Sustainability and Sustainable Development Basic Glossary
Selected by Marco Tavanti, Ph.D. from various sources
October 1, 2010
Abiotic: Non-living; devoid of life
Biodegradable: Capable of being broken down by natural processes, such as bacterial action.
Bio-diesel: A clean burning, alternative fuel derived from animal fats or vegetable oil that can be used in diesel burning engines. It does not contain petroleum products, but may be blended with petroleum-based diesel.
Biodiversity: Shorthand for biological diversity: the variability among living organisms. It includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
Cap-and-Trade System: A regulatory or management system that sets a target level for emissions or natural resource use, and, after distributing shares in that quota, lets trading in those permits determine their price.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2): A heavy, colorless gas that does not support combustion. Made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, it is formed especially in animal respiration and in the decay or combustion of animal and vegetable matter. It is absorbed by plants in photosynthesis, and is an atmospheric greenhouse gas.
Carbon Footprint: A measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.
Carbon Offset: A way of counteracting the carbon emitted when the use of fossil fuel causes greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets commonly involve investing in projects such as renewable energy, tree planting and energy efficient projects.
Carrying Capacity: The maximum population (of humans and other species) that a particular environment can sustain without irreversible environmental damage.
Climate Neutral: Products or services that reduce and offset the greenhouse gases generated at each stage of their life-cycle on a cradle-to-cradle basis: the sourcing of their materials, their manufacturing or production, their distribution, use, and ultimate end-of-life disposition.
Compost: A mixture of humus-rich, decomposed vegetable matter, used as a fertilizer or soil enrichment.
Corporate Responsibility: Our obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment as an aspect of meeting planning, execution and evaluation so that sustainability can be achieved.
Decarbonisation: When applied to an economy, refers to the phasing out of its dependence on (carbon-containing) fossil fuels.
Desertification: The transformation of arid and semi-arid land into desert, generally due to overgrazing, deforestation, poor irrigation and tilling practices, climate change, or a combination of these factors.
Ecological Footprint: The measure of area needed to supply national populations with the resources and area needed to absorb their wastes.
Eco-label: Information (typically provided on a label attached to a product) informing a potential consumer of a product's characteristics, or of the production or processing method(s) used in its production.
Ecology: The system of relationships between organisms and their environments.
Ecosystem: A community of living organisms interacting with themselves and with their environment.
Ecotourism: Tourism that respects the culture, natural history and environment of destinations and seeks to minimize the negative impact of travel on the environment.
Energy Star Equipment: A voluntary labeling program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy that identifies energy efficient products. Qualified products exceed minimum federal standards for energy consumption by a certain amount, or where no federal standards exist, have certain energy saving features. Such products may display the Energy Star label.
Energy/Water Conservation: Practices and strategies that are designed to minimize the amount of energy and water used.
Environmentally Responsible Transportation: Transportation options that minimize environmental impact such as mass public transportation (light rail, subway, electric/hybrid/biodiesel buses) and electric/hybrid vehicles.
Extended Producer Responsibility: An obligation placed on one or more producers of a product to take back the product for recycling or safe disposal.
E-waste: Waste materials generated from using or discarding electronic devices, such as computers, televisions, and mobile phones. E-waste tends to be highly toxic to humans, plants, and animals, and has been known to contaminate water, air and dirt.
Fair Trade: Small farmers are paid a fair market price that enables them to improve their standard of living.
Fossil Fuel: An organic, energy-rich substance formed from the long-buried remains of prehistoric life.
Global Warming: A gradual, long-term increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. The terms is most often used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases.
Green: A common expression meaning environmentally responsible.
Green Collar Job: A job connected to eco-friendly products and services.
Greenhouse Effect: The rise in temperature that the Earth experiences because certain gases in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, for example) trap energy from the sun. Because of their warming effect, these gases are referred to as greenhouse gases. Without them, more heat would escape back into space and the Earth's average temperature would be about 33ºC colder. Similarly, their rapid accumulation in the atmosphere can lead to rising temperatures.
Greenhouse Gas: A gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing solar radiation. These gases include, but are not limited to, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons.
Green Seal Certified: An organization, product or process that has passed a specific environmentally responsible standard as outlined by Green Seal.
Greenwash: To falsely claim a product is environmentally sound. Also known as faux green. Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally public image.
Hybrid Vehicle: Vehicle that uses a combination of two engine types. Cars are most commonly gasoline-electric hybrids.
