Skip to content

A-Z Glossary of Green & Eco Friendly Words

Have you ever found yourself a little confused about what an eco friendly word actually means?

There are lots of terms out there now. Many buzzwords and trending terms that have become popular on product packaging and advertising.

Some eco friendly terms and words have really meaning behind them and are backed up by third party accreditation, whereas others are misused and added to packaging to make the product appear greener.

Misuse of green claims is known as greenwashing. This is when a claim, such as ‘eco friendly’, is used on something that’s not actually positive for the environment. This is a real problem. Many people do want to be more eco-friendly when making purchases, but are being tricked by companies.

Thankfully, this is starting to be cracked down on in the UK by the Green Claims Code.

With this in mind, it’s useful to know the real meaning behind certain eco terms.

The below glossary offers an A-Z list of all the sustainability terminology, green words and eco friendly terms you might find.


A-Z List of Eco-Friendly Terms

Anthropocene – An unofficial unit of geological time (called an epoch) to describe humans out of control impact on the Earth. Other geological units of time include the Jurassic and Triassic periods (although these are over much longer timescales). The Anthropocene is used to describe the time we’re living through now.

Atmosphere – The layer of air and gas surrounding Earth (and other objects in space) held in place by gravity. On Earth, our atmosphere stretches out for around 10,000km before you hit outer space.

Bagasse – The leftover fibrous material after sugarcane has been harvested. It can be used for secondary purchases for products and packaging.

Biodegradable – The naturally occuring process of a material being decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. In terms of biodegradable products, there are no set timeframes and specific conditions for this to occur, nor is there any guarantee that the degrading pieces are safe for the environment.

Biodiesel – A type of fuel made from renewable sources, including vegetable oils and animal fats.

Biodiversity – A ranging term to describe the variety of different species. It can be used for a specific location or ecosystem, or for all life on Earth.

Bioenergy – The energy produced from burning biomass, such as corn and soy.

Biofuel – An umbrella term for energy sources that come from living or recently living biomass. Biofuels can include biogas, biodiesel and organic matter of biological origin. Biofuel can exist as a solid, liquid or gas. It’s considered a renewable source of energy.

Biogas – Consists of a mixture of gases produced from the breakdown of organic matter in an anaerobic environment. This includes animal waste, food waste and plant material. Main gases released are methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. It’s considered a renewable form of energy.

Biomass – Any plant or plant-based material that’s used as fuel primarily to produce electricity or heat. Materials include wood, agricultural waste, energy crops and vegetable oils.

Biome – A broad term used to describe an area with a shared regional climate. This can span across large areas and even continents. For example, the tundra, grass savanna and tropical rainforest biome.

Bioplastics – A type of plastic made from natural resources. Most bioplastics are derived from plant-based materials, such as corn starch, potato starch and wheat straw, rather than petroleum used for traditional plastic. Bioplastics can also be made from fungi and algae. Bioplastics are biodegradable and renewable.

Biosphere – The collection of ecosystems where all life on Earth exists.

Bird Friendly – Refers to coffee that has been shade grown and in certain conditions, e.g. organic. Bird Friendly is a certified term that;s assessed by The Smithsonian Center in the US.

Carbon – A naturally occuring chemical element found throughout the universe.

Carbon Dioxide – A chemical compound of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms found as a gas. Naturally occuring throughout the world, it’s used by photosynthetic organisms, such as plants and algae. Since the industrial revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have been rapidly rising to levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years. This is causing changes in our climate.

Carbon Emissions – The amount of carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.

Carbon Footprint – The total amount of carbon dioxide (or greenhouse gases as a whole) emitted over a given time period for an individual, company, event or product.

Carbon Negative – Used for activities or to describe businesses who remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit. It’s not a regulated term.

Carbon Neutral – A term used by businesses when their carbon emissions are balanced out by the amount of carbon they remove from the atmosphere.

Carbon Offset – The action of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions by other means. For example, trees are often planted to compensate for industrial carbon emissions. There are other carbon offset schemes too, such as projects to reduce emissions at source.

Carbon Positive – Has the same meaning as ‘carbon negative’. You can be negative or positive if you remove more carbon than you emit.

Climate – The long term pattern of weather in a certain area or region. Climate is usually tracked over a 30 year and longer time scale.

Climate Action – A range of activities, strategies and policies with the aim of lessening the impact of climate change. Aims include reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, restoring habitats and reforestation.

Climate Change – A term to describe the recent and rapid change in global climate conditions and patterns. It’s become an overarching term of weather change caused by large increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Coal – One of the main types of fossil fuels. Coal is a black, sedimentary rock mainly made from carbon. It’s thought that many coal deposits originated in former wetlands that existed millions of years ago. The use of coal as a fuel exploded during and after the industrial revolution. It’s still the world’s primary source of energy. The burning of coal is the biggest source of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions.

