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Green Glossary

2014 SynerGreen Our Partnership with Mother Earth

“Wisdom is the capacity to know what we don’t know.” – Paul Hawken

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> Biobased Product – A commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that utilizes biological, agricultural or forestry materials. • Biodegradable – Exhibiting the capability of being broken down, decomposed or metabolized by microorganisms and reduced to organic or inorganic molecules that can be further utilized by living systems.

> Biomimicry – The study of nature and imitation of nature’s forms; the process of learning from and then emulating nature.

> Building Related Illness (BRI) – Diagnosable illness whose symptoms can be identified and whose cause can be directly attributed to airborne building pollutants. (Contrast with “Sick Building Syndrome.”)

> Cap and Trade System – A strategy to reduce carbon emissions via financial incentives; ‘caps’ establish emissions limits and fines for exceeding those limits, while companies operating below their carbon limits can sell or ‘trade’ their offsets to companies that are operating above their limits.

> Carbon Footprint – The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through any human activity, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide.

> Clean Air Act – The Federal statute that regulates air emissions from area, stationary and mobile sources. This law authorizes the U.S. EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and the environment.

> Clean Water Act – The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, as amended in 1977, became commonly known as the Clean Water Act. The Act established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the U.S.

> Climate Change – Changes in global climate patterns (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) that last for extended periods of time as a result of either natural processes or human activity. The contemporary concern is that human activity is now transcending natural processes in causing the most prevalent climate changes of our time.

> Closed Loop – A type of manufacturing process that utilizes a cyclical material flow in order to minimize waste (see also “Cradle to Cradle”).

> Compostable – Possessing the ability to break down into or otherwise become part of useable compost (soil conditioning material or mulch) in a safe and timely manner.

> Cradle-To-Cradle – The opposite of “cradle-to-grave;” designing a product with reuse in mind rather than disposal. At the fundamental level, it proposes modeling human industry and design on nature, in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy ecosystems.

> Cradle-To-Cradle Design Protocol - A scientifically based, peer-reviewed process used to assess and optimize materials used in products and processes in order to maximize health, safety, effectiveness, and reutilization, conducted by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) of Charlottesville, VA.

> Design for Disassembly – Designing a product to be dismantled for easier maintenance, repair, recovery and reuse of components and materials.

> Downcycling – The practice of recycling a material in such a way that much of its inherent value is lost (for example, recycling plastic milk jugs into faux-wood park benches).

> Eco-Efficiency – The ability to produce and deliver desirable, competitively-priced goods and services while progressively reducing the ecological impacts of them. Being “less bad;” reducing emissions, recycling, product reuse, emissions regulations and other “end of pipe solutions” that reduce environmental degradation but don’t stop it completely.

> Eco-Effectiveness – “Working on the right things instead of making the wrong things less bad.” (McDonough, William & Braungart, Michael. Cradle To Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things, 2002). A strategy for designing human industry that is safe, profitable, and regenerative, producing economic, ecological and social value. Eliminating the environmental problems from a products’ design altogether.

> Ecological Footprint – The resulting impacts on the environment based on the choices we make (raw materials selection, energy use, transportation, etc.).

> Ecosystem – The interaction of organisms from the natural community with one another and their environment to sustain one another.

> Embodied Energy – The total energy from all sources necessary to make a specific product, including the value of the product itself.

> Embodied Mass – The total quantity of mass of materials required to produce, recycle, or dispose of raw materials and products.

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> Environmental Management System – An industry-developed and driven management structure that prioritizes compliance with environmental policy objectives and targets effective implementation of environmentally focused procedures. A key feature of an EMS is the preparation of documented systems, procedures, and instructions to ensure effective communication and continuity of such implementation. (See also “ISO 14000.”)

> Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – The U.S. federal agency established in 1970 to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment – air, water, and land – upon which life depends.

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

> Fair Trade – An international trading partnership that seeks to help marginalized producers and workers achieve financial self-sufficiency by establishing direct lines of trade between producers and consumers, guaranteeing producers fair prices for goods, restricting exploitative labor processes, and favoring environmentally sustainable production processes through a system of labeling.

> Global Warming – The gradual average increase of temperature of the Earth’s near-surface atmosphere that is accelerated by the greenhouse gases emitted by human industry.

> Greenhouse Gas – Certain gases that allow solar radiation to reach Earth’s surface and become absorbed, yet trap thermal radiation leaving the Earth’s surface, heating the atmosphere. Gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and several halogenated carbons that contain fluorine, chlorine and bromine.

> Greenwashing – The process by which a company publicly and misleadingly declares itself to be environmentally friendly but internally participates in environmentally or socially unfriendly practices.

> Hazardous Air Pollutant – Pollutants that cause or may cause cancer or other serious health effects such as birth defects, or that cause adverse environmental and ecological effects. The EPA requires the control of 188 HAP’s, including dioxin, asbestos, cadmium, mercury, lead, and other chemicals and metals. Also called “Toxic Air Pollutants.”

> Indoor Air Pollution – Chemical, physical or biological contaminants in indoor air.

