Find common green terms here.

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Acid Rain — The precipitation of dilute solutions of strong mineral acids, formed by the mixing in the atmosphere of various industrial pollutants (primarily sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) with naturally occurring oxygen and water vapor.

Air Pollutant — Any substance in air that could, in high enough concentration, harm humans, 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.

Airborne Particulates — Total suspended particulate matter found in the atmosphere as solid particles or liquid droplets. Chemical composition of particulates varies widely, depending on location and time of year. Sources of airborne particulates include dust, emissions from industrial processes, combustion products from the burning of wood and coal, combustion products associated with motor vehicle or non-road engine exhausts, and reactions to gases in the atmosphere.



Biodegradable Material — Material that can naturally break down and be reabsorbed into the ecosystem without human interference.

Biodiversity — A large number and wide range of species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms. Ecologically, wide biodiversity is conducive to the development of all species.

Building Envelope — The entire volume of a building enclosed by the roof, walls, and foundation. Properly designed, the envelope can minimize the gain or loss of heat and moisture.



Carbon Dioxide — Odorless gas commonly sourced by respiration, and which has been used widely as a measure of the ventilation adequacy of a space.

Carbon Monoxide — A colorless, odorless and highly toxic gas commonly created during combustion.

Carbon Footprint — A measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted through fossil fuel combustion. A carbon footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon emitted on an annual basis. See Environmental Footprint.

Carbon-neutral — A company, entity, or process producing zero carbon emissions.

Climate Change — The term 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, the term 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."

Conservation — 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.

Contaminant — Any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substance or matter that has an adverse effect on air, water or soil.

Contamination — Introduction into water, air and soil of microorganisms, chemicals, toxic substances, wastes or wastewater in a concentration that makes the medium unfit for its next intended use. Also applies to surfaces of objects, buildings, and various household and agricultural use products.



Daylighting — Natural daylight introduced into interior spaces and controlled to reduce levels of electric lighting, minimize glare, and optimize lighting quality.

Decay Rate — Math function that reflects the declining emissions of a product over time.



Eco-assessment — An evaluation of a home or workplace with the aim of cutting energy and water usage.

Emission Controls — Any measure that reduces emissions into air, water or soil. The most effective emission controls involve the redesign of the process so less waste is produced at the source. Common emission controls are wastewater treatment plants, stack scrubbers and in-plant, solid waste reduction programs.

Emissions — 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.

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



Fossil Fuel — A fuel, such as coal, crude oil and natural gas, produced by the decomposition of ancient (fossilized) plants and animals.

Fuel Cell — Often powered by natural gas, fuel cell technology uses an electrochemical process to convert energy into electrical power.



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.

Green Roof — A roofing system that utilizes vegetation to absorb rain water and reduce heat reflection.

Greenhouse Effect — The warming of earth's surface and lower atmosphere as a result of carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere, which absorb and reradiate infrared radiation.

Graywater — Wastewater from sinks, laundry, and car washes that can be collected and treated for reuse in such activities as watering landscape.

Greenprint — A term used by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) for a smart-growth strategy that ensures quality of life, clean air and water, recreational opportunities, and local economic health.

Greenscaping — Pesticide-free landscaping that requires the use of all-natural corn and gluten fertilizers.

Greenwashing — Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. 



Hydrocarbons (HC) — Chemical compounds that consist entirely of carbon and hydrogen.






Life Cycle Assessment — Methodology used to assess a product’s full environmental cost, from the harvesting of raw material to final disposal.

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

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) — The assessment of a product's full environmental costs, from raw material to final disposal, in terms of consumption of resources, energy and waste.

Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) — An accounting of the energy and waste associated with the creation of a new product through use and disposal.




Nitric Oxide (NO) — A gas formed by combustion under high temperature and high pressure in an internal combustion engine, and then converted by sunlight and photochemical processes in ambient air to nitrogen oxide. Nitric oxide is a precursor of ground-level ozone pollution, or smog.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) — The result of photochemical reactions of nitric oxide in ambient air. It is a major component of photochemical smog, a product of combustion from transportation and stationary sources, and a major contributor to the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere and to acid deposition.



