The ABCs of Going Green

A fundamental knowledge of ‘green’ terminology is needed to understand what ‘going green’ means. With new technologies and acronyms being added every day, this glossary of terms is here to help.

Alternative energy: Energy that is derived from nontraditional, renewable sources that include wind, solar and water instead of traditional, nonrenewable sources such as oil, coal and natural gas. This type of energy does not generate pollution or “greenhouse” gases.

Blackwater: Wastewater from toilets and sewer systems.

Biodiesel: Fuel made from vegetable oil, recently living plants, animals or metabolic byproducts (such as manure). Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines.

Carbon emissions: Pollution derived from carbon compounds that are released into the atmosphere; commonly refers to the results of burning fossil fuels.

Carbon footprint: A measure of the total carbon dioxide emissions (and other greenhouse gases) that an organization, product, service or lifestyle produces over its full lifecycle.

Carbon neutral: Used to describe organizations, businesses and individuals who take action to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they put into it. Neutrality occurs when the total amount of carbon dioxide released equals the amount of carbon dioxide that is offset through renewable energies or other green practices.

Carbon offsets: Enable individuals and businesses to reduce CO2 emissions by “offsetting”, carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. Carbon offsets allow businesses to fund a forestry project, renewable energy project, or research into renewable energy technology in order to “offset” their own carbon emissions.

Cap and trade: A legal mechanism that places a cap on the emissions of defined pollutants (such as carbon dioxide). This cap requires emitters to acquire emission “permits” or “credits” for each unit of pollutant emitted; if a company needs to increase their emission allowance, they must buy “credits” from companies that pollute less. The total amount of “credits” nationwide cannot exceed the national cap, limiting emissions to a certain level.  In other words, the “buyers” are paying more to pollute, whereas the “sellers” are being rewarded for reducing emissions. Most proposals involve a cap that declines over time between now and 2050.

Climate bill: Highly debated national legislation that’s purpose is to reduce the gases linked to global warming and force businesses to use cleaner sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal. You can track HR2452 and S1733 through the Library of Congress

Climate change: Refers to the rapid change in global temperatures and weather patterns over time. Climate change may result from natural factors and/or human activities that change the atmosphere’s composition and land surface.

Eco-friendly: Also known as “environmentally friendly” or “nature-friendly,”; refers to goods and services that inflict minimal harm on the environment

Emissions: Exhaust or greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide production) that are a byproduct of human activity.

Energy audit: Process of determining the energy consumption of a building, facility or home.

Energy efficient: Products and systems that use less energy than their conventional counterparts to perform the same tasks. For example, compact fluorescent light bulbs use less energy than incandescent bulbs but perform the same function.

Energy Star: A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that promotes energy-efficient products and services and sets strict energy efficiency guidelines for appliances and electronics.

Fossil fuels: Fuels including coal, natural gas, and oil that are traditionally used to generate electricity. It takes years for fossil fuels to be created naturally from the environment.

Geothermal energy: Energy generated by heat stores beneath the Earth’s surface; includes natural steam, hot water and lava.

“Going Green”: Going green can relate to numerous parts of a person’s everyday life but its core theme embraces the idea of taking steps to reduce one’s overall impact on the environment. This can occur through reducing energy usage, recycling, utilizing public transportation, buying products locally, or designing or remodeling a home so that it is more energy efficient.

Green: Term used for environmental friendly people and their behaviors, use of products, and adherence to policies, standards and processes, all for the sake of promoting, protecting, restoring or minimizing damage to the environment.

Green building: A building designed to conserve resources and reduce negative impacts on the environment by utilizing renewable energy systems for heating and cooling, such as solar electric, solar hot water, geothermal, biomass, or any combination of these.

Greenhouse effect: Process where greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun, thus keeping the Earth warmer than it should be.

Greenhouse gas: The atmospheric gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect of our atmosphere, mostly refers to carbon dioxide.

Greywater: Wastewater that does not contain sewage including water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. It can be reused for irrigation after filtration.

Global warming: Change in global temperatures, both in air and the oceans, and weather patterns over time.

Hyrbids: Machines, most notably cars, that use two forms of power to operate, usually an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Hydroelectric: Energy generated by moving water.

LEED: Stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” it’s a rating system for buildings that promotes green design and construction. LEED is a green-building certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. To read more about the certification process and what LEED measures, check out this Q&A.

Nuclear energy: Energy that is generated by a nuclear reaction through the process of fission or fusion.

Organic: Refers to foods that are grown and processed without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Rainwater: Water accumulated from precipitation that can be captured and used for drinking, bathing or laundry inside homes.

Recycling: Process of converting used materials such as plastic, metal and paper into a brand-new product or finding alternate uses for something instead of throwing it away.

Renewable energy: Resources that can be used to generate electricity and are replenished quickly and not permanently diminished or depleted. These energy forms often have a very low environmental impact and include solar, wind, water and geothermal heat;

Retrofitting: Refers to replacing an existing structure or piece of equipment and improving it’s efficiency. For example, a house can be retrofitted to include more efficient lighting that uses less energy.

Solar power: Energy that is generated by the sun; can be converted into electricity through photovoltaic panels or solar power plants.

Sustainability: An approach that evaluates environmental, social, and financial factors by evaluating the environmental impact over the life cycle of products and buildings from raw materials to the manufacturing to the disposal and possible reuse. The key to sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability is measured in three interdependent dimensions: the environment, economics, and society—often referred to as the triple bottom line.

Wind power: Energy that is generated by the wind through the use of a turbine and converts it to electricity.

Zero-energy building: A building that generates as much energy than it consumes.

Links: Want more? Keep up with green terms and legislation.

• Urban Green

• National Geographic Green Guide


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