’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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Sustainability – according to the Brundtland commission, sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. (yes we realize this is out of alphabetical order…it’s kinda important).

Seawater Air Conditioning Technology – this is a technology available to many coastal and tropical communities where cold water is brought in from deep waters, cools a closed loop refrigerant system, which then distributes cool air in a building. The water is then sent back down a long pipe to the ocean bottom, where it naturally becomes cold again. In essence, it replaces conventional air conditioning, and a SWAC project is coming online in both Honolulu and Waikiki on the island of Oahu in the next 1-2 years. In GBO Hawai’i, you can invest in one!

Shale gas – this is the term used to describe natural gas that is found in the substrata known as shale. While a cleaner fuel than coal or oil, this gas is unfortunately hard to harvest, and requires tremendous amounts of chemical inputs drilled deep into the substrate, which have leaked into groundwater and contaminated aquifers across the U.S. See natural gas for more info.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) power – PV panels are typically made from high density silicon and turns sunlight directly into electricity. This is similar in principle, but quite different in dynamics from…

Solar thermal – the sun’s energy is concentrated, usually by concave mirrors that focus light and heat on a central tube that contains a liquid that handles extreme temperatures well. The liquid becomes superheated and moves through a closed loop system, turning a turbine, in a system much like hydroelectric power uses.

Soy – often referred to as the wonder crop, the soybean can be used for virtually anything. It’s a complete source of protein, and a staple crop in many regions of the world. Soy is perhaps best known as the principle ingredient in tofu, soy milk, and many fake meats, but can be seen in its natural form if you order edamame at a restaurant. In addition, soy fiber can be used to make clothes, and soy oil can be used to make biodiesel. It really is pretty amazing.

Sustainable food – food that is characterized as sustainable tends to be local, in season, and potentially grown organically as well. Vegetarian food is typically much lower in terms of carbon footprint than meats, and tends to be healthier in addition, so is often lumped into the category of sustainable food.

Sustainable forestry – there’s more than one way to cut down a tree. In sustainable forestry, patches of trees are cut, as opposed to clearcuts made by conventional forestry operations. Trees are replanted as they might occur in nature, as opposed being replanted in perfect rows (makes them easier to harvest next time), as they often are in conventional forestry. In addition, more plants than just the harvestable tree are replanted into a landscape, so that the habitat returns to usable form for wildlife quickly, and the ecosystem can continue to thrive. Riparian zones along streams, where soil erosion can be expected to be heavy, are avoided in sustainable forestry. In GBO Hawai’i, sustainable forestry is a business you can start. Pays a decent dividend, too!










SUV – also known as sport utility vehicle, SUV’s tend to be obnoxiously large, get really bad gas mileage, roll over easily, are 50% more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than regular cars, provide drivers with limited visibility, and are hard to park. Oh, and they are also usually exempt from pollution control regulations because “technically” they’re classified as work vehicles. Riiight.

Synthetic – a term used to describe products that do not occur in nature, but must be made in a chemistry lab. When in doubt, avoid these in your consumable products like food, makeup and personal care items.


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

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