’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


Cap and Trade – a system, usually consisting of voluntary participation, governing several entities that emit the same pollutant. The “cap” refers to putting a limit on the total amount of the pollutant that is allowable, and the “trade” part allows participants in the program to purchase allowances from other entities that have been more successful in reducing their own footprints. Acid rain, perhaps one of the more critical public health and environmental issues of the 1980’s, was virtually negated through a Cap and Trade program of sulfur oxides (SOx’s) and other acid rain producing pollutants.

Car sharing service – a business that rents cars to its members for an hourly rate. Zipcar is perhaps the best known example. The system allows people to use a car only when they need one, rather than having to own their own vehicle. This saves the person a pile of money, and also helps to reduce the environmental footprint of owning a car, which is quite substantial regardless of the vehicle type. In addition, car sharing services really help improve walkable communities, as less people are on the road, and more are on the sidewalk walking or riding their bike, since without all those cars, more small, local businesses can thrive. In GBO Hawai’i, the sustainability board game, you can invest in a car sharing service on Oahu or Maui:










Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – the most commonly cited greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is actually one of the weakest. CO2 is an emission from combustion of coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels, but is also the main waste gas we exhale with each breath. As a result, CO2 has given skeptics the opportunity to belittle our pursuit of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The reality is that CO2 is just the beginning. Other greenhouse gasses are often measured in CO2 equivalents (see below), as a way of standardizing the impact of a particular project. Methane, for example, has roughly 20x the climate warming power of CO2, and is one of the main pollutants resulting from animal agriculture.

Carbon footprint – derived from carbon dioxide’s effect on climate change, the term carbon footprint is used to indicate the total impact someone has on the amount of greenhouse gases produced. Typically, the carbon footprint is measured in CO2 equivalents.
Carbon offsets – see offsets.

Carbon intensity –  the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of economic output. Carbon dioxide is usually measured in tons, while gross domestic product (GDP) in a local currency represents economic output. Other greenhouse gasses like methane are added to the total by calculating the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the equivalent global warming potential. Methane, for example, which mainly comes from dairy and beef operations, has 18x the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Carbon sink – something that collects and secures carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it in a solid form. Examples include forests, which use carbon dioxide to produce wood, fruit, and seeds, or phytoplankton in the ocean that use carbon dioxide to grow. Carbon sinks hold tremendous potential for helping us avert potentially catastrophic climate change.

Carbon trading – see “Cap and trade”, above. Carbon trading is simply a Cap and Trade program for greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalents.

CFC – short for chlorofluorocarbons, this is a family of man-made gasses that damage the ozone layer, and have been phased out of many products.

CFL – short for compact fluorescent lightbulb (or lamp), a CFL is a more energy efficient replacement for incandescent bulbs of the same luminosity (light generation).

Clean Tech – clean tech is a catchall phrase for many healthier, sustainability-focused industries, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, some biofuels, etc. In GBO Hawai’i, you need a Clean Tech Engineer Entrepreneur card to start most clean tech businesses:

Clearcutting – an unsustainable practice in forestry wherein a company takes all trees in an area. A more sustainable option is referred to as patchcutting, which allows a forest to regenerate more quickly and leaves patches of habitat for migratory and resident wildlife.

Climate Change – the more comprehensive term usually used for mankind’s effect on global climate patterns. Global warming is more narrowly defined as just temperature change, more or less the direct result of the combustion of fossil fuels. The science of climate change encompasses global warming but also extreme events like hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes and other natural disasters, as well as changes in precipitation patterns and other climatic trends that are often affected by global warming.

CO2 equivalents – a standardized measure of greenhouse gases. Since methane has roughly 20x the climate change potency of carbon dioxide, it is necessary to convert methane emissions into CO2 equivalents in order to compare its actual effect to other emission sources.

Collaborative consumption – a business model where people share resources, instead of each person having to own their own. The best-known examples are probably Zipcar and other carsharing services, but startups like are proving the model goes well beyond cars, to include just about anything that you only use occasionally.  The idea is that each “thing” we own has a large ecological rucksack. But then that “thing” sits idle most of the time. How much time are you actually driving your car? If you could rent your car at those idle times to another person, would you?

Commuter bikes – a kind of bicycle that handles the daily commute well. Typically it has a sturdier frame, hybrid tires that allow for speed but also durability, and some way to carry briefcases or backpacks.

Composting – the process of decomposition of organic waste into usable materials for gardening, mulching, and resurfacing material.

Conflict-free diamonds – as many diamond mines exist in countries like Sierra Leone that are not particularly politically stable, mining practices can be less than ideal. Child labor is commonplace, worker safety is a distant afterthought, and brutal dictatorships oppress nonviolent opposition in order to maintain monopolies on lucrative diamond mining operations. The Conflict-Free Diamond Council is a non-profit organization that certifies diamonds as coming through the supply chain without employing these kinds of practices.

Consignment Store – a type of retail store where people can bring gently used items in and let the shopkeeper sell the items for them. Typically, the store takes about half of the sale price, and gives the other half to the person who used to own the item. Consignment stores are great places to shop to buy re-used items, and also a really nice microenterprise that many people can start in order to create a sustainable living for themselves. Typical examples of consignment shops are clothing & accessories, outdoor gear, furniture, and sporting goods. In GBO Hawai’i, you can start several consignment stores, helping the state reduce its waste.

Cork – a class of renewable products derived from the bark of the cork tree, this includes flooring materials, jewelry, Ugg boots, and of course caps for wine bottles.

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

One Response to Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The C’s)

  1. […] Craigslist had a giant hole in the screen, then you probably can guess the value of consumption, the basic tenet of the “access economy” basically allows people to get by with owning […]

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