Glossary of Terms

Abatement: Reducing the degree or intensity of, or eliminating, pollution.

Air quality standards: The level of pollutants prescribed by regulations that are not to be exceeded during a given time in a defined area.

Antimony: A metal used as a catalyst in the polyester manufacturing process. Antimony is a suspected carcinogen, and industry efforts are now underway to perfect and expand the process of producing antimony-free polyester.

Biobased: A product determined by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to be a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials) or forestry materials.

Biodegradable: A material that is capable of decomposing in nature within a relatively short period of time.

Biodiversity: Refers to the variety and variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes in which they occur. Diversity can be defined as the number of different items and their relative frequencies. For biological diversity, these items are organized at many levels, ranging from complete ecosystems to the biochemical structures that are the molecular basis of heredity. Thus, the term encompasses different ecosystems, species, and genes.

Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment. There are many recognized methods to calculate a carbon footprint. Taken from the World Resources Institute (WRI) Greenhouse Gas Protocol as the guideline to calculate our corporate carbon footprint. This protocol is well respected and has been adopted by the international Standards Organization (ISO). Greenhouse gas emissions from all sources are added up and changed into units of CO2 equivalent which is used to standardize greenhouse gas emissions and allow comparisons from year-to-year and across industries. The total amount of carbon emissions, usually in metric tones per year (1 metric tonne equals 2204lbs), is then reported both internally and to the public as an indication of the amount of greenhouse gas the company produces.

Carbon neutral: Being "carbon neutral" means removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as we put in.

Climate change: (also referred to as 'global climate change'): The term 'climate change' is sometimes used to refer to all forms of climatic inconsistency, but because the Earth's climate is never static, the term is more properly used to imply a significant change from one climatic condition to another. In some cases, 'climate change' has been used synonymously with the term, 'global warming'; scientists however, tend to use the term in the wider sense to also include natural changes in climate.

Closed-loop recycling: Production system in which the waste or byproduct of one process or product is used in making another product. For example, recycling waste newspaper to make paper-board or other types of paper.  Read more:

Compost: The relatively stable humus material that is produced from a composting process in which bacteria in soil mixed with garbage and degradable trash break down the mixture into organic fertilizer.

Compostable: Biodegradable Products Institute (US), Compostable logo

Cradle to cradle: A design protocol that advocates the elimination of waste by recycling a material or product into a new or similar product at the end of its intended life, rather than disposing of it. Cradle to Cradle design is a fundamental conceptual shift away from designing products and systems based on the take-make-waste model of the last century ("cradle to grave"), to designing products and services based on patterns found in nature, eliminating the concept of waste entirely and creating an abundance that is healthy and sustaining.

Cradle to grave: A manufacturing model, dating to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which describes the process of disposing of a material or product via landfill, incineration, etc., at the end of its presumed useful life.

Design for the environment (DfE): A design concept that focuses on reducing environmental and human health impacts through thoughtful design strategies and careful materials selection.

Downcycling: The process of re-using material for the production of new goods or services where the quality is lower than the original product

Elemental chlorine free (ECF) (also see PCF—Process Chlorine Free) bleaching processes replace elemental chlorine gas with a chlorine derivative as the bleaching agent. There is a wide range of different bleaching sequences covered under this term.  While all ECF processes significantly reduce the amount of dioxins created in the bleaching process, those that include enhanced processes such as extended and oxygen delignification achieve the greatest reduction. 

Ecosystem: The interacting system of a biological community and its non-living environmental surroundings.

Embodied energy: Refers to both the energy required to make a product and the molecular energy that exists in a product's material content.

Emission: The release of any gas, particle, or vapor into the environment from a commercial, industrial, or residential source including smokestacks, chimneys, and motor vehicles.

Energy recovery: Obtaining energy from waste through a variety of processes (e.g. combustion).

Environmental aspect: An element of an industry's or manufacturer's activities, products, or services that can interact positively or negatively with the environment.

