NBS Green Glossary 

A helpful guide to green, ethical and environmental terms.



We all hear a range of words and terms being used about being ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable'.

It can be confusing to know what these words actually mean, so we have put together a glossary of terms and their definitions. This glossary is sure to evolve as we all learn more!

First things first. Do you know the difference between ‘Green’ and ‘Sustainable’?  

If you don't, click on G and then S below to find out....


Able to break down and blend back in with the earth, given the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria. Ideally, but not always, no toxins are left behind.


The wide variety of life on Earth encompassing different animals, insects, plants, the ecosystem they live in – forest, desert, grasslands, or coral reef, for example – and the microorganisms that help support life in that environment.


Biomass is a type of fuel consisting of plant and animal matter that is burned for energy.  Biomass is typically burned to create steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity. One of the most common forms of biomass used in the United States is wood.  A recent biomass innovation is the use of energy production of combustible biogas created from rotting organic matter found in landfills or farms.

Carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e)

The internationally recognised way of expressing the amount of global warming of a particular greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 required to achieve the same warming effect over 100 years.

Carbon footprint

Researcher and writer Mike Berners-Lee explains this as; carbon = all the different global-warming greenhouse gases, footprint = a metaphor for the impact something has. By this definition, a carbon footprint is roughly the total climate change impact of something, such as an activity (flying), an item (a banana), a person, or even a whole country.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutral means that the carbon footprint of a person, organisation, good, or process is offset in some way such that the net carbon output is at or below zero.  Several companies have announced plans to achieve carbon neutrality in the coming decades to reduce their impact on the climate. Achieving carbon neutrality can be accomplished through the reduction of emissions and the purchasing of carbon offsets.

Carbon offset

A carbon offset is generated by an activity that either prevents the release of, reduces, or removes GHG emissions from the atmosphere. Emission reduction projects around the world generate carbon offsets from activities such as renewable energy, biogas, and reforestation.


Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a group of chemicals that have a detrimental impact on the ozone layer in the earth’s atmosphere.  The depletion of the ozone layer allows more solar radiation to reach our planet. This depletion is harmful to plants and animals and contributes to the loss of polar icecaps.

Clean energy

Renewable sources of energy that generate power but do not contribute to global warming. Clean or green energy sources include wind, solar, wave, biomass, and hydro. 

Climate change 

Climate change is a long-term shift in global or regional climate patterns. Often climate change refers specifically to the rise in global temperatures from the mid-20th century to present.

Closed loop

A system where everything is recycled and reused.


Compostable materials are materials that have been certified to break down completely into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that will not harm the environment, given the right conditions.

Conscious capitalism/consumerism

A form of capitalism that seeks to benefit people and the environment. 
Consumers voting with their wallet – purchasing products and services that are produced responsibly.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

A business’s plan to reduce its impact on environmental, social, and political issues.


Deforestation is the permanent and intentional clearing of forested land by humans, often for agricultural expansion, timber harvesting for fuel or building materials, mining, and human settlement.


Products designed to be thrown away after a single use or a few uses. Examples include razors, cameras, plastic, and paper shopping bags, nappies, tumble dryer sheets, wipes, clingfilm, plastic snack bags. See also single use. 


The opposite of up-cycle. Also known as downstream recycling. This is the process of recycling material into one of lesser quality or value. In other words, its quality and value are downgraded through the process of recycling. Most likely, this down-cycled product will not be recyclable when discarded.

Many plastic products, such as plastic bags and bottles, are downcycled. Other examples include recycled paper or even creating rags from clothing.  While the process of downcycling is a form of recycling, a downcycled item soon makes its way to the landfill.



Environmentally minded actions or products that cause minimal harm to the earth.

Ethical investment or Socially Responsible Investment (SRI)

Money that is directed towards activities which have a positive social and/or ecological impact.