Compost – A mixture of natural materials (usually biodegraded plant, animal and foot waste) that is used to fertilise and improve soil quality.

Compostable – Unlike ‘biodegradable’ and ‘degradable’, compostable is a defined and regulated term for the process of a material biodegrading under certain conditions and timeframes. It’s a human-led process. To be compostable, an item must naturally biodegrade into compost that’s safe to go back into the Earth.

Crude Oil – One of the main types of fossil fuels. Crude oil is also known as petroleum and exists in the Earth’s layers as a thick, yellowy-black liquid. Crude oil is extracted by oil drilling and other environmentally harmful methods including oil sands. Once extracted, it’s then refined and separated into different products.

Deforestation – The clearing of trees over a large area. These forested areas are felled to make way for agriculture, animal farming, mining, urbanisation and for the timber itself.

Degradable – Something that is capable of being broken down by chemical or biological means. The term can be used to market a product e.g. dog poo bags, but it isn’t regulated and is meaningless when it comes to the environment.

Eco Friendly – A catch all term for anything that is regarded as being better for the environment. This is not a regulated term and is open for misuse. Often used interchangeably with environmentally friendly.

Eco Tourism – also known as ecotourism. Involves travel to natural areas to support a local conservation effort, for example conservation of a rainforest or for a vulnerable species.

Ecosystem – The complex interaction of a community of plants, animals and other living organisms in a given geographic area.

End of Life – this is to do with a product rather than a living thing! End of life refers to when an item is no longer used and is either recovered or becomes waste.

Energy Efficient – The concept of using as much energy as needed whilst eliminating or reducing energy waste.

Environment – Used to describe the surrounding of the physical natural world. It can relate to an area of almost any scale.

Environmentally Friendly – A catch all term for anything that is regarded as being better for the environment. This is not a regulated term and is open for misuse. Often used interchangeably with eco friendly.

Ethical – Relates to moral principles, values and standards involving questions of right and wrong.

Fairtrade – A system of certification to make sure an agreed set of standards are kept between the producer and supply of a product to a company. The standards take into account fair prices, better working conditions and better deals for the producers, who are in developing countries.

Fair Trade – The general (and uncertified) term for trade between a producer and a seller through a supply chain that ensures relationships are fair and sustainable.

Fast Fashion – The name for cheap clothes produced rapidly and on a mass scale to imitate the designs seen on fashion catwalks and from big brands. Fast fashion clothing is often manufactured in factories with poor working conditions.

Forest – A large of of land primarily covered in trees and with understory vegetation. Tend to be bigger than woods or woodland.

Fossil Fuels – A type of natural fuel originating from fossiled animal and plant remains that have been buried in the Earth’s crust over millions of years. For the reason of this timescale, fossil fuels are non-renewable. Coal, oil and natural gas are the most common types of fossil fuels. These fuels are extracted, refined and burned to provide energy. The name ‘fossil fuel’ is heavily tainted because of their role in climate change.

Free Range – Relates to animals and livestock that have freedom to roam outdoors in a natural environment. The requirements of free range can change between animals, for example free range chicken has different conditions to free range pork. According to Compassion in World Farming, certified organic meat offers better welfare standards.

FSC – Stands for Forest Stewardship Council. There are 3 types of FSC labels that are mainly found on wood, paper and packaging products, but can also be found on clothing, shoes and cork items. The FSC Certified label ensures wood products come from sustainably managed forests with zero deforestation.

FSC 100% – Ensures all the wood-based material in the product is from 100% verified sustainably managed forests.

FSC Mix – Means the wood-based material in the product comes froma mixture of FSC certified forests, recycled materials and uncertified FSC ‘controlled wood’.

FSC Recycled – Ensures all the wood-based material comes from recycled materials.

Global Warming – Relates to the gradual and sustainable increase to the average global temperature. This is attributed to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the aim was to keep global warming under 1.5oC. More recently, global warming has been incorporated under ‘climate change’ which accounts for other changes in weather and ecological systems.

Greenwashing – The purposeful misleading of information to give the impression that a product or organisation is better for the environment than it actually is. Businesses use greenwashing as a communications strategy to paint their brands in a more favourable light when in reality their business is harming the environment.

Green Claims Code – A set of rules introduced by the Competition and Markets Authority of the UK government to make sure environmental claims by brands are genuine. It’s an attempt to reduce the amount of greenwashing.

Green Concrete – A type of concrete that uses waste or leftover materials in some capacity to make new concrete. Generally, this requires less energy during product and lessens the impact on the environment and carbon dioxide emissions.

