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Eco-Speak: Climate Change And Sustainability Glossary

A glossary of terms about sustainability in retail, from organic to eco-friendly, and more!

Different terms you need to know about sustainability!

There’s a bit of mumbo-jumbo involved whenever we talk about sustainability—on one hand it can sound very technical, but on the other hand, it largely depends on the understanding of key prefixes like eco, bio, and more! Add that to phrases that refer to technology and it’ll be easy to get lost in translation. We made a list of very basic terms you’ll be seeing (and hearing) in articles, videos, and even discussions on social media. 

Our biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that seems abstract—sustainable development—and turn it into a reality for all the world’s people. — Kofi Annan


This refers to a process or result generated by human beings. (UC Davis) On the other hand, processes that are generated by living things are BIOGENIC.


These are materials that can decompose—whether via bacteria or sunlight—into basic components. For example, most organic materials such as paper, grass, clippings, and food scraps, are biodegradable. (Washington University in St. Louis)


The diversity of life on earth—from genes to species to ecosystems. (Global Change)


A fuel produced from dry organic matter or combustible oils produced by plants. They’re considered renewable energy for as long as the vegetation producing them is maintained or replanted (such as firewood, alcohol fermented from sugar, or combustible oils from soybeans). These are better alternatives to fossil fuels because they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (UNFCCC)


The mass of living organisms in a given area, or the material derived from organisms. This can be turned into biofuels. (Global Change)

50 Ways To Save the Planet Now


50 Ways To Save the Planet Now


This is soot produced from coal-burning, diesel engines, cooking fires, wildfires, and other combustible sources. The undesirable particles absorb solar energy and have a warming effect on the climate. (Global Change)


In this context, this is the process of developing technical skills and institutional capability in developing countries and economies in transition, to help them effectively address the causes and results of climate change. (UNFCCC)

There must be a better way to make the things we want, a way that doesn’t spoil the sky, or the rain or the land. — Paul McCartney


Carbon is a configuration of molecules and is the elemental building block of all organisms on Earth. (UC Davis)


This refers to the process wherein living things absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sediments and soil, or food. To complete the cycle, carbon returns to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide or methane by respiration, combustion, or decay. (UC Davis)


Climate change refers to significant changes in global temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, and other measures of climate that occur several decades or longer. (UC Davis)


This refers to the adjustments societies or ecosystems make to limit the negative effects of climate change or to take advantage of opportunities provided by a changing climate. (UC Davis)


This refers to the conversion of forest to non-forest use. (UNFCCC)


People, places, things, and processes that are not harmful to the environment. Also known as environmentally-friendly, green. (Washington University in St. Louis) Currently there is no single international standard for this concept so the meaning is still vague when you see them in labels.


All the living things in a particular area as well as components of the physical environment with which they interact such as air, soil, water, and sunlight. (Global Change)

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead


A weather phenomena characterized by a natural variability in ocean water surface pressure, which causes changes in ocean surface temperatures in the tropic Pacific ocean. It can cause extreme weather such as floods and droughts.


These are substances released into the air and are measured by their concentrations, or parts per million, in the atmosphere. (UC Davis)


The infrastructure and systems of electricity production, transport, storage, and consumption.


This is raw material, usually plant or agricultural waste, that can be processed into fuel or energy. (UC Davis)


Intentional modifications of the Earth system which is often technological. This is a means to reduce future climate change. (Global Change)


Climate change is a part of Global Change, which refers to all changes in the global environment that may alter the capacity of the earth to sustain life. Apart from climate change, it also includes land use change, water cycle change, biogeochemical cycle change, and biodiversity loss. (Global Change)


This phenomenon was detected in the 1960s due to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Coupled with the rise of methane, nitrous oxide, and other gasses—it was discovered that these gasses trap heat and warm the Earth due to the greenhouse effect. Thus, rising levels of greenhouse gasses increase global warming. (UC Davis)

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. — Franklin D. Roosevelt


Also known as eco-friendly or environmentally friendly.


This pertains to the design of products, services, buildings, or experiences that are sensitive to environmental issues and achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in terms of energy and material use. (EPA)


This refers to certain gasses in the atmosphere: water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Currently, these gasses are increasing faster than they can be removed from the atmosphere. (UC Davis)


These are activities that take place on land, such as growing food, cutting trees, or building cities. (Global Change)


This term signifies the absence of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers, and other toxic materials in the cultivation of agricultural products. “Organic” is also a food labeling term that denotes the product was produced under the authority of the Organic Food Production Act. (EPA)


These are materials recovered through recycling programs (such as materials recovered from the municipal solid waste stream, and not from internal industrial processes). These materials are often used to make new products. For example: newspapers recycled by consumers to make newsprint (Washington University in St. Louis), or Nespresso machines that have post-consumer recycled plastics (PCRP).


This is the practice of reducing waste by avoiding bringing them in use—whether in the home or in a business that can generate waste. This includes practices such as buying consumables in bulk to reduce packaging, or choosing consumables in recyclable packaging over non-recyclable packages. The problem with recycling is that it still requires large amounts of energy to “melt down” and re-manufacture items, and it also sends large amounts of pollution into the air. (Washington University in St. Louis)

Global warming will not end by Earth finding shade under the trees but under our hands joined together. — Agona Apell


This pertains to material that still has useful physical or chemical properties after serving its original purpose, and can also be reused or remanufactured to make new products. For example: plastic, paper, glass, steel, aluminum cans, used oil, and more. (Washington University in St. Louis)


Replanting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use. (UNFCCC)


A new model and philosophy of sustainability that not only enables social and ecological systems to maintain a healthy state, but to also evolve to meet future demands. It calls for a better lifestyle through making improvements on as many physical systems as possible. (Ecowarriorprincess)


This is energy from sources that can renew itself within our lifetime, such as wind, sun, water, biomass (vegetation), and geothermal heat. (UC Davis)


A capacity to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats within minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment. (Global Change)


This refers to energy harnessed from the sun and converted into different types of energy, including thermal and electric. (UC Davis)


This concept is based on the principle that humans depend on the natural environment for survival and well-being, and that humans and nature can exist in productive harmony. Sustainability pertains to the conditions that ensure that human impact on the environment is sufficiently mitigated in pursuit of the protection of natural resources of future generations' access to water, materials, resources, and social and economic requirements. (EPA)


This is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (UNFCCC)


The final point at which a change in the climate triggers a significant environment event, likely permanent. For example, extinction, or the melting of polar ice caps. (Global Change)


A system-wide approach that seeks to maximize recycling, minimize waste, reduce consumption, and ensure that products are designed to be reused, repaired, or recycled back into the environment or marketplace. (EPA)

Special thanks to First Philippine Holdings Corporation.

First Philippine Holdings Corporation is a management and investment company whose major business is power generation and distribution, with strategic initiatives in manufacturing and property development. FPH is a member of the Lopez Group of Companies. Follow FPH on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Sources: UC Davis, UNFCCC, (EPA)