural product sold in the United States to be labeled organic, it must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards and be certified by third-party accredited inspectors. 

Passive Solar: Technology of heating and cooling a building naturally, through the use of energy efficient materials and proper site placement of the structure.

Permeable: the permitting of liquids to pass through.

Photovoltaics: Solar panels used to harness the sun’s energy and convert it to electricity that can be stored in batteries and/or used to power electrical systems. Also shortened to PV.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Chlorinated vinyl plastic; very durable material used for flexible, vinyl flooring, plastic upholstery, and plastic siding. Produced in a closed process using vinyl chloride, a hazardous material; vapors are toxic during off-gassing and when PVC is burned.

Post-consumer: Refers to recycled material that was used first by a consumer. A high post-consumer content helps divert materials from ending up in landfills.

Post-consumer Recycled: Once a material or finished product has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, it is then considered "post-consumer." Having completed its life as a consumer item, it can then be recycled as such. This differs from "pre-consumer" or "post-industrial" waste, which is generated by industrial or manufacturing waste.

Pre-consumer: Refers to recycled material that came from the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer recycling of scraps and discards diverts waste that may otherwise end up in landfills, and reduces use of raw materials.

Pre-consumer Material: material or by-products generated during or after manufacture of a product is completed but before the product reaches the end-use consumer. Pre-consumer material does not include mill and manufacturing trim, scrap, or broke which is generated at a manufacturing site and commonly reused on-site in the same or another manufacturing process.

Producer Responsibility: an environmental strategy in which producers assume financial and/or physical responsibility for the management of postconsumer products so that those who produce and use those products bear the costs of recycling and proper disposal.

Radiant Heat: Flexible tubing is installed under flooring, behind walls, or above the ceiling to circulate warm water used as a heat source.

Rainwater Harvesting: Ancient practice of catching and holding rain for later use. In a rainwater harvesting system, rain is gathered from a building rooftop or other source and is held in large containers for future use, such as watering gardens or washing cars. This practice reduces the demand on water resources and is excellent during times of drought. Source: Water Resources Group

Rammed-Earth Homes: Buildings made from wall forms filled with earth instead of poured concrete.

Reclaimed: Materials destined for the garbage dump but were, instead, rescued and refurbished as a new product. The floor of an old bowling alley can be reclaimed and turned into a dining room table, or bricks from a demolished structure can be used to build a fireplace hearth. The use of glass shards in ceramic tiles is another example of the use of reclaimed material. 

Recovered Material: Fragments of products or finished products of a manufacturing process, which has converted a resource into a commodity of real economic value, and includes pre-consumer and post-consumer material but does not include excess resources of the manufacturing process.

Recycle: To extract and reuse useful substances found in items that may be otherwise considered as waste.

Recycled Content: The percentage of recovered material, including preconsumer and post-consumer materials, in a product that otherwise would have been discarded. Recovered material that would have been discarded that is used in a product. Recycled content material can be pre-consumer of post-consumer.

Recyclable: A product or material that can be converted back into material that can be used again in manufacturing new goods. Typically, recyclable materials (aluminum, steel, paper, etc.) must remain in their pure form. If too many adhesives are used, or a product is made from a composite, those materials may not be separated at the end of its life-cycle for recycling.

Recycled: To use again or reprocess.

Recycling: Disassembly of product components so that they can be the raw material for future manufacturing processes.

Repurpose: To take what may be otherwise a waste item and use it for another purpose - e.g a coffee jar becomes a jar for keeping nails.

Remanufactured Product: any product diverted from the supply of discarded materials by refurbishing and marketing said product without substantial change to its original form.

Remanufacturing: A recycled concept by which an existing product can have its useful life extended through a secondary manufacturing or refurbishing process such as remanufactured systems furniture.

Renewable: A resource that is replenished through a relatively fast-acting natural process (e.g., bamboo, sustainable reforesting for lumber production). Gold and precious stones are not renewable.

Renewable Energy: The term renewable energy generally refers to electricity supplied from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, geothermal, hydropower and various forms of biomass. These energy sources are considered renewable sources because their fuel sources are continuously replenished. Under Virginia law, renewable energy refers to "energy derived from sunlight, wind, falling water, sustainable biomass, energy from waste, wave motion, tides, and geothermal power and does not include energy derived from coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power." Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Replenishable: Energy harvested from the sun, wind, or water; materials from renewable sources (e.g., sustainably managed forests) or virtually inexhaustible ones (e.g. mud, clay, sand).

