This page includes a number of terms that relate to various movements, philosophies and practices associated with sustainability. While they may have different connotations elsewhere, we focus on the “green” definition. (And of course, no definition is the final one — many people define each of these terms a little bit differently.)

  • Biodegradable – Often refers to waste that will break down by living organisms. It may be green waste, food waste, or paper waste. It contributes less to greenhouse gases and takes up less space in landfills than non-biodegradable substances (i.e. styrofoam, …) . Currently, bi0degradable dish soaps, cleaning substances, disposable tableware and other products are on the market.
  • Bio-swale (also known as ‘bioretention’) – A stormwater infiltration strategy that increase the amount of rainwater that returns underground. Bio-swales often use native plants. The plants can also remove pollutants from the water.
  • “Buy Local” – A movement to encourage consumers to buy locally grown, produced, and owned products to  keep  wealth in the local economy and reduce distance  goods travel, thus minimizing environmental impacts.
  • Carbon Footprint – The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced directly or indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product.
  • Carbon Offset – Refers to alternative strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Some entities purchase offsets from alternative energy to make up for emissions generated.
  • Compost – A substance rich in plant and soil nutrients created from decomposed food and/or yard scraps.
  • Conservation – An ethic or philosophy that promotes the preservation and stewardship of natural and community resources.
  • Co-op – Short for cooperative. A jointly owned commercial venture or enterprise, often for the mutual benefit of consumers and shareholders. Many co-ops focus on sustainability issues, as their focus is also on equity.
  • Eco-friendly – A “buzzword” that refers to products and practices that seek to lessen their negative environmental impacts. However, this is an un-regulated term that may be applied liberally by marketers.
  • Eco-tourism – “helps educate the traveler; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and for human rights.”
  • Edible landscape – Often replacing non-productive landscapes that use a great deal of resources, yards and vacant lots are converted to grow food.
  • Energy efficient – Products and practices that use less energy and resources (electricity, water, etc.) than standard ones.
  • Environmental justice – “A condition of environmental justice exists when environmental risks and hazards and investments and benefits are equally distributed with a lack of discrimination, whether direct or indirect, at any jurisdictional level; and when access to environmental investments, benefits, and natural resources are equally distributed; and when access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice in environment-related matters are enjoyed by all.”
  • Fair Trade – A social movement and market-based approach that seeks to ensure the equitable exchange of goods from producer to consumer (especially from developing to developed nations).
  • Green building – A building or design that is ecologically sensitive in its use of resources, including building materials, energy efficiency; may also have a focus on health of inhabitants including using materials containing fewer chemicals.
  • Green Jobs/Green Collar Jobs – Broadly, green jobs are jobs that contribute to the health and preservation of the environment and natural resources. More specifically, “green collar jobs” are those which have been traditionally considered “blue collar” but are being revamped to include a focus on sustainability (i.e. construction, plumbing, etc.)
  • Green design – A term used for buildings, furnishings and other products to indicate design sensitive to environmentaly-friendly, ecological issues throughout the products life.
  • Green roof – A roof that is partially or fully covered with vegetation (and a waterproof membrane); they help to catch rainwater, offer insulation value, and reduce heat reflection.
  • Green wall – Usually, an exterior wall that supports the growth of plants; they provide for a cooling effect by insulating, capturing and reflecting sunlight.
  • Going green – An informal term used to describe transitioning from conventional practices to more sustainable ones.
  • LEED – (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) A certification process with standards for environmentally sustainable construction. It defines what a “green building” is and promotes integrated, holistic design-principles in engineering.
  • Local Foods – While a measurable definition of local does not exist, the local foods movement seeks to support local farmers by buying produce closer to home to reduce transportation miles and stimulate the local economy.
  • Organic – Food, animals and other crops grown without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and artificial hormones.
  • Permeable pavement – Any number of paving strategies that reduces the amount of stormwater run-off, allowing more water to filter directly through the ground instead of overflowing sewers and carrying toxins directly to groundwater.
  • Recycling – a process that reclaims used materials such as aluminum, paper, plastic, etc. melts them down and creates new products, reducing waste generated.
  • Renewable Energy – Energy generated from natural resources that are more easily and quickly replenished.
  • Slow foodA movement that believes in food that is healthy, nutritious and seeks to deepen the connection between consumer, community and producer, while also helping the planet.
  • Sustainability – Broadly, the ability to last over time. Also: “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged” (from Merriam-Webster)
  • Triple Bottom Line – an expanded spectrum of criteria for measuring success in a business (or society). The “triple bottom line” refers to “The three P’s”: people, planet and profit; alternate frameworks include: “The three C’s”— Community, Conservation, and Commerce and “The three E’s”: Ecology, Economy and Equity.
  • Urban heat island  – A developed area that is significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas. This is often due to the increase in building materials that retain heat and waste heat generated by energy use. (i.e. pavement, car exhaust, etc.)
  • Vermicomposting – A type of composting that uses worms to decompose organic materials. Worm castings create a rich humus that is an excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Have questions? Want to add more definitions? Leave a comment or e-mail Mariah at

One response to “Glossary

  1. cool post im driving a car powered on water fuel as energy source its good against global warming and it saves me loads of money too you check it out here: LINK

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