Green Terms & Definitions

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Biodegradable: Capable of being decomposed into mostly water, carbon dioxide, and organic matter over time.  Depending on the material, the process can occur in different environments, including soils, compost sites, water treatment facilities, and marine environments.  Many products that claim biodegradability actually require chemical agents to initiate the degrading process.

Carbon Footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly through any human activity, typically expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide.

Compostable: The controlled decomposition of organic matter in which products rapidly biodegrade and disintegrate, releasing valuable nutrients into the soil, without leaving behind any toxic residues.  To be considered compostable, products sheet meet the ASTM Standards D-6400 (for plastics) or ASTM D-6868 (for packaging).

Degradable: When materials break down, by bacterial (biodegradable), thermal (oxidative) or ultraviolet (photodegradable) action. When degradation is caused by biological activity, especially by the enzymatic action of microorganisms, it is called ‘biodegradation’.

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, an agency of the US government whose mission is to protect human health and the environment.

EPP: Environmentally Preferable Products

Ergonomic: The science of design for the workplace intended to maximize efficiencies and to minimize fatigue, discomfort or physical harm.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): A non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests.  FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable way.

“Green”: The comparative term that describes “products and services that reduce the health and environmental impacts compared to similar products and services used for the same purpose.”  (Presidential Executive Order 13101)

IAQ: Indoor air quality

Kaizen: The Japanese word for “improvement or “change for the better” which refers to a philosophy or practice that focuses on continuous improvement of business processes, continually improving all business functions, and involving all employees.  By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste.  (Adapted from Wikipedia.)

LEED: “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”, a program designed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) as a guideline for innovation in design, construction and maintenance of sustainable buildings minimizing the negative effect on the occupants and the environment.

LEED-EBOM: LEED EXISTING BUILDING OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE.  This is a USGBC publication that gives the guidelines to the care and maintenance of a LEED existing building, covering all aspects of maintenance, from cleaning, landscaping, pest control, water usage, energy usage, lighting, and any other aspects of the building’s day to day operations.

Photo-biodegradation: Degradation of the polymer (plastic) is triggered by UV light and assisted by the presence of UV sensitizers. In this process the polymer is converted to low molecular weight material (waxes) and in a second step converted to carbon dioxide and water by bacterial action.

Photodegradable: A process where ultraviolet radiation degrades the chemical bond or link in the polymer or chemical structure of a plastic.

PLA: Polylactide, a resin derived from renewable starch-containing resources, such as corn or wheat.

Post-Consumer Recycled Material: A material or finished product that has been used by the consumer and then recovered for recycling.

Post-Industrial (also known as Pre-Consumer) Recycled Material: Materials generated in manufacturing and converting processes, such as trimmings / cuttings, which are recycled before they reach the consumer.

Presidential Executive Order 13101: Defines “environmentally preferable” products as those which “have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose.”

Recycling: The activities by which products are recovered from the solid waste stream for use as raw materials in the manufacture of new products.  This helps prevent the waste of potentially useful materials and reduces virgin raw material consumption.

Renewable: Renewable products are derived from resources that are regenerative, or can be continually reproduced.  The time span for each raw material to “renew” itself can be annual, like a harvest, or as long as the human lifespan, such as the case with lumber.

Source reduction: Decreasing the amount of materials used during the manufacturing or distribution of products

Stewardship: Embracing responsibility for the long-term viability of the environment

Sustainability: Meeting or exceeding the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet or exceed their own needs.  Thee are three key domains of sustainability:

  • Social: Enhancing people’s quality of life and reducing risks to health and well-being
  • Environmental: Increasing positive impacts and reducing negative impacts on our ecosystem
  • Economic: Building economic strength and prosperity for an enterprise and its stakeholders

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): Launched in 1994, SFI Inc. is an independent, non-profit organization responsible for maintaining, overseeing and improving a sustainable forestry certification program that is internationally recognized and is the largest single forest standard in the world.

Sustainable Processes: Using resources to meet existing needs while ensuring adequate resources for later generations

VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds, which have high enough vapor pressures to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere, where they become pollutants

Zero Waste: A production system aimed at eliminating the volume and toxicity of waste and materials by conserving or recovering all resources.

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