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Air Pollution
Airborne contaminants or pollutants that adversely affect the environment or human health.
A material or substance which, when left exposed to nature, will decompose without harmful effects to the environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) designation for existing facilities or sites that have been abandoned or underused because of real or perceived environmental contamination. The EPA sponsors an initiative to help mitigate these health risks and return the facility or land to renewed use.
Building Envelope
The entire perimeter of a building enclosed by its roof, walls and foundation. Properly designed, the envelope can minimize temperature gain or loss and moisture infiltration.
Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
Solar panels that have been integrated into the design of the building or structure.
Building-Related Illness (BRI)
Serious and diagnosable health conditions, usually of the respiratory system, that can be attributed to specific air quality problems within a building.
Captured Rainwater
Through the use of appropriate roofing materials and gutter systems, rainwater can be harvested or collected then stored for future non-potable use such as showers and hand washing. (See also Graywater)
Carbon Footprint
a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels. A carbon footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon dioxide, or tons of carbon emitted, usually on an annual basis.
Certified Wood
Under the guidance of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), wood-based materials used in building construction that are supplied from sources that comply with sustainable forestry practices, protecting trees, wildlife habitat, streams and soil.
Chain of Custody
The verification of certified wood.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)
A group of volatile gases believed to deplete the ozone layer of the Earth’s stratosphere. These gases have been discontinued from use as refrigerants and as blowing agents used to make foam.
Construction Waste Management Plan (CWMP)
A plan that diverts construction debris from landfills through conscientious plans to recycle, salvage and reuse. For best results, this type of plan should also eliminate packaging of materials when possible and be carefully monitored or audited by the contractor.
A concept introduced by architect William McDonough that prescribes at the end of a product’s useful life, the product will decompose entirely with no negative environmental impact; otherwise it can be used as post-consumer material when recycled into a new product.
With no consideration for sustainability, these types of products are used for a period of time and then discarded, often long before their useful life is actually complete.
Natural daylight introduced into interior spaces and controlled specifically to reduce levels of electric lighting, minimize glare and optimize lighting quality.
Embodied Energy
All the energy used to grow, extract and manufacture a product including the amount of energy needed to transport it to the jobsite and complete the installation.
Little or no impact on the native ecosystem.
Energy Efficient
Products and systems that use less energy to perform as well or better than standard products. While some have higher up-front costs, energy-efficient products cost less to operate over their lifetime.
Energy Star™ Rating
The label given by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to appliances and products that exceed federal energy efficiency standards. This label helps consumers identify products that will save energy and money. ENERGY STAR -labeled appliances often exceed the efficiency levels of other new products.
Environmentally Friendly
A term that refers to the degree to which a product may harm the environment, including the biosphere, soil, water and air.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
The federal government requires the purchase of products or services that have the least negative effect on the environment and human health in consideration of the acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing methods, packaging, distribution, recyclability, operation, maintenance and final disposal.
Flush Out
To help ensure the indoor air quality, mechanical systems are operated for a minimum of two weeks using 100 percent outside air at the end of construction and prior to building occupancy.
A gaseous chemical used to bind together and preserve building materials and household products. A potential carcinogen, its use should be avoided whenever possible.
Fossil Fuels
Fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas extracted from beneath the Earth’s surface, often with significant environmental and political cost. These fuels are a finite resource and are non-renewable.
Global Warming
An increase in the global mean temperature of the Earth that is a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases that are trapped within the earth’s atmosphere. Global warming is believed to have adverse consequences such as climate change and a rise in sea levels.
Refers to wastewater coming from sinks, showers and laundry that can be collected and treated for some reuse, such as the flushing of toilets or watering of landscape. (See also Captured Rainwater.)
“Green” (products or design)
While there are many definitions of “green” or “sustainable,” the one most commonly used looks at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A truly “green” product would be durable, repairable, energy efficient, made with recycled materials, and eventually recyclable. Also, the manufacture, use, disposal, and packaging would have minimal impact on the environment.
Established performance-based standards to define goods such as building materials, interior furnishings, furniture, cleaning and maintenance products, electronic equipment and personal care products with low chemical and particle emissions for use indoors. The standards establish certification procedures including test methods, allowable emissions levels, product sample collection and handling, testing type and frequency, and program application processes and acceptance.
Hazardous Waste
Byproducts of society with physical, chemical or infectious characteristics that pose hazards to the environment and human health when improperly handled.
High Performance Green Building
These buildings include design features that conserve water and energy; use space, materials and resources efficiently; minimize construction waste; and create healthy indoor environments.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)
Though not without some negative environmental impacts, these substances are used to replace CFCs because they are less damaging to the ozone layer. HCFCs are slated to be banned along with CFCs by 2030.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
The supply and introduction of adequate air for ventilation and control of airborne contaminants, acceptable temperatures and relative humidity.
Integrated Design Team
A term referring to all individuals involved in a project from very early in the design process, including the design professionals (architect, engineers, landscape architect and interior designer); the owner’s representatives (investors, developers, building users, facility managers and maintenance personnel); and the general contractor and subcontractors.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Building Rating System sets industry standards for green building design.
