’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.


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Bamboo – a rapidly renewable plant that can be used for products as diverse as floors and textiles.

Biodegradable – a term used to describe items and substances that will break down into basic elements just through natural processes. A leaf, for example, left to itself, will in a few weeks be dust that nutrifies soil. A plastic bottle cap, on the other hand, is not biodegradable, as, after a few weeks (or even after 100 years), it’s still a bottle cap.

Biodiesel – a fuel usually made from vegetable oil, grease, or other fats. Biodiesel is often commercially available as B100, (which is 100% biodiesel), B99, or B20. When made from grease, biodiesel’s byproduct is glycerin, which can be used to make soap.

Biofuels – fuels that are derived from a biological source. Common biofuels are ethanol (often referred to as E85, or 85% ethanol, biodiesel (often commercially available as B100 (100% biodiesel), B99, or B20 and vegetable oil.

Biomass – organic material that can serve as a fuel source. Think wood, leafy debris, etc. While fossil fuel is also a term that implies that the fuel was originally alive, the key differentiation here is that geologic processes and eons of time have radically altered the chemistry of that material, whereas biomass is typically still living or very recently dead material, and therefore is not as hazardous to public health.

Biotech – a science that, as its name implies, involves mixing biology and technology. Some biotech companies combine genes from a variety of sources to produce plants and other organisms that have specific purposes. The big biotech companies are notoriously some of the worst corporate citizens, with some seed manufacturers going so far as to sue family farmers for allegedly stealing patented seeds which may well have blown onto their fields. Critics of biotech companies claim those companies are essentially playing “God” by forcing evolution onto organisms. Where natural recombination of genes might take millenia and be subject to Darwinian selection, biotech has the capability of making these things happen much more rapidly, effectively creating untested biological organisms that may have catastrophic side effects. Also see Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

Black water – the term used to describe the effluent, or wastewater, generated by people and disposed of through their toilets. Gray water, on the other hand, is the wastewater that comes from washing dishes, washing clothes, and other household uses of water that do not involve direct human waste.

BPA – also known as bisphenol-A, BPA is a suspected hormone disrupter, and is a common ingredient in many plastics, especially those labeled #7. BPA has been banned by many countries, and is being phased out voluntarily in the United States after the Federal Government failed to ban it outright. BPA is found in 90% of people in the United States, and while the EPA suggests up to 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight is safe, Americans are exposed to at least 8 times that amount every day.

Brownfield – an area of land that is thought or known to be contaminated by previous use, such as heavy industrial processing.


Have a suggestion for a term, organization or concept to add to our glossary? Send it along to info [at]!

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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

4 Responses to Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The B’s)

  1. […] Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The B’s) Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The D’s) […]

  2. […] Biodegradable and safe: the soap is made from all natural ingredients so it’s not dangerous to our environment. Many other soaps are made with petrochemicals, synthetic detergents, fake fragrances, fillers, and anti-bacterial components that can damage watershed health (and no one really knows what exposure to these untested chemicals do to our own bodies). Dr. Bronner’s is good for your daily shower and shampoo, but it’s also perfect to use when camping, in the garden, or at the beach.  It works to wash laundry or the toilet, but it’s gentle: safe for use with babies (note that Johnson & Johnson finally conceded to a global reformulation of their baby shampoo after pressure from a number of non-profits over the presence of formaldehyde and other possible or likely carcinogens in their baby shampoo…best just to use organic stuff to begin with, eh?). […]

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