Offsetting — Reducing or “canceling out” one’s carbon footprint by removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as one puts into it. This is often accomplished by planting trees.

Organic Compound — Vast array of substances typically characterized as principally carbon and hydrogen, but that may also contain oxygen, nitrogen and a variety of other elements as structural building blocks.

Ozone Depletion — Destruction of the Earth's ozone layer, which can be caused by the photolytic breakdown of certain chlorine- and/or bromine-containing compounds (e.g., chlorofluorocarbons), which catalytically decompose ozone molecules.

Ozone Layer — The protective layer in the atmosphere, about 12-15 miles above sea level, that absorbs some of the sun's ultraviolet rays, thereby reducing the amount of potentially harmful radiation that reaches the earth's surface.

Ozone (O3 ) — A naturally occurring, highly reactive, irritating gas comprising triatomic oxygen formed by recombination of oxygen in the presence of ultraviolet radiation. This gas builds up in the lower atmosphere as smog pollution, while in the upper atmosphere it forms a protective layer that shields the earth and its inhabitants from excessive exposure to damaging ultraviolet radiation.



Particulate — Fine dust or particles (i.e., smoke). 1. Of or relating to minute discrete particles. 2. A particulate substance.

Petroleum — Crude oil or any fraction thereof that is liquid under normal conditions of temperature and pressure. The term includes petroleum-based substances comprising a complex blend of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil through the process of separation, conversion, upgrading and finishing, such as motor fuel, jet oil, lubricants, petroleum solvents and used oil.

Photovoltaic Panels — Solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity with the aid of a semiconductor.

Pollution — Generally, the presence of a substance in the environment that, because of its chemical composition or quantity, prevents the functioning of natural processes and produces undesirable environmental and health effects. Under the Clean Water Act, for example, the term has been defined as the man-made or man-induced alteration of the physical, biological, chemical and radiological integrity of water and other media.




Renewable Energy — Energy harvested from sources — like wind or the sun — that cannot be depleted, minimizing environmental impact.

Risk — A measure of the probability of an adverse effect on a population under a well-defined exposure scenario.

Risk Factor — Characteristics (i.e., race, sex, age, obesity) or variables (i.e., smoking, occupational exposure level) associated with increased probability of a toxic effect.



Solar Heating — A process whereby heat from the sun is absorbed by collectors and transferred by pumps or fans to a storage unit and used to heat a building’s interior directly.

Source Reduction — The design, manufacture, purchase or use of materials to lower the amount or toxicity of waste in an effort to reduce pollution and conserve resources (i.e., reusing items, minimizing the use of products containing hazardous compounds, extending the useful life of a product and reducing unneeded packaging).

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2 ) — A heavy, smelly gas that can be condensed into a clear liquid; used to make sulfuric acid, bleaching agents, preservatives and refrigerants; a major source of air pollution in industrial areas.

Sustainability — 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.

Sustainable Landscaping — Low-impact, low-maintenance, low-resource-use landscaping that fits a particular site and climate.



Threshold Limit Value (TLV) — The concentration of an airborne substance to which an average person can be repeatedly exposed without adverse effects.

TLVs may be expressed in three ways:
1. TLV-TWA-Time-weighted average, based on an allowable exposure averaged over a normal 8-hour workday or 40-hour workweek.
2. TLV-STEL-Short-term exposure limit, or maximum concentration for a brief specified period of time, depending on a specific chemical (TWA must still be
3. TLV-C-Ceiling exposure limit, or maximum exposure concentration not to be exceeded under any circumstances (TWA must still be met).

Tipping Fee — Charge for the unloading or dumping of waste at a recycling facility, composting facility, landfill, or transfer facility.




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



Waste to Energy — Burning of industrial waste to provide steam, heat or electricity. Sometimes referred to as waste-to-fuel process

Wastewater — Water that has been used and contaminated, posing a potential environmental risk. Wastewater must be purified before being reused or returned to the environment. Also known as blackwater.



Xeriscape — Landscaping with water conservation as a major objective. Derived from the Greek “xeros,” meaning dry.





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