’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


Obama – current United States President, for those living in a cave. Obama has been touted as a fairly green politician, and has certainly invigorated green manufacturing across America. Critics will say that he could always have done more, but Obama’s green record is a vast improvement over his predecessor.

Obesity – a public health epidemic, largely caused by a fast food diet and lack of exercise. Obesity can lead to a plethora of health problems, and people who are obese will face challenges in life in just about everything they do, from flying on an airplane to driving a car to getting a seat at a movie. Many companies are moving in the direction of reducing their caloric content in their products, or at least labeling how many calories are in items, perhaps with an eye out for a future class action lawsuit put forth by distressed parents of morbidly obese children.









Offsets – the concept of ameliorating your environmental footprint by doing something good that “offsets” the bad. See carbon offsets for example.

Oil – a fossil fuel used to produce gasoline, chemicals, and plastics.

Oil Sands- (aka tar sands) a term used to describe tar patches where concentrations of oil are mixed with earthen materials. Extensive oil sands exist in Canada, and are the subject of the very controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal in the United States. In order to extract oil from oil sands, it requires almost as much energy as the oil itself will produce, but since the price of oil is so high, governments like Canada’s deem it worthy to subsidize in order to create some short term jobs. Silly, right? No source of oil is great, though, so until you drive a biodiesel car or ride your bike, you need to reevaluate your priorities!

Organic – one of the biggest game-changers in the sustainability movement, the organic certification means that foods are not grown with synthetic chemicals (pesticides or fertilizers). A hundred years ago, all food was organic, but with the advent of cheap chemicals and the industrialization of our food production system, all that changed so that now only about 4% of our food is organic, though this percentage is growing rapidly as more consumers are choosing to eat healthier. As the slogan goes, “Eat organic, or as your grandparents called it, food.”

Ozone layer – about 15 miles above sea level, the ozone layer is a protective shield that prevents ultraviolet radiation from reaching the surface of earth. Ozone occurs naturally and is generally beneficial, except when its concentration at ground level becomes too high (from automobile pollution mostly), at which point it can cause respiratory problems.



Have a suggestion for a term, organization or concept to add to our glossary? Send it along! Email info at with the subject line “glossary”. Thanks for helping us make this a great community resource!

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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 O’s)

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