’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


Pacific Gyre – the first in what is now at least 5 gyres of nonbiodegradable trash (mostly plastic) floating around in the oceans of the world. The Pacific Gyre is perhaps the largest, sizing in at roughly twice the size of Texas. In places, the plastic is so thick that particles of plastic outnumber particles of plankton by 46:1. Beyond the unsightly nature of the gyres and the fact that it hurts wildlife, this kind of stuff has a way of working through the food chain and ending up on our dinner plates. Scientists are finding ever increasing amounts of hormone mimicking compounds in commercial fish, a by-product of the breakdown of petrochemical products like plastics. So the next time you settle into a chair at your local sushi place, remember to say a big thank you to the petrochemical industries for externalizing their costs onto you!

Parabens – an ingredient that many deem unsafe in cosmetics, shampoos, and other personal care products.

Passive solar – a design in which homes can absorb the maximum amount of warmth from the sun during the wintertime.

Pesticides – something that kills pests. Chemical pesticides have come under fire for polluting rivers, topsoil, and people. Some pesticides are particularly persistent, such as DDT, which was banned in the United States and most of the world almost 30 years ago, but continues to circulate the globe and show up in places you’d least expect it, like breast milk.

PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a non-profit organization that aims to reduce the use of animals for food, fur, and as a laboratory testing specimen.

Planned obsolescence – the concept that a product is designed, essentially, for the dump. By integrating necessary upgrades, rapidly expiring technology, hard to repair devices, and other features into a product, a company can assure that a customer will need another product in a fairly short time horizon. Planned obsolescence is particularly troublesome in electronics. Check out the short documentary the Story of Electronics for more information.

Plastics – made from petrochemicals (oil), plastics changed the world by making everything convenient and cheap (and throw-away). Unfortunately, most plastics virtually never biodegrade, leaving a toxic and persistent legacy for millenia after its useful life. Think about a plastic fork or a plastic bag. Use it, what, for 4 minutes? Then it will hang out and leach toxins into the environment for the next 400,000,000 years? Yeah… we need to use less plastic. There’s a distinct difference here in durable plastics, like car parts or knee replacements, and single-use plastics, which we really need to move away from.

Population growth – the human population was less than 1 billion worldwide in 1800. On Halloween of 2011, we crossed the 7 billion mark, and are now adding a billion people every 13 years on average. How we are going to feed, house, and clothe all these people is a challenge of unimaginable proportions. Do you read the Onion?

If not, you should. It’s hilarious. One of their headlines said it best (paraphrased):

Miracle of childbirth happens for 9 billionth time.

Public Transporation – everything from buses to trains to taxis, public transportation allows people to not sit in their car as much, cutting emissions, loneliness, despair, road rage, and the amount of asphalt poured down on a daily basis.



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

6 Responses to Glossary of Common Sustainability Terms (The P’s)

  1. […] to be much larger opportunities out there.One of the largest problems in any technology company is planned obsolescence, and the fact that most electronics have a very short life compared to the life of their […]

  2. […] that could propel growth like never before imagined. Here was the birth of what came to be known as planned obsolescence. 1957 Chevy […]

  3. […] engineers and industrial designers – or their supervisors – have not been well instructed about sustainability. And nobody yet has figured out what to do with all these leftover petrochemical compounds on any […]

  4. […] going out of business, Canadian Tar Sand development, and the evergrowing piles of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it would have been easy to reflect on a year in which we seem to be taking 2 steps forward and 2 […]

  5. […] going out of business, Canadian Tar Sand development, and the evergrowing piles of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it would have been easy to reflect on a year in which we seem to be taking 2 steps forward and 2 […]

  6. […] the evergrowing piles of plastic in the Fantastic Pacific Garbage Patch, it would have been simple […]

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