Eco glossary

balancing act
Keeping up with the Greenses

It’s easy being green, but only if you know what the heck everyone is talking about.

What if Al Gore suggests you reduce your carbon footprint? Or Leonardo DiCaprio asks about your plans to live off the grid?

Eco-vocabulary has gone beyond the three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle. Now, we have carbon footprints to offset and carbon neutral lives to live because of the greenhouse effect.


This primer includes some of the buzzwords and phrases used in our eco-hyper society.

Last year, the New Oxford American Dictionary named carbon neutral the 2006 Word of the Year.
“The increasing use of the word carbon neutral reflects not just the greening of our culture, but the greening of our language,” Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary, said at the time. “When you see first-graders trying to make their classrooms carbon neutral, you know the word has become mainstream.”

Danielle Throneberry, 25, a Prius driver and avid recycler, said “it’s hard to avoid phrases like carbon footprint,”

Green glossary

Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly to support human activities. In other words, when you drive a car, heat your house or fly in an airplane, you create a certain amount of carbon dioxide. Your carbon footprint is the sum of all emissions of carbon dioxide, which were created by your activities.

Carbon neutral: Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset.

Carbon offsets: Funding projects that reduce our emissions of carbon, such as paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power, in order to balance or offset the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere as a result of intensive use of fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Global warming: An increase in the planet’s temperatures, believed to be caused in part by the greenhouse effect.

Green living: A lifestyle intended to ensure that one’s impact on the environment is as minimal (or as positive) as possible.

Greenhouse effect: The warming of earth’s atmosphere as a result of atmospheric pollution by gases. It is now feared that the warming effects are being undesirably increased by humans, causing climate changes and melting polar icecaps.

Greenwashing: What corporations do when they try to make themselves look more environmentally friendly than they really are, like when they cover up their polluting practices with an eco-friendly marketing campaign. Sometimes companies greenwash by making misleading claims about the environmental benefits of their products and industries.

Off the grid or Off-Grid: Living in a self-sufficient way without relying on one or more public utilities.

Organic: Food that is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.

Sustainable: Meeting the needs of the present without damaging the ability of future generations to meet their needs. When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs.

Sources: New Oxford American Dictionary, Encarta, Treehugger.com; timeforchange.org, greenwashing.net, thegreenguide.org, Stanford University School of Earth Sciences; Organic Trade Association

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