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Glossary Of "Green" Terms

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Green lingo is everywhere you turn these days. Here we list the true definitions for some of the most common terms you see and hear throughout the media today. A quick review of these terms and you will quickly become eco-savvy.


Adaptive Reuse
Renovation of a building or site to include elements that allows a particular use or uses to occupy a space that originally was intended for a different use.

A material that is capable of the binding and collection of substances or particles on its surface without chemically altering them.

Air Exchange Rate
The rate at which outside air replaces indoor air in a given space.

Air Handling Unit
Equipment that includes a fan or blower, heating and/or cooling coils, regulator controls, condensate drain pans, and air filters.

Air Pollutant
Any substance in air that could, in high enough concentration, harm man, other animals, vegetation or material. Pollutants may include almost any natural or artificial composition of matter capable of being airborne. They may be in the form of solid particles, liquid droplets, gases or any combination thereof. Air pollutants are often grouped in categories for ease in classification. Some of these categories are solids, sulfur compounds, volatile organic chemicals, particulate matter, nitrogen compounds, oxygen compounds, halogen compounds, radioactive compounds and odors.

Air Pollution
The presence of contaminants or pollutant substances in the air that interfere with human health or welfare, or produce other harmful environmental effects.

Air Toxics
Any air pollutant for which a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) does not exist that may reasonably be anticipated to cause serious or irreversible chronic or acute health effects in humans.

Alternative Energy
Energy from a source other than the conventional fossil-fuel sources of oil, natural gas and coal (i.e., wind, running water, the sun). Also referred to as "alternative fuel."

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Process by which a building is heated in an attempt to accelerate VOC emissions from furniture and materials.

Waste material composed primarily of constituent parts that occur naturally, are able to be decomposed by bacteria or fungi, and are absorbed into the ecosystem. Wood, for example, is biodegradable, while plastics are not.

The part of the earth and its atmosphere in which living organisms exist or that is capable of supporting life. The ecosystem composed of the earth and the living organisms inhabiting it.

Building Envelope
The exterior surface of a building's construction - the walls, windows, roof and floor. Also referred to as "building shell."

Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES)
Software program developed by the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). It is aimed at designers, builders, and product manufacturers. It provides a way to balance the environmental and economic performance of building products. BEES measures the environmental performance of building products by using an environmental life-cycle assessment approach specified in the latest versions of ISO 14000 draft standards. All stages in the life of a product line are analyzed: raw material acquisition, manufacture, transportation, installation, use, and recycling and waste management.

Economic performance is measured using the ASTM standard life cycle cost method, which covers the costs of initial investment, replacement, operation, maintenance and repair, and disposal. Environmental and economic performance are combined into an overall performance measure using the ASTM standard for Multi-Attribute Decision Analysis. The BEES methodology is being refined and expanded under sponsorship of the EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. BEES currently addresses categories of product choices and is not specific to a type of product.

Building-related Illness
Diagnosable illness whose cause and symptoms can be directly attributed to a specific pollutant source within a building (i.e., Legionnaire's disease, hypersensitivity, pneumonitis). Also see "Sick Building Syndrome."

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Carbon Footprint
A measure of the your impact on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.

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. Also referred to as "global climate change." Also see "Global Warming."

Closed-loop Recycling
When a used product is recycled into a similar product; a recycling system in which a particular mass of material (possibly after upgrading) is remanufactured into the same product (e.g., glass bottles into glass bottles).

Process whereby organic wastes, including food wastes, paper and yard wastes, decompose naturally, resulting in a product rich in minerals and ideal for gardening and farming as a soil conditioner, mulch, resurfacing material or landfill cover.

Preserving and renewing, when possible, human and natural resources. The use, protection and improvement of natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits.


A process to carefully dismantle or remove useable materials from structures, as an alternative to demolition. It maximizes the recovery of valuable building materials for reuse and recycling and minimizes the amount of waste land-filled. Deconstruction options may include: Reusing the entire building by remodeling, moving the structure to a new location or taking the building apart to reuse lumber, windows, doors, and other materials.

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The release of gases, liquids and/or solids from any process or industry. Liquid emissions are commonly referred to as effluents.

Environmental Footprint
For an industrial setting, this is a company's environmental impact determined by the amount of depletable raw materials and nonrenewable resources it consumes to make its products, and the quantity of wastes and emissions that are generated in the process. Traditionally, for a company to grow, the footprint had to get larger. Today, finding ways to reduce the environmental footprint is a priority for leading companies.

Energy Efficiency
Ways and technology that can reduce the amount of electricity or fuel used to do the same work. Such as keeping a house warm using less energy.

Energy Vampires
This term refers to electric appliances such as televisions, chargers, and clock radios that use energy even when turned off. The energy they use is also called a "phantom load."

Environmental Impact
Any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from human activity, industry or natural disasters.

Environmental Restoration
The act of repairing damage to a site caused by human activity, industry or natural disasters. The ideal environmental restoration, though rarely achieved, is to restore the site as closely as possible to its natural condition before it was disturbed.

Environmentally Preferable Product
Products that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products that serve the same purpose. The product comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing is a United States federal-wide program (Executive Order 13101) that encourages and assists Executive agencies in the purchasing of Environmentally Preferable Products and services.

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Global Warming
A process that raises the air temperature in the lower atmosphere due to heat trapped by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs and ozone. It can occur as the result of natural influences, but the term is most often applied to the warming predicted to occur as a result of human activities (i.e., emissions of greenhouse gases).

Green Design
A design, usually architectural, conforming to environmentally sound principles of building, material and energy use. A green building, for example, might make use of solar panels, skylights and recycled building materials.


LEEDâ„¢ Rating System
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a self-assessing system designed for rating new and existing commercial, institutional, and high-rise residential buildings. It evaluates environmental performance from a "whole building" perspective over a building's life cycle, providing a definitive standard for what constitutes a green building.

Life Cycle of a Product
All stages of a product's development, from extraction of fuel for power to production, marketing, use and disposal.


Nonrenewable Energy
Energy derived from depletable fuels (oil, gas, coal) created through lengthy geological processes and existing in limited quantities on the earth.

Nonrenewable Resource
A resource that cannot be replaced in the environment (i.e., fossil fuels) because it forms at a rate far slower than its consumption.

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The process by which materials that would otherwise become solid waste are collected, separated or processed and returned to the economic mainstream to be reused in the form of raw materials or finished goods.


Sick Building Syndrome
A building whose occupants experience acute health and/or comfort affects that appear to be linked to time spent therein, but where no specific illness or cause can be identified. Complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may spread throughout the building and may abate on leaving the building. Also see "Building-related Illness."

Practices that would ensure the continued viability of a product or practice well into the future.

Sustainable Development
An approach to progress that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.


Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)
Organic substances capable of entering the gas phase from either a liquid or solid form.

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