Glossary of Terms on Environmental Sustainability

There are a lot of specialized terms in the realm of environmentally sound living. This glossary will hopefully help you keep things straight. Click on the term to get more information! (Links will take you away from this site.)

Currently listing 96 defined terms.

100 Percent Organic
Product must contain only organically produced raw or processed material, excluding water and salt. Must be at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. Must display USDA seal and terms of organicism on packaging.
Active Solar Heating
The use of solar panels to collect and concentrate the sun's energy for heating.
Chemicals added to food, frequently, though not always, considered threats to human health
Agenda 21
A United Nations program providing a blueprint to sustainable development
Air pollution
A broad term covering all effects on the natural atmosphere, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other chemical pollutants, and sometimes noise or light.
Alternative agriculture
Agriculture based on reduced use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and tillage with increased crop rotation.
Alternative energy
Energy produced from sources other than fossil fuels such as coal or oil, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass.
Alternative Fuel
Where alternative energy refers generally to large scale power generation, fuel refers to a substance used to generate energy: biofuels, hydrogen, methanol, etc.
Ancient Forest
See: Old Growth Forest
The belief that only humans have value and that the environment exists solely for the benefit of humans.
The belief that nature and the natural environment is the measure of all things (see Anthropocentrism)
Materials which will break down into it's composite elements and be re-absorbed into the ecosystem.
Electrical power derived from biomass, such as cow manure.
Biomass is organic non-fossil material - i.e., masses of biological organisms, dead or alive, but not coal or oil, which is fossilized organic material.
The process of restoring a natural area by the addition of living organisms.
An economy based on private enterprise and the use of markets for allocating economic resources.
Carbon footprint
Measures a person, vehicle, or project's impact on the environment in terms of the generation of carbon dioxide.
Carbon offsetting
The practice of reducing carbon footprint by equalizing your production of carbon dioxide with a compensatory action (such as planting trees)
An environmental agent believed to cause cancer.
See: Haloalkane
Clean Air Act
1963 Congressional act designed to protect air quality.
Clean Water Act
1972 Congressional act designed to protect the nation's water resources, including regulation of pollution and sewage treatment.
A logging practice where the majority of trees in a certain area are felled regardless of environmental concerns.
The gradual conversion of organic wastes into a mineral and nutrient rich material useful in gardens, farming, or other purposes. Easy to do at home!
A member-owned business, usually democratically controlled and operated as a non-profit. Cooperatives normally return profits to members or reinvest them in the business.
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane - the first modern pesticide, banned in the US in 1972.
FOrest loss; typically defined as a forest losing 40 percent or more of the trees.
Dietary Vegan
Follows the vegan diet, but does not exclude non-food uses of animals.
Chemical byproducts created in the production of pesticides, hazardous to human health.
Direct action
A method/theory for ending objectionable practices improving conditions using immediately available means.
Drift net fishing
The use of huge nets to catch fish. The nets drift behind the boat catching all fish larger than the net weave.
Aggressive and sometimes violent acts against corporations and other parties to protect the environment
See: Vehicle Emissions
Endangered species
Organisms that are at risk of becoming extinct.
Energy conservation
Elimination or minimalization of energy waste, reduction of energy use.
Ethanol Fuel
Ethanol fuel is a way of using alcohol from grain or crops as fuel for combustion. Also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. See also Methanol Fuel.
Factory farming
The practice of mechanized, high-tech production of animals or crops for human consumption. Utilizes growth hormones and antibiotics to enhance growth of animals.
An area containing a high density of animals fattened by intensive feeding and restricted movement. Hazards caused by high concentration of waste material.
Combined with soil to assist plant growth, contains elements needed by plants. Mainly contains potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen.
Fossil fuel
Fuels created by geological processes and occurring in rock formations. Includes coal, oil, and natural gas.
Like vegan, but only eats plant produced foods that don't kill the plant. (Apples, grapefruit, etc.)
Fuel cell
An alternative fuel option which produces electricity via and electrochemical conversion. Most common uses hydrogen as the fuel, producing water as a byproduct.
Genetic engineering
The manipulation of genetic material, commonly for economic, medical, or research purposes. Also: Genetic Modification.
Geothermal power
Electricity generated by utilizing naturally occurring geological heat.
Gluten-free diet
A diet free of ingredients derived from cereals which contain gluten: wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, and triticale.
Green consumerism
Purchasing environmentally sound products
Water stored undergound in rock and soil.
A member of a family of chemical compounds which have been used as coolants in refrigerators, air conditioners, propellants in aerosol cans, and have been linked to ozone depletion and global warming.