Environmental audit: An independent assessment of the current status of a party's compliance with applicable environmental requirements or of a party's environmental compliance policies, practices, and controls.

Environmental impact: Any change to the environment, good or bad, that wholly or partially results from industrial/manufacturing activities, products or services.

Environmental impact statement: A document required of federal agencies by the National Environmental Policy Act for major projects or legislative proposals significantly affecting the environment. A tool for decision making, it describes the positive and negative effects of the undertaking and cites alternative actions.

Environmental management system (EMS): A series of activities designed to monitor and manage the environmental impacts of manufacturing activities.

EPA: The acronym for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Government organization charged with setting and enforcing environmental regulations nationwide.

EPEAT: Electronic product Environmental Assessment Tool - “a system that helps purchasers evaluate, compare and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes. The system currently covers desktop and laptop computers, thin clients, workstations and computer monitors.”

Fossil fuel: Fuel derived from ancient organic remains; e.g. peat, coal, crude oil, and natural gas.

Fluorocarbon: A non-flammable, heat-stable hydrocarbon liquid or gas. Traditionally used as propellants, notably in spray cans, fluorocarbons are classified as ozone-depleting substances. Many industries are seeking to reduce, and even eliminate, the use of fluorocarbons in the manufacture and operation of their products.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): An independent, not for profit, non-government organization based in Bonn, Germany, whose mission is to support environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody (COC) Certification: An information trail about the path taken by products from the forest or, in the case of recycled materials, from the reclamation site to the consumer including each stage of processing, transformation, manufacturing, and distribution where progress to the next stage of the supply chain involves a change of ownership. FSC certification of such management systems is designed to provide a credible guarantee to customers, whether business, government, or end consumer, that products which are sold (i.e. invoiced and possibly labeled) with a specified FSC certificate code are originating from well-managed forests, controlled sources, reclaimed materials, or a mixture of these. FSC Chain of Custody certification thereby facilitates the transparent flow of goods made from such materials through the supply chain.

Green Energy: Refers to the use of environmentally friendly power and energy that comes from renewable and non-polluting energy sources. Primary green energy sources include solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass (wood and animal waste, landfill mass).

GREENGUARD: A product certification program, overseen by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, that presently provides the world's only guide to third-party certified low emitting interior products and building materials. All GREENGUARD certified products undergo quarterly indoor quality performance testing according to stringent environmental testing protocols and meet current indoor air quality standards.

Greenhouse effect: The warming of the Earth's atmosphere attributed to a buildup of carbon dioxide or other gases.

Greenhouse gas: Any gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide which contributes to potential climate change.

GreenSeal: Non-profit organization that is dedicated to science-based environmental certification standards that are credible, transparent, and essential in an increasingly educated and competitive marketplace.

Indoor air quality (IAQ): Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in buildings. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.

Industrial waste: Unwanted materials from an industrial operation; may be liquid, sludge, solid, or hazardous waste.

ISO 14001: An internationally accepted specification for an Environmental Management System (EMS). It specifies requirements for establishing an environmental policy, determining environmental aspects and impacts of products/activities/services, planning environmental objectives and measurable targets, implementation and operation of programs to meet objectives and targets, checking and corrective action, and management review. ISO is an acronym for International Organization for Standardization.

LEED: Acronym for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. Members of the U.S. Green Building Council representing all segments of the building industry developed LEED and continue to contribute to its evolution.

Life cycle assessment: The process of analyzing a product's entire life, from raw materials extraction through manufacturing, delivery, use, and disposal or reuse.

MBDC - McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry Cradle to Cradle Design Protocol: To assist companies in (re)designing eco-effective products, MBDC uses the Cradle to Cradle Design Protocol to assess materials used in products and production processes. The Protocol is founded on the "Intelligent Products System" developed by Michael Braungart and his colleagues at Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA).

In applying the Protocol, materials in products are first inventoried and then evaluated according to their characteristics within the desired application, and placed into one of four categories (Green, Yellow, Orange, or Red) based on human health and environmental relevance criteria. After all chemicals are assessed, the materials in a product application are optimized by positively selecting replacements for chemicals characterized as Red and using Green chemicals as they are available.

