’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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Tax incentives – tax breaks and other incentives are often used by governments to steer the direction of the economy in a way that it deems appropriate. In the sustainability community, tax incentives for things like solar installations are quite common. The logic is that if a community is completely dependent on foreign sources of energy (as Hawai’i is), the state loses all the money it pays for power every month. If the state is able to subsidize solar and have people generating their own electricity, then hypothetically those people recycle their money into the community, creating jobs, and contributing back to the tax base locally, so the tax incentive pays for itself. As a side benefit, the air is cleaner, and price fluctuations for imported fuels are minimized. Tax incentives are often criticized by the conservative side of the political spectrum, but the bottom line is that no source of power has ever launched in the United States without substantial tax incentives and subsidies. And in the case of sustainable sources, like solar, there are many side benefits beyond just creating a local tax base that help justify the expense.

Tesla Roadster – in the development of sustainability as a science and a guiding principle for business, there has perhaps never been a stronger move to create a “sexy” green product as this one. The all electric Roadster goes 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.

Toxic Release Inventory – a disclosure made by companies about the toxic emissions they put out annually in the U.S. Companies must disclose the amount of chemicals they release to air, water, and soil that are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as toxic, either because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, suspected or known carcinogens, or have other public health implications serious enough to merit listing. Lead emissions and mercury emissions are examples. There is no financial obligation that comes with disclosure (taxes, fees, etc.), so the TRI has been criticized for completely lacking teeth in protecting human health. However, given the minute quantities of these chemicals that are emitted compared with much easier to measure pollutants like carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, the compromise set by regulators was to require disclosure, and hope that companies would do the right thing and move to reduce or eliminate toxics. According to the State of Green Business Report 2012, however, toxic releases have seen a tremendous jump over the last 2 years and show no signs of letting up. Much of this is due to zinc mining and gold mining in Alaska, as those two precious metals have risen in market demand and therefore are highly profitable to mine. See more about the Toxic Release Inventory here on the EPA’s website.

Transportation Review – Conducting frequently by local (typically state) governments, transportation reviews bring together stakeholders from across the spectrum to give public comment and help guide the state toward meeting its transportation needs, whether that be building new roads, implementing light rail, gearing certain areas for increased density and walkability, or building bike lanes. A good transportation review can go a long way toward making a community less reliant on fossil fuels and more liveable, where neighborhoods and local businesses thrive. A bad transporation review can do just the opposite–more sprawl, more roads, more traffic, more pollution, and more congestion. In GBO Hawai’i, the sustainability board game, these two policies can come into play, and affect businesses run by alternative transportation entrepreneurs, such as bike shops and carsharing services.

A card from the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. In this case, businesses run by alternative transporation entrepreneurs benefit from a favorable transportation review public policy.

Triclosan – the antibiotic that is typically used in soaps that claim to be effective in killing germs. The challenge with antibacterial soaps is that their use helps breed antibiotic resistant superbugs because of its persistent, low level application (i.e., people washing their hands). The truth of the matter is that, as soon as you touch something, your hand is full of germs again, so antibacterial soaps are at best an expensive and unnecessary item unless you’re working in a hospital or around particularly nasty bacteria.




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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