Hydroelectric power
See: Hydropower
Energy obtained from flowing water. Although a renewable resource, unlike fossil fuels, it can have severe environmental impact.
Intensive agriculture
A system to maximize output of land through use of chemicals and machinery.
The standard measurement of electricity usage. A 15 watt compact fluorescent bulb which is powered for one hour will consume .015 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Made according to Jewish dietary laws. Does NOT imply any form of vegetarianism.
Lacto Vegetarian
Excludes animal flesh and eggs, eats milk products.
A site for waste storage where waste is spread in thin layers and covered with soil.
Liquid that has run through waste or contaminated soil and picked up potentially hazardous materials.
Lethal dose
The quantity of a chemical which is lethal to 50 percent of organisms in a test situation.
Locally unwanted land use
A land use with adverse environmental consequences such as a nuclear power plant, hazardous waste facility, airport, or refinery.
a theory promoting health and long life through a diet of healthy and natural foods.
Made with Organic Ingredients
Must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. A certifying agent's seal may be used, the USDA seal is prohibited.
A gas created as a waste products of bacteria living with little oxygen, considered to be a greenhouse gas.
Methanol Fuel
An alternative fuel like ethanol fuel, manufactured from methane. Highly toxic.
An environmental agent that causes genetic mutations or defects.
Natural resource
A substance used by humans that they cannot create.
Non-renewable Resource
A natural resource that can not be replenished, such as fossil fuels. Some renewable resources can become non-renewable through overuse.
Containing no milk or dairy products.
The portion of the biosphere which is affected by human activity.
Old Growth Forest
Forests which have never been cut, consisting of trees 250 years and older. (Note: really, this means forests which have not been cut within living memory . . .)
a. Involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides strictly of animal or vegetable origin.
b. Raised or managed without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals.
Organic agriculture
Growing crops without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. See: Alternative Fertilizer
Organic fertilizer
Organic matter added to soil to aid production. Includes manure and compost.
The use of resources at levels beyond needs, often at the expense of those who cannot meet basic needs.
Animal use of plant life during grazing at a rate faster than the regeneration rate of the vegetation.
Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian
Excludes animal flesh, but eats eggs and milk products.
Passive solar energy
Using the direct energy from the sun as an energy source, without conversion to other forms of energy such as electricity.
Like vegetarian, but consumes fish.
A substance created during the refinement of oil, commonly used in the production of plastics, paints, and other products.
Photovoltaic panels
Solar cells which converted sunlight into electricity.
Postconsumer recycling
The reuse of materials from residential or commercial waste.
Claims to be vegetarian, but isn't.
A forested region typified by rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year and a high density of plant and animal species.
The process of restoring natural areas damaged by human activities such as clear cutting or strip mining.
Resource depletion
Using a resource at a rate faster than the replacement rate of the resource.
Risk-benefit analysis
Comparison of benefits and risks of a hazard to determine its degree of acceptability. Usually applied to medical situations.
Secondary air pollutant
A pollutant created when primary pollutants combine with other substances to create new pollutants.
A form of agriculture in which land is cleared and farmed until the soil is depleted, at which time a new area will be cleared for farming.
Source reduction
A process of controlling waste by changing it at the production level.
Subsistence agriculture
Agriculture carried out exclusively for the purpose of survival, primarily without sale of crops. May be organic or sustainable, but not necessarily.
An economic fund of the Environmental Protection Agency intended exclusively for clean-up of major hazardous waste sites.
A wide ranging term, usually applied to a process which can be repeated over and over without causing negative environmental effects or having other harmful effects (financial, personal, etc.).
Traditional Agriculture
Farming based on practices in use for many centuries, including crop rotation, use of animal manure as fertilizer, and the use of animal power.
The gradual shift of a population from rural (country) living to city life.
A lifestyle which excludes animal flesh, animal products (eggs and dairy) and usually excludes honey and alternate use of animal products (silk, leather, wool, gelatin).
Vehicle Emissions
Vehicle emissions are chemicals produced by an internal combustion engine which are considered hazardous, primarily carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides.
A natural habitat containing water, such as a marsh, swamp, or bog. Wetlands act as filters for rivers and streams and as a storage area for excess water during flooding periods.
Complete prevention of pollutants from entering ecosystems.

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Traveling by bicycle (or other self-powered vehicles) is an excellent way of combining a need for daily exercise with saving fossil fuels in your transport. What do you consider a reasonable bicycle commute? (One way.)

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