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Glossary of terms

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive blueprint for global action drafted by the 172 governments present at the 1992 Earth Summit organized by the United Nations in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. It is often interpreted and implemented at a local level in "Local Agenda 21" plans. Find out more about Agenda 21.

Biomass is an energy resource derived from organic matter such as wood, agribultural waste, or other living cell material.

Biosphere is the term for the living components of the world that meet the seven characteristics of life: movement, feeding, respiration, excretion, growth, reproduction and sensitivity.

Black water is wastewater from toilets and urinals, which contains pathogens that must be neutralized before the water can be safely reused. After neutralization, black water is typically used for non-potable purposes, such as flushing or irrigation.

Carrying capacity is a finite quantity (K) that equates to the ecosystem resources of a defined area such as a locality, habitat, region, country or planet. A given carrying capacity can support a finite population of organisms. Stable populations in harmony with the carrying capacity are sustainable, but excessive population growth can lead to sudden decline and/or permanent reduction in the carrying capacity.

Chlorine-free paper is bleached without chlorine compounds that are harmful to the environment. The chlorine-bleaching process creates dioxin, a chemical by-product that has been linked to cancer in humans. Alternative choices are hydrogen peroxide or oxygen, both of which are alternative bleaching agents that do not create dioxins.

Clean design is the systematic incorporation of lifecycle environmental considerations into product design.

Downcycling refers to the recycling of a waste stream to create a new material that has properties inferior to those of the original virgin materials. A good example is recycled plastic (HDPE) panels made of multicoloured waste sources.

Ecodesign is a design process that considers the environmental impacts associated with a product throughout its entire life from acquisition of raw materials through production/manufacturing and use to end of life. At the same times as reducing environmental impacts, ecodesign seeks to improve the aesthetic and functional aspects of the product with due consideration to social and ethical needs. Ecodesign is synonymous with the terms "design for the environment" (DfE), often used by the engineering design profession, and "lifecycle design" (LCD) in North America.

Ecological design is "the careful meshing of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world and the study of those patterns and flows to inform human purposes." -David Orr

Ecological footprint is a measure of the resource use by a population within a defined area of land, including imported resources. Assessment of the ecological footprints of nation states or other defined geographic areas reveals the true environmental impact of those states and their ability to survive on their own resources in the long term. The term "ecological footprint" can also be applied to products but it more commonly referred to as the environmental "rucksack" associated with product manufacturing.

Energy efficiency is the ratio of energy output of a conversion process or a system to its energy input.

Fuel cell an electrochemical device in which hydrogen is combined with oxygen to produce electricity with heat and water-vapor as by-products. Natural gas is often used as the source of hydrogen, with air as the source of oxygen. Since electricity is produced by chemical reaction and not by combustion, fuel cells are considered to be green power producers. Fuel-cell technology is quite old, dating back to the early days of the space program. Commercial use of fuel cells has been sporadic, although they are expected to be widely used in atuomobiles and buildings over the next decade.

Geosphere consists of the inorganic, geological components of the world such as minerals, rocks and stone, and sea and fresh water.

Global warming an increase in the global mean temperature of the Earth that is a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases trapped within the Earth's atmosphere. Global warming is believed to have adverse consequences such as climate change and a rise in sea levels. The scientific community is in gneral agreement that the Earth's surface has warmed by about 1 degree F int he past 140 years.

Green design is a design process in which the focus is on assessing and dealing with individual environmental impacts of a product or service rather than on the product or services' entire life.

Greenhouse gases are any manmade gaseous emission that contributes to a rise in the average temperature of the earth, a phenomenon known as global warming, by trapping the heat of the sun in the earth's atmosphere.

Greywater is the waste water from personal or general domestic washing activities.

Hannover Principles are design guidelines written by Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart for the 2000 World's Fair that were issued at the World Urban Forum of the Earth Summit in 1992. Find out more about the Hannover Principles.

Hemp is a fast-growing plant known for its fibre and used in the production of shoelaces, parachutes and marine rigging. Like kenaf, it is an alternative fiber used in the making of paper.

Kenaf, a cousin to cotton, is a fast-growing annual plant, reaching 12 to 15 feet in 5 months. Each acre of kenaf can annually outproduce the amount of fiber in an acre of Southern Pine, one of the most productive trees used in papermaking.

Kyoto protocol a legally binding agreement adopted by the countries in attendance at the December 1997 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan. Delegates from the 160 industrialized nations present agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2010. The US pledged a 7 percent reduction, although the US Congress did not ratify the agreement.

LCA/Lifecycle analysis or Lifecycle assessment is the process of analyzing the environmental impact of a product from the cradle to the grave in four major phases: production; transport/distribution/packaging; usage; disposal or end-of-life design for disassembly/design for recycling.

Non-renewable resources are those in finite supply that cannot be regenerated or renewed by synthesizing the energy of the sun. Such resources include fossil fuels, metals and plastics. Improving the rate of recycling will extend the longevity of these resources.

Off-gasing is the term for emissions of volatile compounds to the air from synthetic or natural polymers. Emissions usually derive from the additives, elastomers, fillers and residual chemicals from the manufacturing process rather than from the long, molecular-chair polymers.

Post-consumer waste is waste that is collected and sorted after the product has been used by the consumer. It included glass, newspaper and cans from special roadside "banks" or disposal facilities. It is generally much more variable in composition than pre-consumer waste.

Post-consumer waste paper is paper that was printed on, used by consumers and then collected for recycling.

Pre-consumer waste is waste generated at the maufacturing plant or production facility.

Product lifecycle is the result of a lifecycle assessment of an individual products, which analyzes its environmental impact.

Recycled paper is paper than contains 30 percent post-consumer waste content.

Renewable resources refer to those resources that originate from storage of energy from the sun by living organisms, including plants, animals and humans. Providing that sufficient water, nutrients and sunshine are available, renewable resources can be grown in continuous cycles.

Smart products are those with built-in sensors to control the function of the product automatically or to make the user aware of the condition of the product.

Soy ink is the environmental alternative to traditional petroleum-based inks that pollute water systems and are products of the oil industry. Soy inks are created from natural vegetable oils.

Sustainable is an adjective applied to diverse subjects including populations, cities, development, businesses, communities and habitats; it means that the subject can persist a long time into the future.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs. The term contains within it two key concepts: the concept of "needs," in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

Sustainable products serve human needs without depleting natural and manmade resources, without damage to the carrying capacity of ecosystems and without restricting the options available to present and future generations.

Technosphere consists of the synthetic and composite components and materials formed by human intervention in reordering and combining components and materials of the biosphere, geosphere and atmosphere. True technosphere materials cannot re-enter the biosphere through the process of biodegradation alone. Synthetic polymers such as plastics are examples of such materials.

Tree-free paper is grown without using virgin tree pulp. Alternative sources such as kenaf and hemp (fibrous plants) which are readily renewable sustainable resources are utilized instead.
©2003 AIGA | the professional association for design | credits