BIO-BASED PRODUCT: A product (other than food or feed) that is produced from renewable, plant-based contents and residuals but does not include products made from forestry materials.

BIOACCUMULATIVE TOXIC (PBT) PERSISTENT: Pollutants are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in food chains and, thus, pose risks to human health and ecosystems. The biggest concerns about PBTs are that they transfer rather easily among air, water, and land, and span boundaries of programs, geography, and generations.

BIODEGRADABLE: A product or material capable of decomposing in nature within a reasonably short period.

BIODIVERSITY: the variability among organisms on Earth and within an ecosystem. Maintaining biodiversity is necessary to preserve the health and survival of an ecosystem.

BIOMASS: Living or recently-dead organic material that can be used as an energy source, excludes organic material that has been transformed by geological processes (such as coal or petroleum).

BIOMIMICRY: A design discipline that studies nature’s elements, processes, and designs and uses these ideas to imitate or design new solutions to human problems sustainably.

CARBON FOOTPRINT: The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through an activity, or from a product, company or person, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide.

CARBON NEUTRAL: This term effectively means net zero carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Achieving carbon neutrality means measuring the carbon emissions for an identified product, service or company, then balancing those emissions with carbon reductions or carbon offsets to reach net zero carbon emissions.

CARBON SEQUESTRATION: The uptake and storage of carbon. Trees can be used for carbon sequestration because they absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen and store the carbon.

CFLs: Compact fluorescent lamps.

CHLOROFLUOROCARBON (CFCs): The family of compounds of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. CFC’s contribute to the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, and have been used as an ingredient for refrigerants, solvents, and for blowing plastic-foam insulation and packaging. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer calls for complete elimination of CFC production.

CLIMATE CHANGE: A statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period. Climate change is a change in the “average weather” that a given region experiences. When we speak of climate change on a global scale, we are referring to changes in the climate of the Earth as a whole, including temperature increases (global warming) or decreases, and shifts in the wind.

CLOSED-LOOP RECYCLING: The process of utilizing a recycled product in the manufacturing of a similar product or the remanufacturing of the same product.

CRADLE-TO-CRADLE: A design philosophy put forth by architect William McDonough that considers the life-cycle of a material or product. Cradle-to-Cradle design models human industry on nature's processes, in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy metabolisms.

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE SERVICES: Demonstrate intimate knowledge of lived experience of the community, including bu not limited to the impact of structural and individual racism or discrimination on the community; knowledge of specific disparities documented in the community and how that influences the structure of their program or service; ability to describe the community's cultural practices, health and safety beliefs/practices, positive cultural identify/pride/resilience, immigration dynamics, religious beliefs, ect. and how their services have been adapted to those cultural norms. 

CULTURALLY SPECIFIC SERVICES: demonstrate an alignment of mission with the community proposed to be served and alignment with the outcomes desired by the program. 

DEFORESTATION: The conversion of forested land to other non-forested uses by the removal and destruction of trees and habitat. Deforestation is cited as one of the major contributors to global warming and species extinction.  

DEMATERIALIZATION: The reduction of mass in a product that does not diminish the quality or intended service for the consumer.

DESIGN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT (DFE): A philosophy applied to the design process that advocates the reduction of environmental and human health impacts through materials selection and design strategies.

DIVERSION RATE: Diversion and Recycling rates are ways of measuring waste disposal. A diversion rate is a calculation explaining the amount of waste that is diverted away from landfills. The diversion rate considers what can be diverted by using the 3 R’s of the Recycling Hierarchy:
• Reduce: Actions such as composting certain wastes or using silverware instead of plastic utensils
• Reuse: Reusing individual products in a different way like taking an old tire and making it into swing or using old paint cans as flower pots
• Recycle: separating certain items for waste like paper, plastic, and metal so that they may be processed into material for new products.
The recycling rate serves to determine the amount set aside for recycling and what is actually being processed from the diverted amount. A town with a diversion rate of 50% may only have a recycling rate of 34% as only 17lbs of that diverted waste can be processed. This is because some products may not be recycled due to either being contaminated or the community may not have the means to deal with particular types of products such as plastic or wax coated cups.