Repurpose: Taking a thing or a material and using it for a purpose not originally intended. Repurposed goods often have a lot of inherent character, flair, and style.

Re-use: To use again, whether for the same purpose or reappropriated for another.

Reused Product: any product designed to be used many times for the same or other purposes without additional processing except for specific requirements such as cleaning, painting or minor repairs.

Salvaged Materials: Reusable materials from carefully demolished and deconstructed buildings.

Smart Growth: Covers a range of development and conservation strategies that help protect our natural environment and make our communities more attractive, economically stronger and more socially diverse. Based on the experience of communities around the nation that have used smart growth approaches to create and maintain great neighborhoods, the Smart Growth Network developed a set of 10 basic principles:
1.  Mix land uses
2.  Take advantage of compact building design
3.  Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
4.  Create walkable neighborhoods
5.  Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
6.  Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
7.  Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
8.  Provide a variety of transportation choices
9.  Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective
10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Solar Photovoltaic Electricity: Silicon solar panels that produce electricity that can be immediately used, stored in batteries, or sold back to the utility grid.

Solar Water Heating: Solar collectors used to convert the sun’s energy into heat for hot water, space heating, or industrial processes. Collectors use light-absorbing plates made of a dark-colored material (e.g., metal, rubber, or plastic) covered with glass. The plates transfer heat to water circulating above or below the plates; heated water can be used immediately or stored for later use.

Source Reduction: products that result in a net reduction in the generation of waste compared to their previous or alternate version and includes durable, reusable and remanufactured products; products with no, or reduced, toxic constituents; and products marketed with no, or reduced, packaging.

Straw-Bale Construction: Building walls are constructed of stacked and tightly-wrapped hay bales that will be coated in mud, plaster, or concrete stucco.

Sustainability: Sustainability is a new way of thinking about an age-old concern: ensuring that our children and grandchildren inherit a tomorrow that is at least as good as today, preferably better. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Sustainably-harvested: A renewable resource that has been harvested in a way that allows its inherent regeneration and continued ongoing supply.

Thermal Mass: Heat holding capacity of a material; heat is collected and stored (often using masonry or water), then slowly released.

Total Life-Cycle Costing: Life-cycle analysis that includes social costs and benefits, the ecological impact of the materials, and the recyclability of its components.

Toxic Off-Gassing: Harmful vapors produced at room temperature by the drying/curing of building materials (e.g. formaldehyde found in manufactured wood products and carpets; phenol found in fiberglass insulation; volatile organic compounds (VOC) found in paints, adhesives, plastics and synthetics).

TVP: Texturized Vegetable Protein is a meat substitute made from defatted soy flour.

Unconsumption: The thrill of finding a new use for something that you were about to throw away.

Upcycling: A component of sustainability in which waste materials are used to provide new products.  It is generally a reinvestment in the environment.

"USDA Organic" (label): Product contains at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5 percent can be nonorganic or synthetic, as long as they are approved on the national list ( 

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC): Highly evaporative, carbon-based chemical substance, that produces noxious fumes; found in many paints, caulks, stains, and adhesives.

Vegan: A person who only eats plant products and uses no products derived from animals, such as some types of soap and leather.

Vegetarian: A person whose diet consists mainly or entirely of plant products.

VOC: Volatile organic compounds. VOC's are toxins commonly found in conventional paints, sealers, and finishes. VOC's off-gas into the air and are not good to people or to the environment.

Waste Stream: Waste coming from different sectors - e.g municipal, commercial, industrial.

Waste Reduction: A process to reduce or eliminate that amount of waste generated at its source or to reduce the amount of toxicity from waste or the reuse of materials. The creation of waste is a growing problem on the environment, as landfills get filled and toxins leach back into the ground.

Wastewater: Water that has been used and contaminated. Wastewater must be purified before being used again or before being returned to the environment.

Water-Saving Products: products that are in the upper 25% of water conservation for all similar products, or at least 10%  more water conserving than the minimum level that meets the federal standards.

WaterSense: a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; makes it easy for Americans to save water and protect the environment. Look for the WaterSense label to choose quality, water-efficient products.

Wind Power: Energy generated through the use of a turbine that collects wind energy and converts it to electricity.

Xeriscape: Low-maintenance landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment by using soil analysis, mulch, and appropriate plant selection.

Zero Energy Home: A zero energy building (ZEB) or net zero energy building is a general term applied to a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon.

Zero-VOC: A term used to indicate paint containing no volatile organic compounds - a healthier alternative to conventional paints.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy / Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Source: Natural Resource Defense Council