Human Capital: The knowledge, skills, competence and attributes embodied in individuals that facilitate the attainment of personal well-being.
Kilowatt Hour: 1,000 watts of electricity used for one hour.
LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - A Green Building Rating System® is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings developed by the US Green Building Council.
Man-Made Capital: The manufactured means of production, such as machinery, equipment and structures, but also non-production related infrastructure, non-tangible assets, and the financial assets that provide command over current and future output streams. Also referred to as "human-made" or "manufactured" capital.
Natural Capital: The renewable and non-renewable resources that enter the production process and satisfy consumption needs, as well as environmental assets that have amenity and productive use, and natural features, such as the ozone layer that are essential for supporting life.
Occupancy Sensor: A monitoring device, commonly connected to a room's lighting but also occasionally to heating or ventilation, that shuts down these services when the space is unoccupied, thus saving energy.
Organic Foods: Grown without chemicals that can harm the land, water or human health. Organic certification of food can be through an independent organization or government program.
Ozone Layer: The region of the stratosphere (lying approximately 15-40 km above the Earth's surface) that contains the bulk of the world's atmospheric ozone.
Pesticide: Any agent used to kill or control insects, weeds, rodents, fungi or other organisms.
Post-Consumer Material: An end product that has completed its life cycle as a consumer item and would otherwise have been disposed of a solid waste. Post-consumer materials include recyclables collected in commercial and residential recycling programs, such as office paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastics and metals.
Post-Consumer Waste: Post-consumer waste is recycled material collected after people have tossed it in the blue bin. Office recycling programs and household recycling programs are the main source of post-consumer waste.
Public Good: A special kind of externality in consumption where the availability of a good to one individual does not reduce its availability to others (non-rivalry) and the supplier of the good cannot exclude anybody from consuming it (non-excludability).
Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): “Processed chlorine free” describes a bleaching process free of chlorine or chlorine compounds, which poisons rivers. The most common PCF bleaching agent is hydrogen peroxide (which breaks down into water and oxygen).Using PCF paper eliminates most of the toxic byproducts of traditional bleaching, such as dioxins and other organ chlorides, and this means cleaner rivers.
Recycled Paper: According to U.S. government standards, uncoated paper with at least 30% post-consumer waste and coated paper with at least 10% post-consumer waste can be called “recycled” paper.
Recycling: The collection of waste materials and reprocessing them into new materials or products, which are then sold again.
Renewable Resources: Resources that are created or produced at least as fast as they are consumed, so that nothing is depleted. Includes solar, hydro, wind power, biomass, and geothermal energy sources.
Resource: Generally, a tangible asset. In geology, resources refer to accumulations of natural materials that are known or expected to exist and for which there is a reasonable assurance that a given quantity of the material can be recovered economically at current or expected future market prices using currently available technologies or technologies that can reasonably be expected to become available in the foreseeable future.
Shade Grown Coffee: Coffee that is grown in the traditional manner, with coffee plants interspersed under a canopy of trees. End result: more habitats for birds, less need for chemical inputs, and the forest is not disrupted.
Social Capital: The networks and shared norms, values and understanding that facilitate co-operation within and between groups.
Stakeholder: Somebody who has a "stake" or interest in a public policy, programme or, in some uses of the term, a corporation's activities.
Subsidiarity: The notion that decision-making should occur at the level at which the people most directly concerned can take responsibility.
Sustainable Development: A development path along which the maximization of human well-being for today's generations does not lead to declines in future well-being.
Sustainable Food: Food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage for the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.
Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (as defined by the Brundtland Commission, 1987).
Triple Bottom Line: A business and development philosophy incorporating the three E's: equity, environment, economics. Also referred to as the three P's: people, planet, profit.
Vegan: Lifestyle choice which excludes the consumption and use of animal flesh and by-products.
Vegetarian: Dietary choice which excludes the consumption of animal flesh or by-products, but may include eggs and dairy.
Vegetable-based Inks: Environmentally friendly printing inks which are made from vegetable oils combined with pigments. The most common type is made from soy.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC): Compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Many VOCs are human made chemicals used and produced in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants. VOCs typically are industrial solvents, such as trichloroethylene; fuel oxygenates, such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE); or by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform. VOCs are often components of petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners and dry cleaning agents. VOCs are common ground water contaminants.
Search for more related terms and definitions at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Acronyms and Glossary