> Industrial Ecology – Manufacturing that addresses environmental needs and works with natural processes. Future utility of products and by-products and avoidance of waste are considered from the beginning (design).

> ISO 14000 – A group of standards and guidelines by the International Standards Organization (ISO) that address environmental issues. Includes standards for Environmental Management Systems, environmental auditing, labeling, performance evaluation, and lifecycle assessment.

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> Kyoto Protocol – An international agreement reached during a summit in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and sets targets and timetables for industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. So far 175 parties have ratified the Protocol and are legally bound to adhere to its principles; the United States has not agreed to abide by the Protocol yet.

> LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A rating system and certification by the U.S. Green Building Council used to recognize environmental quality and efficiency in buildings. Standards are in place for New Constructions, Existing Buildings (Operations and Maintenance), and Commercial Interiors.

> Lifecycle Assessment – A technique for assessing the potential environmental impacts of a product by examining all the material and energy inputs and outputs at each lifecycle stage.

> LOHAS – Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability; a market that consists of mindful consumers passionate about the environment, sustainability, social issues and health.

> MSDS – Material Data Safety Sheet; a document required by OSHA that contains information about hazardous chemicals in the workplace in order to ensure the safety and health of the user at all stages of a material’s manufacture, storage, use and disposal.

> Natural Capital – A company’s environmental assets and natural resources existing in the physical environment either owned or simply utilized in business operations. Often traditional economic measures and indicators fail to take into account the development use of natural capital, although preservation of its quantity and quality and therefore its sustainable use is essential to a business’ long-term survival and growth.

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> NGO – Non-Governmental Organization; a private, non-profit organization that is independent of business and government and that works toward some specific social, environmental or economic goal through research, activism, training, promotion, advocacy, lobbying, community service, etc.

> Nonrenewable Energy – An energy source such as oil, coal, or natural gas, or a natural resource such as metallic ore, that cannot be replenished or replaced in a timely manner after is has been used. (Also referred to as “Brown Power.”)

> Offsets – Investments made in greenhouse gas reduction or renewable energy projects to compensate for emissions.

> Organic – A term signifying the absence of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic materials in the cultivation of agricultural products.

> Post Consumer Recycling – The recycling of materials generated from residential and consumer waste for use in new or similar purposes.

> Post Industrial Recycling – Recovered industrial and manufacturing materials that are diverted from the landfill for reuse or recycling.

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> Product of Consumption – A product designed for safe and complete return to the environment, which becomes nutrients for living systems. The product of consumption design strategy allows products to offer effectiveness without the liability of materials that must be recycled or managed after use.

> Product of Service – A product that is used by the customer, formally or in effect, but is owned by the manufacturer. The manufacturer maintains ownership of material assets for continual reuse while the customer received the service of the product without assuming material liability (“renting” or “leasing” a product rather that “purchasing”).

> RECs – Renewable Energy Certificates; represents the environmental attributes created when electricity is generated using renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. RECs can be sold separately from their associated electricity, and enables customers to ‘green’ the electricity they consume.

> Reclamation – The act of retrieving any material from a waste stream in order to save it from loss and restore it to usefulness.

> Recyclability – The ability of a product or material to be recovered from or otherwise diverted from the waste stream.

> Renewable Energy – Energy derived from sources that do not become depleted such as the sun, wind, water currents, eligible biomass, and geothermal energy.

> Restorative Economics – Restoring the environment, conducting business and making money in the same process. “The act of restoration involves recognizing that something has been lost, used up or removed. To restore is to bring back or return something to its original state.” (Hawken, Paul. Ecology of Commerce, 1993)

> Sick Building Syndrome – Instances in which building occupants experience acute health and discomfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. (Contrast to “Building Related Illness.”)

> Social Responsibility – The continuing commitment by businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workplace as well as the local community and society at large.

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> Sustainability – (1) Meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. (Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment & Development, 1987.) (2) A society’s rate of use of renewable resources should not exceed their rates of regeneration; its rate of use of non-renewable resources should not exceed the rate at which sustainable renewable substitutes are developed; and its rates of pollution emissions should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment. (Elkington, John. Cannibals with Forks, 1998.)

> Toxic Air Pollutant – Poisonous substances in the air that come from natural sources (ie: radon gas from the ground) or from man-made sources (ie: chemicals released from manufacturing processes) and can harm the environment or human health.

> Triple Bottom Line – An expansion of the traditional company reporting framework of net financial gains or losses to take into account environmental and social performance. Also referred to as People-Planet-Profits.

> Upcycling – The process of recycling in such a way that new products are of higher economic value than the original product.

> USGBC – U.S. Green Building Council; A coalition of representatives from the building industry that promotes buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and are healthful places to live and work.

> VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds; Any compound that contains carbon and becomes a gas at room temperature. VOC emissions are regulated because they contribute to smog formation. Common sources are the storage and use of liquid and gaseous fuels, and the storage and use of solvents.

> Zero Waste – A production system aiming to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials by conserving or recovering all resources.

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