DIOXINS AND FURANS: A group of chemical compounds that are classified as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic by the EPA. 

ECOMETRICS: Interface’s quantification of the company’s environmental performance over time. Ecometrics measures materials and energy inputs and outputs for use in benchmarking and monitoring environmental progress.

ECOSYSTEM: A place having unique physical features, encompassing air, water, and land, and habitats supporting plant and animal life, including humans.

EMISSION REDUCTION CREDIT (ERC) / CARBON OFFSET: An emission reduction credit represents avoided or reduced emissions often measured in tons. ERCs are generated from projects or activities that reduce or avoid emissions. A carbon offset refers to a specific type of ERC that represents an activity that avoids or reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Using less energy to fulfill the same function or purpose; usually attributed to a technological fix rather than a change in behavior, examples include better insulation to reduce heating / cooling demand, compact fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent, or proper tire inflation to improve gas mileage.

ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERABLE PRODUCTS (EPP): 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.” This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance or disposal of the product or service.

EQUITY: Equity is an ideal and a goal, not a process. It ensures that everyone has the resources to succeed. 

EPP CERTIFICATION: Process by which products or services are certified as Environmentally Preferred Products (EPPs). The certification addresses all stages of the product’s/service’s life-cycle, incorporates key environmental and human health issues relevant to the category, and undergoes outside stakeholder review.

FOSSIL FUEL: Any petroleum-based fuel source such as gasoline, natural gas, fuel oil, etc.

GLOBAL WARMING: This refers to a specific type of climate change, an increased warming of the Earth’s atmosphere caused by the buildup of man-made gases that trap the sun’s heat, causing changes in weather patterns and other effects on a global scale. These effects include global sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns and frequency, habitat loss and droughts.

GREEN: To use the word "Green" in sustainability work typically refers to focusing on an environmental consideration or factor. Example: Green your business means to bring in environmental practices into your business operations or service delivery that have a positive effect by lowing GHG emissions. 

GREENHOUSE GASES (GHG): These gases are so named because they contribute to the greenhouse effect due to high concentrations of these gases remaining in the atmosphere. The GHGs of most concern include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxides (N2O).

GREENHOUSE EFFECT: The trapping of heat within the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which accumulates in Earth’s atmosphere and acts as a blanket keeping heat in.

GREENWASHING: The process by which a company publicly and misleadingly exaggerates or embellishes the environmental attributes of itself or its products, while participating in environmentally- or socially-irresponsible practices.

GREEN BUILDING: A comprehensive process of design and construction that employs techniques to minimize adverse environmental impacts and reduce the energy consumption of a building, while contributing to the health and productivity of its occupants; common metrics for evaluating green buildings include the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and Australia’s Green Star program.

INDOOR AIR QUALITY (IAQ): Refers to the contents of interior air that could affect the health and comfort of occupants. Acceptable IAQ is air in which there are no known concentrations of harmful contaminants

INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY: An interdisciplinary field that focuses on the sustainable combination of environment, economy, and technology.

INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT (IPM): The use of a combination of pest control methods including improved sanitation, mechanical, physical, biological, or chemical means.

LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT (LCA): A science-based tool for comparing the environmental performance of two or more scenarios.

LCA quantifies the potential environmental impacts of products or systems throughout their life cycles, and can highlight a product’s impact areas to target strategic improvements.

LEED™ (LEADERSHIP IN ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN): A green building rating system encouraging and accelerating global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of environmental tools and performance criteria.

NATURAL CAPITAL: The flow of ecosystem goods and services that interact with the human economic system. The idea of natural capital expands economic models to include natural resources that have value to humanity but no inherent price.

PERSISTENT, BIO ACCUMULATIVE TOXIC (PBT): Pollutants are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in food chains and, thus, pose risks to human health and ecosystems. The biggest concerns about PBTs are that they transfer rather easily among air, water, and land, and span boundaries of programs, geography, and generations.

