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