Skip to content


What exactly is a carbon footprint, anyway? And how would someone go about harvesting daylight? All those "green" catchphrases can be a little confusing, but they're more than mere buzzwords. Consult this glossary to learn sustainability lingo:

American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment: a pledge signed by representatives from more than 600 colleges and universities. The commitment aims to slow climate change by neutralizing each university’s greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the problem of climate change through research and education.

carbon footprint: a measurement, expressed in tons or kilograms, of greenhouse gas emissions produced directly or indirectly by an individual or organization. Learn more here.

carbon footprint analysis: an estimate of the carbon footprint of an individual or organization, based on information about activities that directly or indirectly consume gasoline, electricity, heating oil, etc. Calculate your carbon footprint here.

climate neutrality: a state in which human actions have no effect on the planet’s climate

daylight harvesting: the use of photosensitive lighting equipment that switches or dims lights during periods of daylight, thereby reducing energy consumption

embodied energy: the total energy used throughout a product's life cycle, including energy used in extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, assembly and disassembly, etc. Learn more at See also life cycle assessment.

emissions inventory: an accounting of the pollutants released in a given area for a specified time period, itemized by source. See also greenhouse gas emissions.

energy performance contract: an agreement between the managers of a facility and an energy systems company to improve the facility's energy efficiency, using projected savings to finance the cost of the building improvements. Learn more here.

globalization: processes or trends that increase global connectedness and economic interdependence through commerce, trade, technology and diplomacy

green building: building practices that improve efficiency and minimize harmful effects on the natural environment and human health; for example, energy-efficient design and the use of recycled or locally manufactured building materials. Learn more here.

green roof: a roof that has been covered with waterproofing material and soil and then planted with vegetation. The vegetation serves several "green" functions: It insulates the building, reduces storm water runoff and counteracts the heat-island effect in urban areas. Learn about green roofs at UB here.

greenhouse gas emissions: emissions of gases that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Learn more here. See also emissions inventory.

LEED certification: a certification program that evaluates buildings using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. A building can be certified Silver, Gold or Platinum based on criteria such as construction methods and materials and the inclusion of energy-saving features in its design.

life cycle assessment: an evaluation of the total environmental impact of a given product, process or activity, based on its consumption of energy and materials, production of waste, etc. Learn more here. See also embodied energy.

low-carbon economy: an economy in which greenhouse gas emissions are minimal. Some sparsely populated or developing nations can be considered low-carbon economies. Heavily populated, industrialized nations may work toward a low-carbon economy through measures to reduce energy consumption. Learn more here about efforts to achieve a low-carbon economy in the United States.

photovoltaic solar panels: solar panels that use solar cells made of semiconductor materials to convert sunlight into electrical energy. Learn more here. See also daylight harvesting.

Principles for Responsible Management Education: a set of principles that promote corporate responsibility and sustainability in business education

smart growth: community development that promotes sustainabilty and reduces sprawl through strategies such as mixed-land use, increased neighborhood "walkability" and efficient use of space and facilities. Visit Smart Growth America to learn more.

sustainability: conditions in which societies may continue to use natural resources to meet human needs without compromising the abilty of future generations to do so. Learn more here.

sustainable design: building design that contributes to sustainability through features that improve energy efficiency, conserve natural resources and reduce waste and pollutants