’s green glossary is an ever-growing list of constantly updated key sustainable business terms for sustainability professionals (so don’t mind the date and time stamp above).

If you feel that we’re missing something, we appreciate you letting us know by adding it as a comment at the bottom.


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | OP-Q | R | S | T | U-V-W-X-Y-Z


Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – the biotech sector splices genetic material into an organism (whether bacteria, plant, fungus, or animal) in order to make that organism elicit some of the desired behaviors demonstrated by the “donating” organism. So, for instance, you can add information to corn’s genetic code that makes it resistant to a particular kind of herbicide. Then when you grow that corn, you can absolutely drench your agricultural fields with that herbicide and eliminate all the weeds, but keep the corn. Unfortunately, playing “god” with organisms has consequences that are literally impossible to predict, which has many people rightfully worried about GMO’s. Not to worry, though, the biotech companies assure us that this is all perfectly safe. Oh phew. I was worried there for a minute.

Besides corn, there are a lot of other issues with GMO’s. I encourage you to check out Dr. David Kaplan’s paper (google “wrong GMO” and you’ll find the download) on what’s wrong with GMO’s (for instance, a risk is something we decide to take, whereas a hazard is a risk that is forced upon us, as is the case with GMO’s. True, we can choose not to eat GMO’s, but they’re organisms…they eat, breed, and spread. That’s what organisms do. Thus, GMO’s are a risk that’s being forced upon everyone living on the planet, and once out there, will be impossible to do a “product recall” on.).

The more insidious thing is how biotech companies do business. Monsanto, a large biotech company that sells GMO seed corn, and that consistently ranks as one of the worst corporate citizens, sues organic farmers when they find GMO seeds on their land. (is it possible those seeds blew in there from neighboring farms? see above about what organisms do). Farmers who don’t have legal teams then have to face off against Monsanto’s army of lawyers in court, and typically settle out of court to avoid millions in legal fees. When they settle, the settlements usually require that they are sworn to secrecy or face additional legal actions. And of course, the settlements also force them to…you guessed it…buy GMO seed corn from Monsanto. Evil? I don’t know how else to define the word. In GBO Hawai’i, this unfortunate scenario plays out. Just as you’re building your sustainable food empire, an unnamed biotech company (not Monsanto) sues you for allegedly stealing their GMO seeds:

Geothermal Energy – an energy source that is derived from heat of molten rock deep within the surface of the earth.

Global Warming – a term used to describe a temperature increase from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Not to be confused with climate change, which is a term that describes all the patterns that change from increases in greenhouse gases, including droughts, sea water circulation patterns, increased intensity of catastrophic events like hurricanes, and the like. Global warming is a part of climate change, but just one facet.

Green building – a term used to describe building and construction projects that tend to be healthier, more efficient, and more ingrained in their community than conventional buildings. See LEED for more info.

Green collar worker – a term used to describe someone who works in one of the sustainable industries. In GBO Hawai’i, the sustainability board game, green collar workers are human resource cards that help you start businesses:

Green fatigue – this phenomenon occurs with some people who hear about green events and green news too often.

Green hotel – a hotel certified by the Green Hotel Association that has committed to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste reduction, and engagement of guests to help lower the footprint of their travels. In GBO Hawai’i, the sustainability board game, you can invest in several green hotels, earn good dividends, and potentially even host a clean energy conference at your hotel for extra money after you start it!

Green MBA – a relatively new trend, business schools are now offering sustainability curriculum across the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and others. Some schools have gone so far as to create an entirely new MBA program based entirely on sustainable business principles. The Presidio School of Management was the first of these, based in San Francisco but now expanding to several other locales, and has proved the market for sustainability in business is here to stay. In GBO Hawai’i, the sustainability board game, Green MBAs are the most powerful human resource card. They’re effectively a wild card that can be used to start any business in the game.

Greenhouse gases – a category of gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, cfc’sand many others that trap heat in the atmosphere rather than letting it dissipate into space as it might otherwise.

Greenwashing – Marketing that makes a product appear to have some sustainability credentials, but which lacks verifiable standards or legitimacy to back the claim. Here’s an article about greenwashing standards, from our friends at Inspired Economist.

Grey water – As opposed to black water, grey water is the term used to describe water that has been used for washing hands, dishes, clothes, or other regular uses around the house besides the toilet. Grey water can fairly easily be treated and re-used for the landscape or other outdoor purposes, whereas black water can’t.

Grid parity – A term used to describe the point at which the cost of clean energy will be the same as the cost of conventional utility energy that is typically derived from coal, oil, natural gas, or large scale hydroelectric facilities.

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

2 Responses to Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The G’s)

  1. […] as opposed to panels). There are many factors that play into the cost per watt calculations, but Grid parity for solar was expected to occur within 5 years in many parts of the U.S., encompassing about 57 […]

  2. […] of the seeds. They also value sustainable practices, growing advice, quality gardening tools, and genetic integrity. The Mother Earth News story reads: “The gardeners we surveyed were deeply concerned about […]

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