Life-Cycle Assessment
The comprehensive examination of a product’s environmental and economic effects throughout its lifetime, including raw material extraction, transportation, manufacturing, use and disposal.
Life-Cycle Cost
The amortized annual cost of a product that includes first costs, but also extends to include installation, operating, maintenance and disposal costs over the product’s lifetime.
Low Toxic
This refers to the degree to which a product is poisonous to people or other living organisms.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Informational fact sheets that identify hazardous chemicals and health and physical hazards, including exposure limits and precautions for workers who may come into contact with these chemicals. Green design professionals review product MSDS when specifying materials and require their submittal during the shop drawing phase.
A finite resource.
Ozone Layer
Defined by the EPA as the protective layer of atmosphere, 15 miles above the ground, that absorbs some of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, reducing the amount of potentially harmful radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Ozone depletion is caused by the breakdown of certain chlorine- and/or bromine-containing compounds such as CFCs or halons.
Photovoltaic (PV)
The capacity of photocells to generate electricity from the sun’s energy. PV panels, now more affordable than in the past, are incorporated into building design. (See Building Related Photovoltaics)
Pollution Prevention
Reducing the amount of energy, materials, packaging or water in the design, manufacturing or purchasing of products or materials in an effort to increase efficient use of resources, reduce toxicity and eliminate waste.
A material or finished product that served its intended use as a consumer item. It may be recycled and incorporated into building materials and identified as containing post-consumer recycled content or recovered material.
Post-Industrial or Pre-Consumer
This refers to waste produced during the manufacturing process of virgin material and rerouted from one step in the process to the next. This does not refer to recycled material.
Rapidly Renewable
Materials that are not depleted when used, but are typically harvested from fast growing sources and do not require unnecessary chemical support. Examples include bamboo, flax, wheat, wool and certain types of wood.
The ability of a product or material to be recovered or otherwise diverted from the solid waste stream for the purpose of recycling.
Recycled/Recovered Materials
Waste materials and by-products that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste but do not include those materials and by-products generated from and commonly reused within an original manufacturing process.
A series of activities including collection, separation and processing by which products or materials are recovered from the solid waste stream for use in the form of raw materials in the manufacture of new products other than fuel for producing heat or power by combustion.
Resource Efficiency

– A practice in which the primary consideration of material use begins with the concept of “Reduce – Reuse – Recycle

Repair” stated in descending order of priority. This concept may be applied in everyday life to help promote a sustainable society. In design, begin by reducing the amount of material that is specified; find ways to reuse materials, recycle products or product waste; specify products made from recycled materials; and repair or restore products instead of replacing them.
Renewable Energy
Energy harvested from sources that are not depleted when used, typically causing very low environmental impact. Examples include solar energy, hydroelectric power and wind power.
A recycling concept by which an existing product can have its useful life extended through a secondary manufacturing or refurbishing process such as remanufactured systems furniture.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
Health complaints such as nasal congestion, headache, irritated eyes, lethargy and tiredness, which are difficult to medically diagnose but are present in individuals when they are within a building and disappear or diminish once they leave the building. The cause of SBS is suspected to be poor air quality and conditions within the building.
“Sustainable” (products or design)
While there are many definitions of “green” or “sustainable,” the one most commonly used looks at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A truly “sustainable” product would be durable, repairable, energy efficient, made with recycled materials, and eventually recyclable. Also, the manufacture, use, disposal, and packaging would have minimal impact on the environment.
Sustainable Yield vs. Ecologically Sustainable Forestry
Sustainable yield forestry dictates that the same number of trees cut down are planted. Clear-cutting with 100 percent replanted is an example of sustainable yield. Ecologically sustainable forestry dictates the management of a productive forest that supports a healthy ecosystem.
Thermal Comfort
The appropriate combination of temperatures, warm or cool, combined with air flow and humidity, which allows one to be comfortable within the confines of a building. This comfort is not usually achieved by the fixed setting of thermostats but through careful design and planning.
Triple Bottom Line
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, “Sustainable development involved the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not a single, financial bottom line, but against (this) triple bottom line.”
Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)
These substances are indoor air pollutants or chemical compounds that exist as vapor or gases at normal temperatures and are carbon-based molecules typically used as solvents in products such as household cleaners, paints, inks and dyes. Sources of VOCs include formaldehyde (a suspected carcinogen), xylene, toluene, benzene (a known carcinogen) and acetone.
Waste Reduction
This is a process to reduce or eliminate the amount of waste generated at its source or to reduce the amount of toxicity from waste or the reuse of materials. The best way to reduce waste is not to create it in the first place.
Waste Stream
The total flow of solid waste from homes, businesses, institutions and manufacturing that is recycled, burned or disposed of in landfills.
Water that has been used and contaminated. Wastewater must be purified before being used again or before being returned to the environment.
Wind Turbine
a device that converts the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy that can be used to drive equipment such as pumps. The addition of a generator allows the wind’s kinetic energy to be converted into electricity.