Sustainability 101 Glossary 54 basic terms for begginers The journey toward sustainability is at times technical – one which can require some definitions for added clarity and to ensure a common understanding. Below is a list of terms we come across regularly or use ourselves when defining, discussing and working toward sustainability. Terms selection: Prof. Raul Marino - Unisalle
1. Adaptation Changes in policies and practices designed to deal with climate threats and risks. Adaptation can refer to changes that protect livelihoods, prevent loss of lives, or protect economic assets and the environment. Examples include: • changing agricultural crops to deal with changing seasons and weather patterns • increasing water conservation to deal with changing rainfall levels; and • developing medicines and preventive behaviours to deal with spreading diseases.
2. Alternative energy Energy derived from non-traditional sources, such as wind, compressed natural gas, biogas (cogeneration), or hydroelectric. ’Alternative energy’ is often used interchangeably with ’renewable energy’, meaning energy derived from renewable resources. However, some technologies not derived from renewable resources, such as nuclear power or coal gasification, may also be considered alternative energy.
3. Bio-based Product: A product (other than food or feed) that is produced from renewable, agricultural (plant, animal and marine), or forestry materials. 4. Biodegradable: A product or material capable of decomposing in nature within a reasonably short period of time.
5. Biodiversity: the variability among organisms on Earth and within an ecosystem. Maintaining biodiversity is necessary to preserve the health and survival of an ecosystem. 6. 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). 7. Biogas The biofuel substitute for natural gas. It derives from organic waste materials including animal waste and waste generated from municipal, commercial and industrial sources through the process of anaerobic digestion. Biogas is a ‘second generation fuel’, i.e. it is derived from non-food sources.
8. 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. 9. 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. 10. Climate Change: Refers to 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 wind. 11. Cogeneration (also combined heat and power, CHP) is the use of a heat engine or a power station to simultaneously generate both electricity and useful heat. All power plants emit a certain amount of heat during electricity generation. This can be released into the natural environment through cooling towers, flue gas, or by other means. By contrast CHP captures some or all of the by-product heat for heating purposes, either very close to the plant, or—especially in Scandinavia and eastern Europe—as hot water for district heating with temperatures ranging from approximately 80 to 130 °C. This is also called Combined Heat and Power
District Heating or CHPDH. Small CHP plants are an example of decentralized energy. 12. Composting A process whereby organic wastes, including food and paper, decompose naturally, resulting in a produce rich in minerals and ideal for gardening and farming as a soil conditioner, mulch, resurfacing material, or landfill cover. 13. Corporate social responsibility A concept whereby an organization considers the welfare and interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their operations on their customers, community, stakeholders and the environment. 14. 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. 15. 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. 16. 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. 17. Ecosystem: A place having unique physical features, encompassing air, water, and land, and habitats supporting plant and animal life, including humans.
18. Ecological footprint This has emerged as one of the world’s premier measure of humanity’s demand on nature. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology.
19. 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.
20. 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. 21. Energy Star Household products (refrigerators, dishwashers, etc.), homes and business practices that meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the US EPA and US Department of Energy.
22. 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. 23. Fossil Fuel: Any petroleum-based fuel source such as gasoline, natural gas, fuel oil, etc.
24. Gender Equality An activity should be classified as gender equality focused if it is intended to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment or reduce discrimination and inequalities based on sex. 25. Governace «Governance refers to the process whereby elements in society wield power and authority, and influence and enact policies and decisions concerning public life, and economic and social development. Governance is a broader notion than government. Governance involves interaction between these formal institutions and those of civil society.» (The Governance Working Group of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, 1996).
26. 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. 27. 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). 28. Greenhouse Effect: The trapping of heat within the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere and act as a blanket keeping heat in. 29. 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. 30. 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. 31. Green belt A policy and land use designation used in land use planning to retain areas of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding, or neighbouring, urban areas.
32. Green roof Green roofs are vegetated layers that sit on top of the conventional roof surfaces of a building. Usually a distinction is made between ‘extensive’ and ‘intensive’. These terms refer to the degree of maintenance the roofs require.
