Green Business Glossary

The Green Business Glossary


Here is a guide to common terms that relate to being ‘Green’. Its by no means an exhaustive list please feel free to suggest additions using the form on the right.

Air pollution - contaminants or substances in the air that interfere with human health or produce other harmful environmental effects. Read our “What is Air Pollution?” article for further information.

Alternative energy - usually environmentally friendly, this is energy from uncommon sources such as wind power or solar energy, not fossil fuels.

Alternative fuels - similar to above. Not petrol or diesel but different transportation fuels like natural gas, methanol, bio fuels and electricity.  

Biodegradable - Describes anything that decomposes into harmless compounds. It’s Mother Nature’s simple yet effective way of tidying up.  

Blackwater - the wastewater generated by toilets.

Biofuels - Are eco-friendly alternatives to petrol, diesel and LPG gas made from not-so-long-ago living plants or animals, or manure.  

Carbon dioxide - CO2 is a naturally occurring greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. However the amount of it increases when we burn fossil fuels, leading to global warming. 

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

Carbon monoxide - a colourless, odourless and highly toxic gas commonly created during combustion. 

Carbon neutral - Describes a balancing act, and one we’re encouraged to do each time we create carbon dioxide emissions. It’s based on the idea that when you create carbon emissions, you should also do something that cancels out their negative effects, such as planting a tree to absorb the CO2 your car journeys have pumped out.  

Carbon offsetting - Involves making green investments that compensate for any unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions you create, for instance when you fly overseas, drive to the supermarket in your car or buy new furniture for your home. Think of it as a way to buying your way to being carbon neutral – and at the same time assuaging your conscience. Popular offsetting enterprises include planting trees and developing renewable energy sources.  

Carbon rationing - limiting the amount of carbon you use each year. Carbon rationing action groups (crags) help you reduce your carbon footprint. 

Carbon sink - carbon dioxide is naturally absorbed by things such as oceans, forests and peat bogs. These are called carbon sinks.

Carbon tax - a charge on fossil fuels based on their carbon content.

Chlorofluorocarbons - CFCs are man-made chemical compounds containing carbon, chlorine, fluorine and sometimes hydrogen. Often used in older fridges and air conditions, the chlorine in CFCs damage the ozone layer.

Climate change - a change in temperature and weather patterns due to human activity like burning fossil fuels.

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.

Conservation - preserving and renewing, when possible, human and natural resources.

Certified Organic -Indicates food produced using organic methods, respecting agricultural and natural biodiversity, ensuring long-term productivity of soil and using renewable resources. Certification by the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) to carry the symbol takes three years, during which time farms are “converted” to its standards.  

Eco-assessment - an evaluation of your home or workplace with the aim of cutting your energy and water usage.  

Eco-bag - an ethically, organically made bag to use instead of plastic carrier bags.

Ecube - a wax cube which mimics food in a fridge to save it energy.

Emissions cap - a limit placed on companies regarding the amount of greenhouse gases it can emit.

Environmentally preferable - products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on the environment.  

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 saving grant - money awarded to you to help improve the efficiency of your home and use less energy. See how you could get an energy saving grant.  

Fossil fuel - coal, oil and natural gas. A fuel that’s been made by the decomposition of fossilised plants and animals.

Fuel cell - a technology that uses an electrochemical process to convert energy into electrical power. Often powered by natural gas, fuel cell power is cleaner than grid-connected power sources. In addition, hot water is produced as a by-product.

Geothermal energy - heat that comes from the earth.

Global warming - an increase in the average temperature of the earth, attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.

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

Green fatigue - becoming tired with some of the constant messages of corporate green credentials and tales of impending global doom.  

Greenhouse effect - explains global warming. It’s the process that raises the temperature of air in the lower atmosphere due to heat trapped by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and ozone.

Greywater - waste water that does not contain sewage or fecal contamination (such as from the shower) and can be reused for irrigation after filtration.  

Hydroelectric energy - electric energy produced by moving water.

Hydrofluorocarbons - used as solvents and cleaners in the semiconductor industry, among others; experts say that they possess global warming potentials that are thousands of times greater than CO2.

Kilowatt-hours (kWH) - used to measure electricity and natural gas usage. 

Landfill - area where waste is dumped and eventually covered with dirt and topsoil. 

Life cycle assessment - methodology developed to assess a product’s full environmental costs, from raw material to final disposal.  

Lead - harmful to the environment used in a lot of paints. It’s also toxic to humans.

Light pollution - environmental pollution consisting of the excess of harmful or annoying light.  

Low-emission vehicles - cars etc which emit little pollution compared to conventional engines.  

Non-renewable resources - Resources that are in limited supply, such as oil, coal, and natural gas. Also see renewable resources. 

Offsetting - the process of reducing carbon emissions by ‘offsetting’ it. An example is by taking a flight and in compensation paying a company to plant trees to equal the carbon use out.  

Oil - fossil fuel used to produce petrol etc and other materials such as plastics.

Organic - while it technically refers to molecules made up of two ore more atoms of carbon, it’s generally now used as a term for the growth of vegetables etc without the use or artificial pesticides and fertiliser.

Ozone layer - in the upper atmosphere about 15 miles above sea level it forms a protective layer which shields the earth from excessive ultraviolet radiation and occurs naturally.  

Perceived obsolescence - The art of making products that go out of fashion or “date”, so you buy more slightly different ones, for example the fashion industry.  

Photovoltaic panels - solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity. Power is produced when sunlight strikes the semiconductor material and creates an electrical current.

Planned obsolescence - The art of making a product break/fail after a certain amount of time. Not so soon that you will blame the manufacturer, but soon enough for you to buy another one and make more profit for them. 

Plastic - man-made durable and flexible synthetic-based product. Composed mainly of petroleum. 

Post consumer waste - waste collected after the consumer has used and disposed of it.  

Recycling - the process of collecting, sorting, and reprocessing old material into usable raw materials. 

Renewable energy - alternative energy sources such as wind power or solar energy that can keep producing energy indefinitely without being used up.

Renewable resources - Like renewable energy, resources such as wind, sunlight and trees that regenerate. See Non-renewable resources. 

Reuse - before throwing away or recycling, a product that can be reused until its time to recycle.  

Solar energy - energy from the sun. 

Solar heating - heat from the sun is absorbed by collectors and transferred by pumps or fans to a storage unit for later use or to the house interior directly. Controls regulating the operation are needed. Or the heat can be transferred to water pumps for hot water.

Sulfur dioxide - SO2 is a heavy, smelly gas which can be condensed into a clear liquid. It’s used to make sulfuric acid, bleaching agents, preservatives and refrigerants and a major source of air pollution.

Vermicomposting - the process whereby worms feed on slowly decomposing materials (e.g., vegetable scraps) in a controlled environment to produce nutrient-rich soil.

WEEE - Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, your broken or not wanted electronic gadgets like mobile phones or computers.

Windpower - energy derived from the wind.

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