Green Roof – The act of ‘greening’ or adding plants and vegetation to a roof top. This makes use of an otherwise dead space by creating a mini eco-system for the benefit of the local environment and the creatures within it. Green roofs are a fantastic idea and are also much more interesting to look at!

IPCC – Stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the international body to assess the science behind climate change. The IPCC publishes a comprehensive assessment and report every 6 to 7 years.

Logging – The activity of cutting down trees for their timber on a large scale.

Microbiome – The community of microorganisms that exist in a given environment. For example, humans have a ‘gut microbiome’ consisting primarily of bacteria and microbes that live and exist together with numbers in the trillions.

Microplastic – Small, broken down pieces of plastic that are under 5mm in length. These can be highly problematic in natural environments, entering ecosystems and even being ingested by unknowing animals. Microplastics have been found in every part of the world, from Antarctica to deep in the Mariana Trench.

Natural Gas – One of the main types of fossil fuel. Natural gas is extracted from the Earth’s crust to ultimately use as energy. If you have a gas hob in your kitchen, you’ll be burning natural gas.

Petrol – A flammable, clear liquid refined from petroleum, also known as crude oil. In North America, petrol is known as gasoline, or sometimes just ‘gas’. This is confusing as it is a liquid and not a gas, and shouldn’t be confused with natural gas. Burning petrol emits greenhouse gases into the environment.

Plastic – A synthetic material made from long chains of polymers. Most plastics are made from fossil fuels, including crude oil, which undergo intense, complex processes. Some types of plastics are recyclable whereas others are not. Plastic is not biodegradable, but instead breaks down into microplastics. You can now get types of ‘bioplastic’ that are derived from plant sources rather than fossil fuels.

Plastic Free – The concept of not using or not containing petroleum-based plastic.

PVC – Stands for polyvinyl chloride. A type of synthetic thermoplastic with many uses in the modern world.

Off Grid – Not connected to the main utility supplies, particularly electricity. Anything ‘off-grid’ will generate its own energy, power supply and sometimes water too.

Omnidegradable – Relates to a specific type of packaging that will breakdown in any given environment through microbial decay. Omnidegradable is a registered term and is technically compostable in an industrial facility. Read more about omnidegradable packaging here.

Organic (biochemistry) – Relates to anything that is or comes from animals, plants or biological matter.

Organic (farming) – A type of agricultural system that aims for increased sustainability and ecosystem health. The holistic approach integrates the use of ecological pest control, natural fertilisers, crop rotation and companion planting. Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides and fertiliser. For food and products to be labelled organic, they must be independently certified by a registered body, such as the Soil Association Organic.

Second Hand – Something that isn’t new. The concept of buying or receiving an item that has previously been owned or used. This is seen as more sustainable as it’s putting to use an existing resource rather than buying something new and creating more demand.

Shade grown – Usually applied to how coffee is grown. Shade grown coffee is better for the environment as it helps protect biodiversity and ensures rainforests are kept intact.

Sustainable – In a broad sense, it’s the concept of keeping something at a steady, maintainable level over time. The idea of being sustainable can apply to any and every industry. In every day life, being more sustainable will lower your environmental footprint and lessen the depletion of natural resources. For me, being sustainable means you care about the environment and all the living things within it.

Sustainability – The idea and actions behind the concept of being more sustainable. Sustainability allows us to live for today and meet our own needs without compromising or depleting the environment for the future.

Recyclable – An item that can be recycled for the material to be processed and used again.

Recycle – The process of converting an existing item or resource so it can be used again. Using a recycled resource saves the need to extract and use new, virgin material.

Reforestation – The planting of trees, woodland and forests on land. The term is used for the replanting of trees on various scales. The opposite of deforestation.

Regenerative Agriculture – Also known as regenerative farming or regen ag. A method of producing food in a way that has a lower impact,, or even positive impact, on the environment in comparison to traditional agriculture. Regenerative methods aim to create positive benefits by taking a rehabilitation approach to farming, particularly to soil and its organic matter. You can learn more on regenerative agriculture here.

Reusable

Rewilding – The process of restoring land to its natural state. It’s a type of conservation that involves reintroducing plants, trees and animal species to an area which then looks after itself without major human involvement. You can learn more about Rewilding Britain here.

Soil Association Organic – The oldest and largest organic certification organisation in the UK. Organic is a regulated term that must be certified by a registered body. Learn more about the Soil Association here.

Tiny Forest – Also called mini forests or micro forests. A small area of dense, fast growing trees. Tiny forests are being used more in urban areas where space is tight and land is often barren.

Woodland – A large area of land mainly covered with trees. Woods tend to be smaller than forests and with less dense tree cover.