Sustainability Glossary 


The following words show up often in the press and other journals. Here is a list of commonly used terms to assist IAPD member companies fulfill their commitment to achieve the highest levels of environmental stewardship. Let us know if you’ve heard or seen a term not included here.

Aerobic Degradation —
the breakdown molecules into smaller chemical entities in the presence of oxygen.

Anaerobic Degradation — the breakdown molecules into smaller chemical entities in the absence of oxygen.

Bio-Based Material — a “biomaterial” is any material made from renewable plant matter (as opposed to non-renewable prehistoric plant material, fossil fuels), including agricultural crops, residues and trees. Sustainable biomaterials are those that are (1) sourced from sustainably grown and harvested cropland or forests, (2) manufactured without hazardous inputs and impacts, (3) healthy and safe for the environment during use and (4) designed to be reused at the end of their intended use such as via recycling or composting.

Biodegradable — materials that can be degraded by microorganisms such as bacteria, enzymes and fungi. 

Bioplastics — a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than from petroleum.

Bioreactor Landfill — a special type of landfill that is constructed to allow air and liquid leachate circulation in order to enable anaerobic degradation while capturing and using methane released during the degradation.

Carbon Footprint — a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases, measured in units of carbon dioxide and meant to be a useful metric for individuals and organizations as they conceptualize their personal (or organizational) impact on global warming.

Carbon Neutral — or carbon neutrality, refers to a net zero carbon release, brought about by balancing the amount of carbon released with the amount sequestered or offset.
Carbon Offset — is the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting emissions generated in one location with emissions reductions or displacements in another where it is technically and/or economically more feasible to achieve those reductions. 

Closed-Loop Recycling — the use of a recycled product in the manufacturing of a similar product or the remanufacturing of the same product.

Closed-Loop Supply Chain — an ideal in which a supply chain completely reuses, recycles or composts all wastes generated during production; at minimum, “closed-loop supply chain” indicates that the company that produces a product is also responsible for its disposal (Cradle-to-Cradle).

Compostable — a material or mix of materials that can be decomposed in a composting system within one composting cycle (ASTM Method 6400/6868). 

Cradle-to-Grave — from the time a material is generated until its ultimate disposal. 

Ecological Footprint — the impact of a person or community on the environment, expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources.

Effluent Guidelines — national standards for wastewater discharged to surface waters and municipal sewage treatment plants. Effluent guidelines are issued based on industrial category.

Energy Recovery — obtaining energy from waste through a variety of processes (e.g., combustion).

Environmental Audit — an independent assessment of a party’s actions to minimize harm to the environment.

Environmental Impact — any change to the environment, good or bad, that results from a plan, policy, program or concrete project.

Environmental Management System (EMS) — a set of processes and practices that enable an organization to reduce its environmental impact and increase its operating efficiency.

Environmentally Sound Technologies —
techniques and technologies capable of reducing environmental damage through processes and materials that generate fewer damaging substances, recover such substances from emissions prior to discharge, or use and recycle production residues.

Green Design — of products, services, buildings or experiences that are sensitive to environmental issues and achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in terms of energy and materials use.

Green Product — a product that has limited negative impact on the environment and society while delivering the same utility to the customer (quality, performance, features, fabrication, application, durability) at the same or slightly higher price as a standard product.

Greenhouse Effect — the trapping of the sun's warmth in a planet's lower atmosphere due to the greater transparency of the atmosphere to visible radiation from the sun than to infrared radiation emitted from the planet's surface.

Greenwashing — the process by which a company publicly and misleadingly declares itself to be environmentally friendly but internally participates in unfriendly environmental or social practices.

Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) — toxic air pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects.

Hazardous Waste — waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or environment. 

Incineration — or “combustion” is a controlled burning process to reduce waste volume and/or convert water into steam to fuel heating systems or generate electricity.

Lean Manufacturing (Lean) — an overall methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for production by eliminating waste (non-value added activities) that inflate costs, lead times and inventory requirements by emphasizing the use of preventive maintenance, quality improvement programs, pull systems and flexible work forces and production facilities.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) — a technique for assessing the environmental impacts of a product by examining all the material, resources, water and energy inputs and outputs at each life cycle stage.

Non-Renewable Resource — a natural resource that is unable to be regenerated or renewed fully and without loss of quality once it is used, e.g., fossil fuels or minerals.

Open-Loop Recycling — a recycling process in which materials from old products are made into new products in a manner that changes the inherent properties of the materials, often via a degradation in quality.

Performance Plastics
 multi-use or durable plastics. A category of plastic that, relative to other materials (such as wood, glass or metal) has a longer useful life, enhanced chemical and physical properties and is more economically and environmentally friendly. 

Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) — Federal limits for workplace exposure to contaminants per OSHA.

Post-Consumer Materials/Waste —
materials and waste routinely discarded, either in a waste receptacle or a dump, or by littering, incinerating, pouring down the drain, or washing into the gutter. 

Post-Consumer Recycling —
use of materials generated from residential and consumer waste for new or similar purposes; e.g., converting wastepaper from offices into corrugated boxes or newsprint.

Pollution Prevention (P2) —
the reduction or elimination of waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques and re-using materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.

Recycled Content — the percentage of recycled materials in a product including products and packages containing reused, reconditioned, remanufactured materials and recycled raw material. 

Renewable Resource — a natural resource that is replenished by natural processes at a rate comparable or faster than its rate of consumption by humans or other users. 

Stakeholder — an individual or group affected by the activities of a company or organization.

Sustainability and/or Sustainable Development — meeting the social, economic and environmental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Design —
a process of product, service or organizational design that complies with the principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Waste Management — the processes involved in dealing with the waste of humans and organisms, including minimization, handling, processing, storage, recycling, transport, and final disposal.

Waste-to-Energy — a recovery process in which waste is incinerated or otherwise turned into steam or electricity and used to generate heat, light or power through the process of combustion.

Waste-to-Profit — the process of using one company’s waste as the raw material for another company, thereby increasing profits and decreasing waste; also referred to as byproduct synergy.

Zero Waste — a production system that eliminates the volume and toxicity of waste and materials by conserving or recovering all resources
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