NIOSH: Acronym for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Non-toxic: typically in reference to chemicals that are “safer” to use for humans. (i.e., not of, relating to, or caused by a toxin or poison: safe, nontoxic paint. See Toxic.

Pollution prevention (P2):  focuses on the 'front end' versus 'end of pipe' pollution control efforts.  Preventing it vs. managing it.

Post-consumer recycled (PCR) content: Material that has been recovered after its use as a consumer product. Examples include fleece clothing made from pop bottles and reclaimed carpet tiles used for new tile backing.

Processed chlorine free (PCF) (also see ECF—Elemental Chlorine Free) refers to a recycled product in which the recycled content is produced using no chlorine or chlorine derivatives.  Any virgin content in the product must also be produced using no chlorine or chlorine derivatives.

Recyclable content: Materials that can be recovered or diverted from the waste stream for recycling/reuse.

Recycled content: Refers to the percentage of recycled materials in a product, generally determined by weight.

Regulation vs. law: A Federal agency imposes a regulation; Congress enacts a law.

Renewable energy credits (REC): Also called Green tags or Tradable Renewable Certificates, are certificates issued by a government agency to a power company or private company generating power itself, which utilizes environmentally friendly methods to generate electricity such as solar power. The Renewable Energy Credits can in turn be traded and sold on the open market, providing an incentive to companies which produce “green” power. Citizens and companies who are trying to support green power and reduce their carbon footprints can also take advantage of Renewable Energy Credits, regardless as to the source of their power.

Scientific certification systems provides independent third-party evaluation and certification of environmental claims in product manufacturing, among other programs. See for information about the organization and its programs in manufacturing, food and agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and electricity.

Sick building syndrome: A situation in which a building's occupants experience acute health and/or comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent there, but where no specific illness or cause can be identified. Complaints may be localized to a particular room or zone, or may spread throughout the building.

Source reduction: Any action which causes a net reduction in the generation of waste. It does not include actions taken after a waste is generated, actions that merely reduce the volume of a waste, or actions that shift waste from one medium to another. A healthcare example of source reduction is the use of mattresses with built-in eggcrate mattress pads, eliminating the need for purchase of  a single use disposable mattress overlay for each patient. A facility could have purchased thousands of mattress overlays to enhance comfort in patient care, however with built-in eggcrates, the need to purchase overlays is reduced to zero.

Sustainability: "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (World Commission on Environment and Development)

Toxic: Any material or waste product that can produce injury and/or loss of life if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.

Toxicity characteristic leaching procedure (TCLP):  An analytical extraction and test to determine the leaching potential in landfilled hazardous contaminants in liquid and solid wastes. TCLP tests for both inorganic and organic contaminants. This test is used to determine the characteristics and leaching profile of substances.

Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF): A non-profit, educational institution dedicated to the conservation of tropical forests through sustainable forestry. TFF has become widely recognized for establishing demonstration models and training schools to show the advantages and teach the principles of sustainable forest management and reduced-impact logging.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): A national organization, founded in 1993, whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies, and standards. USGBC established the LEED Certification guidelines.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Materials that evaporate, either through use or during storage, from many household and industrial products made with organic chemicals. In sufficient quantities, VOCs are suspected of causing or exacerbating acute and chronic illnesses. Their effects may range from lung, skin, or eye irritation to releasing potentially cancer-causing properties.

WaterSense: An EPA program that sets water efficiency standards for particular products and labels water-efficient products with the WaterSense

Waste-to-energy: The practice of incinerating waste products to generate steam, heat, or electricity.

Wind turbine: A mechanical device consisting primarily of rotor blades mounted on a tower in order to "capture" prevailing winds to generate electrical power. The growing interest in wind energy in recent years is largely due to the efforts of some industries and industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources of Information

EPA’s Glossary, Abbreviations, and Acronyms of Environmental Terms:

Iowa State University:

Business Dictionary:

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