Sustainability Glossary




A product compiled of natural materials that can be broken down into simple compounds and absorbed back into the eco system without harm if it has moisture, heat, and micro-organisms. Biodegradability is certified by The International Standards Organization (ISO) 14855, which requires 60 per cent biodegradation in 180 days.


Carbon Capture


Technological solutions for capturing and storing carbon dioxide as it is released into the atmosphere thereby preventing its greenhouse effect.


Carbon Dioxide


The gas released into the atmosphere when carbon is burnt. Although not the only greenhouse gas, it is considered the most important.


Carbon Footprint


A measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; can be measured on a personal or national level, or according to a specific activity, such as taking a flight to go on holiday.


Carbon Neutral


An activity or process that doesn’t add to the net amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is also used to describe a process which is offset (see carbon offset)


Carbon Offset


A carbon offset negates the overall amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by avoiding the release or removing it elsewhere – e.g., through a renewable energy or energy conservation project. Voluntary carbon offsetting schemes can help people reduce their carbon footprint, but should only be used as a last resort. It is also important that a credible scheme is used – see


Carbon Tax


A tax levied on fossil fuel usage usually based on the carbon content – generally designed to curb use rather than just raise revenue.


Carbon Trading


The trading of personal, corporate or national credits to maintain and gradually reduce carbon emissions. Companies, nations or individuals who beat the targets can sell the balance as credits to those that exceed their limits. The financial gain should lead to the reduction in emissions over time.


Climate Change


The variation in the Earth’s global climate over time. Man-made climate change is a variation directly attributable to human behavior.




A product that breaks down speedily when in contact with oxygen and converts to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass. Compostability is certified by the European Norm EN13432, which requires 90 per cent biodegradation in 90 days.




The protection of something – whether it is plants, animals habitat, wildlife, water, energy, soil, to ensure sustainability.




A product that will naturally break down over time, such as tin that weathers and oxidizes over time.


Ecological Footprint


The area of land and water a human population uses to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes, including carbon dioxide.


Energy Efficiency


Obtaining the same results without affecting the services provided, often achieved by technological advance. Also refers to cutting down on wasted energy. A good example is an energy efficient light bulb which produces the same amount of light as a conventional bulb but uses up to 75% less energy to do so.


Food Miles


A measurement of the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is consumed. Generally the lower the food miles, the greener the product.


Fossil Fuels


Oil, natural gas and coal – formed in the ground from the remains of dead plants and animals over millions of years.


Geothermic / Ground Source Heat Pumps


A sustainable method for heating, these retrieve heat from the warmer, stable underground temperatures where heat is stored. It can also supply cooling during summer by pumping heat back into the ground, similar to how a fridge’s heat pumps operate. The efficiency of a ground source heat pump system is measured by the coefficient of performance (known as CoP).


Global Warming


The gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. The majority of scientists agree that the current warming we are experiencing is caused by the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes.


Green Energy


Another way to describe renewable energy it ensures that energy is sourced through sustainable methods such as wind or solar power, rather than from those that run out such as fossil fuels.


Greenhouse Effect


The trapping of the sun’s heat by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so leading to global warming. It is because we are adding to the greenhouses gases in the atmosphere that we are altering the delicate balance that has kept the Earth’s climate relatively stable.


Local and Seasonal Food


Refers to food which is produced close to you and according to the national seasons and traditional growing cycles – this doesn’t include food supplied out of season by artificial means, such as strawberries grown in winter greenhouses or dwarf beans flown in from Africa. Generally local and seasonal food will be more naturally produced and much less processed. It also requires far less packaging and transportation.




An energy efficient alternative for illumination, using nearly six times less wattage for light output than an incandescent light bulb. LEDS have been used since the 1960s for powering our alarm clocks, but it’s only recently when researchers discovered a method for them to produce white light.




The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.




Products, services or actions that do not negatively impact on the Earth and its resources.


Rainwater Harvesting


A term to describe the collection of rainwater in a systematic way such as a water butt to then be recycled and used for other purposes.


Renewable Energy


Energy obtained from sources that do not run out – unlike oil and coal. Examples include wood, wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and waste. The UK, and Scotland in particular, has an abundance of resources for the generation of renewable energy.


Smart Meter


An advanced electrical meter for domestic use that show you how much energy you are using at any given time. They can show you which household appliances are costing the most to run and save you money on your energy bills.


Solar PV


Stands for Photo Voltaic and is a form of renewable energy by converting light into electricity through solar cells that have a layer or two of a semi conducting material such as silicon, creating an electric field.


Sustainable Development


Economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.




The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit organization committed to expanding sustainable building practices. USGBC is composed of more than 15,000 organizations from across the building industry that are working to advance structures that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. Members includes building owners and end-users, real estate developers, facility managers, architects, designers, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, product and building system manufacturers, government agencies, and nonprofits.


USGBC Mission


To transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.


USGBC Vision


Buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation.




Stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, which are materials that evaporate readily from commonly occurring sources such as vehicle exhausts, cleaning agents, furniture polish and fabric softeners. These also include solvents used in coatings, as well as thinners and brush cleaners. In the presence of sunlight, these VOCs can react with nitrogen oxides to create ground level ozone and photochemical smog. These in turn can contribute to pollution of the atmosphere