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A Green Glossary

There are a lot of buzzwords when it comes to the environment these days.  For some of the stuff, it's hard to figure out what it all means.  What is carbon offsetting really?  What are photovoltaic panels?  Why am I seeing products boasting that they're BPA-free and PVC-free?

Here's a list of some of the green terms you might be hearing these days, from A to Z.  Well, actually, it's from A to X, because I couldn't think of anything for Y and Z!


Acid Rain -- Acid rain is usually caused by emissions of compounds of sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon which react with the water molecules in the atmosphere, often coming from electricity being generated, factories, cars, and coal power plants.

Air Pollution -- Contaminants in the air that can negatively interfere with the health of humans and the environment in general.

All Natural -- Not to be confused with certified organic, many products are labeled "All Natural" but there are no standards like there are on certified organic products.  Learn more about organic vs. all natural food. 


Biodegradable -- Things that can decompose on their own.

Biodiesel -- Fuel made from organic matter that can be used in a diesel engine, like the tractor powered by donuts that I saw last month! 

Black Water -- Water containing human waste from toilets. Black water must be neutralized before it can be reused, and it is usually only reused for things like flushing or irrigation.

BPA --  Bisphenol A.  A chemical used in polycarbonate plastic food and beverage containers, common in baby bottles, water bottles and more.  You can learn more about the dangers of BPA here


Carbon footprint -- A way of measuring your impact on the environment in units of carbon dioxide with respect to greenhouse emissions.

Carbon neutral/carbon offsetting --  "Offsetting" carbon emissions. For example, if you buy something has to be shipped, you can offset those carbon credits by paying a company to plant trees to equal the carbon use out.  There are many companies that offer this right now.

Certified organic -- Certified organic produce must come farmers who use renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality.  Certified organic animal products (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy) come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Clean coal -- A term used to describe methods that are being developed to reduce the environmental impact of coal-based power.

Climate change -- A change in climate due to human activity (i.e., burning fossil fuels)  Learn more about climate change. 

Composting -- Soil that is formed by decaying organic matter.  You can compost by beginning a compost bin and throwing all sorts of items in there that can decompose, from tea bags to banana peels.  

CSA --  Community Supported Agriculture. 


Endangered species -- A species whose numbers are so low that it risks becoming extinct. 

EPA -- The Environmental Protection Agency; a federal agency started in 1970 with programs geared towards reducing pollution and protecting the environment.


Fossil fuel -- A fuel (ie., coal, oil, or natural gas) formed using plant or animal remains.


Global warming -- An increase in the average temperature of the earth, considered to be a result of the greenhouse effect.

Gray Water -- Waste water from sinks, showers, kitchens, washers, etc. Gray water does not contain human waste, like black water does.

Greenhouse effect  -- The process that raises the temperature of air in the atmosphere.


Hydroelectric energy -- Electricity produced by moving water.


LEED -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is system to categorize environmentally sustainable construction is in sustainable buildings.

Low-emission vehicles --  Vehicles which emit less pollution, such as hybrids and electric cars


Photovoltaic panels -- Solar panels used to convert sunlight into electricity.   Energy is produced when sunlight hits the semiconductor material and creates an electrical current.

Post consumer waste -- You probably see this sometimes when purchasing recycled materials.  It's waste collected after the consumer has used and recycled it, such as paper.

PVC --   Polyvinyl chloride, commonly referred to as vinyl.   It's found in items from backpacks to cars to appliances.  It's considered bad for your health and the environment.


Recycling  -- The process collecting, sorting, and reproducing old material into usable raw materials such as plastic and paper.  Not everything can be recycled, though, and stuff like batteries sometimes have to be taken to a recycling center. 

Renewable Energy -- Energy from alternative sources, such as wind power or solar energy.


Solar energy -- Energy that comes from the sun.


Teflon --  Pots, pans, and more that include a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, thought to be a carcinogen.  Learn more about Teflon, including the dangers of it and how to cook with it safely. 

Tidal Power -- Using the movement of tides to create power.

Turbine -- Turbines are used to create electricity from wind, water and steam.  They have blades on one end and electromagnets on the other which create electricity as the blades move.


Vegan products -- Products manufactured without animal testing, animal ingredients (meat, fur, leather, etc.) or animal byproducts (milk, eggs, wool, or even honey).  However, the greenness of vegan products is often debatable because the alternatives tend to contain synthetic components, such as making shoes of vinyl (PVC) instead of leather, which can be bad for the environment.

Vermicomposting -- A way of composting where worms eat the decomposing materials.  It helps produce soil rich in nutrients. 


Windpower -- Energy that comes from the wind.


Xeriscaping --  Xeriscaping is planting a garden that uses minimal water.  Particularly useful in areas prone to droughts.