Discarded electronic appliances such as mobile phones, computers, and televisions.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing that copies current luxury brand trends but is produced cheaply and quickly. Examples of fast fashion brands include H&M, Zara, and Primark.

(The) Five R’s 

  1. Refuse, single-use disposables, and unnecessary packaging.
  2. Reduce waste – mainly through single-use items, anything that generate trash, litter, and can pollute our environment.
  3. Rot applies to composting, or food scrap recycling. This is an excellent way to divert food waste from the landfill and recycle it into nutrient-rich compost. 
  4. Reuse those long-lasting items made from durable products (cloth, wood, metal, glass), such as reusable straws, bags, containers.
  5. Recycle what you’re unable to refuse, reduce, or reuse.

Food miles

A concept related to carbon footprints is that of "food miles" - the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The more food miles that attach to a given food, the less sustainable and the less environmentally desirable that food is.

Food waste

Any food or inedible parts of food that are thrown away. Avoidable food waste is food that could have been eaten but is either no longer wanted or has gone past its sell-by-date. Unavoidable food waste is food that could never be eaten, such as eggshells or tea bags.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation setup to respond to concerns over global deforestation. It provides internationally recognised standard setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies, organisations and communities interested in responsible forestry. 

Fossil fuels

Non-renewable sources of energy such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases when they are burned, while most plastic is made from chemicals extracted from fossil fuels. 


Freeganism is an ideology that promotes the reuse of wasted food and other goods.  It aims to reduce the number of new resources needed to support oneself. Freeganism has emerged as a response to the growing trend of consumerism throughout the world.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is energy created using the heat within the earth’s crust.  The most common form pumps water deep into the earth, which is then turned into steam and used to drive a turbine.  Geothermal energy is classified as a renewable source of power.

Global warming

Is the term used most often to refer to the greenhouse gas effect caused by human activities.


'Green' is strictly concerned with the environmental health. A term used to refer to anything that benefits the environment. In recent years, environmentalists and activists have encouraged people to “go green” or “be green” as a means of preserving and responsible use of natural resources.

Green is beyond recycling and reusing available resources. It also involves reducing the number or amount of resources one uses. For instance, always switching off the lights when leaving a room, repairing, or reusing items, and fixing leaks are ways to be green.

Greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect is a process that occurs when gases in Earth's atmosphere trap the Sun's heat. This process makes Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is one of the things that makes Earth a comfortable place to live.

Greenhouse gases

A number of gases that contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2). Others include methane and nitrous oxide.


The act of greenwashing is a manufacturer’s attempt — through deceptive marketing efforts — to create the impression that a product is natural or has environmental benefits, even when it doesn’t. 

Ground source heat pumps

Use energy stored in the ground, which can provide heating for buildings.

Guerrilla gardening

Guerrilla gardening is a type of gardening where gardeners do not own the land they work on.  Common forms of guerrilla gardening involve spreading seeds on public or vacant land for aesthetic or environmental purposes.

Hybrid car 

A hybrid car is one that uses more than one means of propulsion - combining a petrol or diesel engine with an electric motor. The main advantages of a hybrid are that it should consume less fuel and emit less CO2 than a comparable conventional petrol or diesel-engine vehicle.


Hypermiling is a group of techniques one can use to improve your car’s efficiency.  Hypermiling can improve fuel efficiency by over 30%.  Some examples of hypermiling techniques include maintaining appropriate tire pressure, coasting instead of braking, and minimizing the loads that are kept in your car.


Incinerators are facilities that dispose of solid waste through combustion heat. Acting like an enormous furnace, waste is burned at extremely high temperatures and reduced to ash. Some incinerators are waste-to-energy plants, using the waste as a fuel source to make steam and electricity.

While incineration plants provide an effective method of reducing waste, critics have pointed to potential air pollution from released toxins — dioxin, lead, and mercury — and greenhouse gas emissions that can result from the combustion process. In addition, there can be environmental repercussions in the disposal of potentially hazardous ash.


