Glossary of Sustainable Living Terms

Looking to sharpen your environmental vocabulary? Like most everything, green living has developed a healthy dose of jargon, catchphrases, and buzzwords. With so many terms, it can be confusing to cut through the jargon, so here’s a quick sustainability glossary to help you speak green — as well as live green.

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a type of fuel that is being used to replace American dependence upon foreign oil. It is somewhat unique in that it burns clean, is renewable, and has a positive impact on the environment. It is typically derived from vegetable oil and produces approximately 60 percent less CO2 emissions than standard diesel fuel.

Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gasses generated in order to support specific activities. For instance, buying groceries from a supermarket involves not only the greenhouse gasses generated by your trip to and from the supermarket but also those generated by the farming, reaping, processing, packaging, and transporting the grocery items to the supermarket as well as any used to regulate the temperature of the groceries in the store.

Carbon Zero

This refers to achieving a perfect or zero balance when it comes to your carbon footprint. Someone who has a zero carbon footprint has managed to offset the use of fossil fuels with sufficient carbon credits to make up the difference.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

These are organic compounds that contain only three ingredients:

1)   Carbon

2)   Chlorine

3)   Fluorine

When high levels of CFCs are inhaled or ingested by humans, they can cause a wide range of health conditions, affecting the heart, lungs, liver, nervous system, and kidneys. In cases of extremely high levels of exposure, death can result. The global threat of CFCs lies in their ability to damage the ozone layer that protects the earth from the most powerful of the sun’s UV rays. They are also huge contributors to the Greenhouse Effect that’s largely blamed for Global Warming.

Dematerialization

When it comes to sustainable living, dematerialization has more than one potential meaning. First, it refers to the economic concept of doing more with less. This involves reducing the amount of materials required to serve certain functions. You see it in many forms in the world of economics from using fewer materials in product packaging to making the move from actual documents to virtual copies of documents and even books.

Ethical Consumerism

The way consumers make their voices heard is by carefully choosing where their dollars are spent. We are a consumer-driven society and one of the most positive forms of positive activism consumers today can pursue is ethical consumerism, which means you make thoughtful ethical buying decisions and focus on moral purchasing choices, such as the decision to buy “green.”

Fair Trade

Fair trade is the idea and philosophy that growers and producers in developing countries deserve to be paid fair prices on the products and goods they produce.

Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, not-for-profit organization that is committed to the responsible management of forests around the world. Forest owners who have taken steps to receive this certification have made a commitment to manage forests and forest resources properly.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

The term GMO refers to animals or plants that have been altered on a genetic level so that their DNA has been spliced with other living organisms, viruses, and/or bacteria. This is often done in hopes of creating positive traits such as disease resistance or to create more robust crops, but too little is known about the potential consequence of doing so. Among what little is known, much of the long-term results of genetically modifying food, for instance, is negative.

In the world of consumerism it refers to using fewer materials to provide the same level of functionality. It’s kind of like creating a tablet the can provide the same degree of functionality of a laptop or desktop computer. Society may not be there yet when it comes to computers, but the gap is closing every day in many ways.

GreenGuard Gold Certification

Once called the GreenGuard Children and Schools Certification, the GreenGuard Gold Certification indicates that products have achieved exacting standards when it comes to the safety of products and that these products are sufficiently safe to be used in close proximity to some of the most vulnerable members of the population, such as children and the elderly.

Greenhouse Effect

This is the idea that Earth’s atmosphere acts in the same manner as a greenhouse. During the day the sun warms the earth, and at night the earth cools as it releases the heat from the day back into the air. But, some of the heat remains trapped in the earth by various greenhouse gasses lingering in the atmosphere. As a result, the average temperature of the earth begins to rise, which can lead to cataclysmic disasters as Arctic ice begins to melt.

Greenhouse Gasses

Greenhouse gasses are the gasses that contribute to the greenhouse effect (allowing sun to filter into the atmosphere freely and trapping them inside the atmosphere. They include many VOCs in addition to carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons, and are generally released as a result of energy use.

Global Warming or Global Climate Change

These terms are often used interchangeably in reference to a gradual increase in the average temperature of the earth caused largely by the Greenhouse Effect, which is a result of excess levels of chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, and various other pollutants in the earth’s atmosphere.

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is what happens when organizations and businesses try to look like they’re behaving in an environmentally responsible manner or producing products that are “green” when in fact they are not. Some would argue that many businesses invest more time, energy, and money trying to generate and maintain the appearance of being green than it would cost to actually adopt greener policies and practices to begin with.

Grey Water

For people who live in areas where water conservation is a major concern, grey water is becoming more important by the day. This term refers to water that is relatively clean. It’s typically waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, etc. This water can, when saved, be used to flush toilets and water lawns. Of course, in order to do this effectively, you must take caution with the items you wash down your drains and avoid using chemical cleaners, bleach, and shampoo or skin care products that contain toxins.

LEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications are used in green construction to recognize building practices and strategies that respect the environment. There are different levels of certification for residential and commercial construction projects.

Multi-Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

Multi-Chemical Sensitivity refers to a group of non-specific symptoms believed to be causes by low-level exposure to chemicals and other agents. It has also been referred to as sick building syndrome or environmental illness. Symptoms vary greatly and may include headaches, dizziness, chest pain, sore throat, sneezing, itching, gas, memory problems, skin rashes, confusion, and more.

Off-Gassing

This term refers to gasses that are released from chemical substances when exposed to certain conditions. In some cases exposure to air is the catalyst, and a strong chemical odor is produced. Exposure to chemicals released by off-gassing can be harmful to your health. This odor can last for several hours, days, or weeks depending on how strong the reaction is and how quickly it is allowed to dissipate. For instance, an airtight room may hold the odor in, while exposure outdoors may allow it to dissipate rapidly.

PBDEs or BFRs

PBDE stands for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers which are commonly found in flame retardants. The term BFR is a catchall term related to all brominated flame retardants. These materials are common in flame retardants in bedding, carpeting, furniture, and even pajamas. The problem is, they’re toxic. PBDEs have been linked to many health conditions, including ADHD resulting from prenatal exposure to PBDEs.

Renewable Energy

This is energy derived from sources that are not depleted when energy is used. When it comes to power, wind and solar energy are excellent examples of renewable sources.

Source Reduction

Refers to efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced by changing plans and designs so that less waste is left over. This refers to a wide range of things from packaging and intended use of items to using fewer toxins in the creation of products, or extending the life of products and their packaging. One prime example would be active efforts to lighten the plastic used in water bottles and their packaging.

Sustainability

One term that is growing in importance as more and more people worldwide are beginning to take note of the plight of the planet is sustainability. The concept is simple. The present generation needs to find new ways to meet its demands without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same for themselves. It impacts everything from finding sustainable means to create and recycle mattresses to finding ways to replenish the foods consumed on a daily basis around the world.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The short explanation is that VOCs are organic (carbon-based) compounds that are easily transformed into vapors or gasses. They can be emitted or released from a wide range of products including paints, oils, glues, solvents, natural gasses, and more. They have a profound impact on air quality indoors and outs. In fact, most air quality alerts issued are in response to smog resulting from VOCs. The health consequences of prolonged exposure to VOCs is significant, as is the impact it has on Earth’s delicate ozone layer and the protection it provides.

Waste to Energy or Energy Recovery

The act of using waste products in order to generate energy, steam, or heat. This typically refers to burning waste products in order to generate heat.

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