PHOTOVOLTAIC CELLS (PV CELLS): Also called Solar Cells, they convert sunlight directly into electricity. PV cells are made of semiconducting materials similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity.

POST-CONSUMER RECYCLED CONTENT: Material that is recovered after its intended use as a consumer product, then reused as a component of another product. Examples of post-consumer waste that are recycled include carpet tiles (for new yarn and tile backing), aluminum cans, PET soda bottles, and office paper.

POST-INDUSTRIAL RECYCLED CONTENT: Also known as Pre-Consumer Recycled Content, it is waste material from manufacturing processes that is reused as a component of another product. Post-industrial recycled content comes from material that would have otherwise been waste and has undergone some physical recycling process. Examples of post-industrial waste that are recycled include yarn extrusion waste, metal scrap, and fiber in paper manufacturing.

POLYLACTIC ACID (PLA): a biopolymer made from renewable resources. It is thermoplastic and can be used to make fibers, packaging and other products as an alternative to petroleum-based plastics. It is derived from bacterial fermentation of agricultural by-products such as corn, sugar, or wheat. PLA is not only made from renewable resources but is also biodegradable. PLA is currently manufactured by Cargill, PURAC, Hycail, and several other companies.

PRECONSUMER MATERIAL: Material or by-products generated after the manufacture of a product is completed but before the product reaches the end-use consumer. Preconsumer material does not include mill and manufacturing trim, scrap, or broke which is generated at a manufacturing site and commonly reused on-site in the same or another manufacturing process.

RAPIDLY RENEWABLE FIBER: is a term defined by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) as plant-based materials that harvest in a 10-year cycle or less.

RECOVERED MATERIAL: Fragments of products or finished products of a manufacturing process, which has converted a resource into a commodity of real economic value, and includes preconsumer and postconsumer material but does not include excess resources of the manufacturing process.

RECYCLING: The series of activities, including collection, separation, and processing, by which materials are recovered from the waste stream for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products.

RECYCLABLE: A designation for products or materials that are capable of being recovered from, or otherwise diverted from waste streams into an established recycling program.

RECYCLED CONTENT: Refers to the amount of recycled materials in a product – typically expressed as a percentage.

REENTRY PROGRAM: Interface's reclamation program through which carpet is taken back at the end of its useful life.

REMANUFACTURED PRODUCT: Any product diverted from the supply of discarded materials by refurbishing and marketing said product without substantial change to its original form.

RENEWABLE RESOURCES: A resource that can be replenished at a rate equal to or greater than its rate of depletion. Examples of renewable resources include corn, trees, and soy-based products.

REPURPOSING: Cleaning or refurbishing that allows a product to be reused again in its current form, thereby extending its useful life.

SOCIAL EQUITY: The pursuit to create full and equal access to opportunities for all people that enable them to attain their full potential.

SOURCE REDUCTION: Products that result in a net reduction in the generation of waste compared to their previous or alternate version and includes durable, reusable and remanufactured products; products with no, or reduced, toxic constituents; and products marketed with no, or reduced, packaging.

An individual or group potentially affected by the activities of a company or organization; in sustainable business models, the term includes financial shareholders as well as those affected by environmental or social factors such as suppliers, consumers, employees, the local community, and the natural environment.

STANDARDS: Governmental or privately-created lists of criteria used to regulate or evaluate the products or behavior or corporations. Standards can play a critical role in stimulating the market and giving companies information to create better products or change corporate behavior. An example is the LEED green building rating system for buildings..

SUSTAINABILITY: The aspiration to ensure that meeting the needs of the present does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, the most widely accepted definition comes from "Our Common Future," Report of World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly called The Brundtland Report).

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOC): Compounds that evaporate from many housekeeping, maintenance and building products made with organic chemicals. Insufficient quantities, VOCs can cause irritation and some are suspected of causing or exacerbating acute and chronic diseases.

WASTE-TO-ENERGY: The burning of waste in a controlled-environment incinerator to generate steam, heat, or electricity.

(Most)Definitions courtesy of