Kyoto Protocol

Is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Any waste that is not recycled or reused usually ends up at a landfill site. Landfill sites can be created from a void made by quarrying or may form part of a land reclamation scheme. Some sites practice ‘land raising’ (piling the rubbish directly on the ground), and some practice ‘landfilling’ (filling a hole in the ground with the rubbish). The rubbish in these piles is a mixture of household and commercial waste.

The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Add this up, and it equates to a total of 31 million tonnes per year, which is equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses, a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times.


Refers to a person who prefers to eat food which is grown or produced locally. By 'locally', a locavore usually means very close to home or within a particular distance of where they live, generally no more than a 100-mile radius.

Micro-generation or micro-energy

The production of energy on a small scale, e.g. wind turbine, solar panels.


Small pieces of plastic, less than 5mm in length, found on land and water as a result of plastic pollution.

Naked packaging

It could refer to a total absence of external packaging, to an “un-packaging” of products reducing a conventional package to its minimum form, or to packaging that could be reused or recycled resulting in a zero negative environmental impact.

Organic food 

'Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives.

Paris Agreement

A legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by more than 190 countries in 2015. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°, preferably to 1.5° Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Rainwater harvesting

The collection and use of rain which falls on buildings and would otherwise go straight to the drainage system. After filtration and settlement the water can be used for a variety of purposes.


Waste materials being refurbished for a second use or converted into a new product.


Processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away and turning them into reusable material. In closed loop recycling materials from a product are recycled to make the same, or a similar, product without significant degradation or waste. This can be done repeatedly. In open loop recycling materials from a product are used to make a different type of product. Recyclable - A product or material that can be collected, processed, and manufactured into a new product.


Planting of forests on lands that have been or are being depleted.


Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.


Single use

Describes an item that is designed and made to be used only once. Although single-use items are typically made of plastic, there is a wide variety of products made from different materials.

Examples of single-use products include plastic and paper bags, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plastic water bottles, plastic food packaging, and paper cups, wipes, produce bags, plastic coffee pods.

Social enterprise

Businesses that operate to tackle social problems, improve communities or the environment. They reinvest their profits back into the business or community.

Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) or ethical investment

Money that is directed towards activities which have a positive social and/or ecological impact.

Solar panels

Cover two areas of generation:

  1. Solar thermal or solar water heating panels which is used to heat water.
  2. Solar electric which is used to produce electricity also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, solar cells that convert light into electricity.


"Sustainable" is concerned with environmental health, economic vitality, and social benefits. "Sustainable" or sustainability is much broader and more precisely defined than green. It involves a wide scope of activities that promote the future generations’ ability to meet their needs. While green focuses on the now and future, sustainability is more concerned with the future. It is the ability to meet the current needs without compromising on the future generation’s ability to meet their needs.

Sustainability is often referred to as a three-legged stool since it is concerned with three pillars, including environmental health, economic benefits, and social equity. Thus, sustainability includes green products and services, as well as eco-friendly activities. It means undertaking changes in social, economic, and environmental processes to achieve a balanced relationship between nature and humans. 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. They were adopted by the UN in 2015.



Upcycling represents a variety of processes by which “old” products get to be modified and get a second life as they’re turned into a “new” product. In this way, thanks to the mix and aggregation of used materials, components and items, the result is a “new product” with more value than the original value of the sum of all its components.


Despite the best of intentions (and often because of them), wish-cycling is when sustainably focused consumers place questionable items in recycling bins in hopes of them being recycled. While doing so comes from a planet-loving place, it often causes more harm than good.

Zero carbon

A term sometimes used to describe a product or service that creates no CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions during production and/or operation.

Zero waste

This is a way of life that encourages rethinking product lifecycles so that all products are reused instead of being thrown away. In short, the goal of Zero Waste practices is to reduce consumer consumption to such a level that nothing gets wasted and sent to the landfill or incinerators.

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