An experiment in conscious living.


Biodegradable. Capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.

Biodiversity. The variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat. Note: The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.

Biodynamic. Of or relating to a system of farming that uses only organic materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning.

Biomimicry. A relatively new science that studies nature, its models, systems, processes and elements and then imitates or takes creative inspiration from them to solve human problems sustainably.

Black Water. Waste water from toilets.  Not to be confused with Gray Water, see below.

Climate Change. Long-term, significant change in the climate of an area or of the Earth, usually seen as resulting from human activity.  Often used as a synonym for Global Warming.

Cradle-to-Cradle. A term used to describe a material or product that is recycled into a new or similar product at the end of its intended life.  Often abbreviated C2C.

Downcycling. The recycling of a material into a material of lesser quality.  The obvious example is the recycling of plastics, which turns them into lower grade plastics.

Ecological Footprint. A resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology.

Ecosystem. The complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.

Energy Star. Introduced in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a voluntary labeling program to identify and promote energy-efficient products to help reduce greenhouse emissions.

Environmental Cost. The monetary impact from the negative environmental effects resulting from the choices we make.

Environmentally Friendly. A generic statement often used to designate a product, service, or system that has a lesser or reduced negative impact on human health and the environment.

FSC-Certified. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) maintains standards and certifies woods for sustainability.  Wood that is FSC-Certified is therefore certified as being grown and harvested in a sustainable manner.  You can find this seal on a variety of consumer products, including lumber, pencils, and even toilet paper.

Global Warming. The term “global warming” is a specific example of the broader term climate change, which can also refer to global cooling.  Global warming is the gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and other pollutants.

GMO. A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.  These techniques are generally known as recombinant DNA technology.  With recombinant DNA technology, DNA molecules from different sources are combined in vitro into one molecule to create a new gene.

Gray Water. The relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances.

Green. Concerned with or supporting protection of the environment.  This term is also used in reference to an individual of the Green Movement.

Green Movement. A political movement which advocates environmentalism, sustainability, nonviolence, and social justice.

Greenwash. A term that is used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

LEED Rating System. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

Life Cycle Assessment. A compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product or system throughout its life cycle.  Also Life Cycle Analysis.

Locavore. Someone who exclusively (or at least primarily) eats foods from their local or regional foodshed or a determined radius from their home (usually 100 miles).  By eating locally, most locavores hope to create a greater connection between themselves and their food sources, resist industrialized and processed foods, and support their local economy.  The majority of locavores do not give themselves a strict radius from which to eat, but instead buy as much of their food as they can from farmers, growers, and sellers with whom they have a relationship or whose growing or producing practices they want to support.

Natural. We all know this word is used to describe things of or pertaining to nature.  However, when used in describing many consumer products, these days, its meaning holds little validity.  The term has been overused and under regulated (The FDA does not regulate its use in food products.) and has been seen in descriptions on labels of products which contain some pretty unnatural ingredients.

Offsets. Greenhouse gas reduction activities undertaken to compensate for emissions elsewhere.

Organic. The U.S. Government has been regulating and certifying the use of the term “organic” on food labels since 2002.  To be Certified Organic, a food must be produced without synthetic and sewer-sludge fertilizers, most pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiation and genetic modification.  100% Organic labeling means the product must contain only organically produced ingredients (not counting added salt and water).  To use the term Organic on a food label, the product must consist of 95 percent organic ingredients (the other 5 percent must be on the national list of non-organic ingredients approved for use in “organic” products).  To state that something is Made with Organic Ingredients, the organic content must be at least 70 percent, and, again, the other 30 percent must be on the national list.

Organic Farming. A form of agriculture which excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.

Particulate. Fine solid particles of dust, spores, pollens, dander, skin flakes, mite allergens, cell debris, mold, mildew, mineral fibers, or solids escaping from combustion processes that are small enough to become suspended in the air, and in some cases, small enough to be inhaled.

Raingarden. A planted depression that is designated to absorb rainwater runoff from water impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, and sidewalks.  It allows stormwater to soak into the ground, instead of flowing into storm drains and surface waters which causes erosion, water pollution, flooding, and diminished groundwater.

Recycled Content. Refers to the percentage of the total weight of recycled materials in a given product.

Renewable Energy. Energy that is derived from sources that are regenerative or cannot be depleted.  Examples include solar, wind, and wave/tidal power.

Repurpose. To use or convert for use in another format or product.

Runoff. The waste water that flows from urban areas into our sewer system carries various pollutants, including fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns.  The water eventually travels to rivers and oceans where they degrade water quality for humans and animals.

Sustainable. Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.  Also, of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.

Upcycling. The practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.  Pretty much the opposite of downcycling.

VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds are a class of chemicals containing carbon and hydrogen that emit gases from solids or liquids.

WaterSense. Introduced in 2006, WaterSense is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency partner program designed to encourage water efficiency in the United States.  WaterSense labeling is to water conservation as Energy Star labeling is to energy conservation.

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