33. 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 34. Industrial Ecology: An interdisciplinary field that focuses on the sustainable combination of environment, economy, and technology. 35. 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. 36. 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. 37. Methane Methane (CH4) is the second most important greenhouse gas in terms of contribution to the human induced greenhouse effect. It is released from coal mining, from venting and flaring of oil production, from waste and from agriculture. Current atmospheric methane concentrations are more than double the pre-industrial levels. Methane’s contribution to the human induced greenhouse effect from long-lived gases is about 18%. As well as from natural gas and oil production, emissions result mainly from landfill and from the livestock sector, in particular dairy and beef cattle.
37ª. Municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash or garbage, is a waste type consisting of everyday items we consume and discard. It predominantly includes food wastes, yard wastes, containers and product packaging, and other miscellaneous inorganic wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources.
38. 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. 39. 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. 40. PLA: Polylactic Acid PLA is polylactic acid, 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.
41. Rainwater Harvesting The collection and use of rain which falls on buildings and would otherwise go straight to the drainage system. After filtration and settlement the water can be use for a variety of purposes. Stored water can be used for non-potable purposes such as irrigating lawns, washing cars, or flushing toilets.
42. 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. 43. 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. 44. Recycled Content: Refers to the amount of recycled materials in a product – typically expressed as 44ª. 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. 45. Resilience Resilience is the ability of natural or human systems to survive in the face of great change. To be resilient, a system must be able to adapt to changing circumstances and develop new ways to thrive. In ecological terms, resilience has been used to describe the ability of natural systems to return to equilibrium after adapting to changes. In climate change, resilience can also convey the capacity and ability of society to make necessary adaptations to a changing world – and not necessarily structures that will carry forward the status quo. In this perspective, resilience affords an opportunity to make systemic changes during adaptation, such as addressing social inequalities.
45ª. sanitary landfill is a waste disposal facility where layers of compacted garbage are covered with layers of earth. When the facility reaches capacity, a cap is applied to close the site. Sanitary landfills are one of the most popular methods for disposing of waste, although they have some distinct drawbacks. This technique for waste management was developed in the 1930s, in response to growing pressures created by a growing population.
46. Stakeholder: 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. 47. 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.. 48. 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 The Brundtland Report). 49. Sustainable construction A sustainable construction industry: • ‘ ... will design better products and services reducing the environmental impacts from the use of energy, resources and hazardous substances’; • ‘ ... will reduce, and ultimately eliminate waste in construction through improved design, procurement, and greater reuse and recycling of resources’; and • will support the reuse ‘of existing built assets and the construction of new, long lasting, energy conscious and future-proof (adaptable and flexible) buildings and structures which are easy to maintain, operate and deconstruct.’ (Crown copyright: Draft Strategy for Sustainable Construction A consultation paper, BERR 2007) Sustainable construction can also support social aspects such as supporting skills development, inclusion and innovation, and understanding and responding to issues such as fuel poverty and vulnerable communities and individuals.
50. Up-Cycling The practice of converting waste materials into products of greater value – beer or PET bottles into building materials, for example.
51. Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in, or around, a village, town or city. Urban agriculture in addition can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agro-forestry and horticulture. These activities also occur in peri-urban areas as well. Urban farming is generally practiced for income-earning or food-producing activities, though in some communities the main impetus is recreation and relaxation. Urban agriculture contributes to food security and food safety in two ways: first, it increases the amount of food available to people living in cities, and, second, it allows fresh vegetables and fruits and meat products to be made available to urban consumers.
52. Vertical farming is a concept that argues that it is economically and environmentally viable to cultivate plant or animal life within skyscrapers, or on vertically inclined surfaces. Despite contemporary notions of vertical faming, there is a long history of 'vertical farming' that can be divided into three categories.
53. Waste-to-Energy: The burning of waste in a controlled-environment incinerator to generate steam, heat, or electricity. 54. Zero carbon buildings The UK Government defined the zero carbon homes standard as homes that should be built with high levels of energy efficiency and achieve at least a minimum level of carbon reductions through a combination of energy efficiency, on-site energy supply and/or (where relevant) directly connected low carbon or renewable heat â€“ and choose from a range of (mainly off-site) solutions for tackling the remaining emissions.