Glossary

A

Additive manufacturing

Manufacturing objects by adding material (instead of removing material).

Anaerobic digestion

Breaking down biological material in an environment without oxygen. This process is used to generate biogas, which is used as a fossil fuel replacement for electricity and heat generation as well as conversion into gas.

B

Bio-based material

A material that is partially, or entirely made of biomass.

Biodegradable materials

A material which microorganisms can break down into natural elements (i.e. water, biomass, etc.).

Biological nutrients

Organic materials derived from and developed to re-enter the natural environment.

Biomass

Organic materials derived from plants or animals.

Biomimicry

Taking inspiration from nature to solve human challenges.

Blue economy

Movement for solutions being determined by their local environment characteristics, emphasizing gravity as the primary source of energy.

By-product

A material or substance created when processing or manufacturing something else.

C

Cascading

Extracting maximum value from a material through alternative uses across value streams.

Circular economy

A perspective in which the economic value of materials is optimized over time. This calls for minimal raw material extraction, reintroduction of materials already in the economy and no waste.

Closed-loop recycling

Recycling a product and manufacturing it into the same product again and again.

Comparative life cycle assessment

An LCA in which two or more products or systems are compared.

Compatibilizers

Additives that allow two polymer resins to bond and stabilize, resulting in an improved final product.

Compostable materials

Materials that can be disposed with biological materials and decay into nutrient-rich material.

Composting

Treatment process that decomposes organic matter in an oxygenated environment. The result is nutrient-rich fertilizer or soil amendment.

Conflict minerals

Raw minerals that directly or indirectly finance or benefit armed groups. Minerals most susceptible include the 3TG (tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) group and those sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cradle-to-Cradle®

A design framework focused on "eco-effectiveness" and positive impact of the product while reducing the negative impacts.

Cradle-to-Gate

An LCA that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product or process from raw material extraction through manufacturing.

Cradle-to-Grave

An LCA that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product or process from raw material extraction up through disposal.

Critical raw materials

Raw materials that are essential to the economy and have high supply risk due to limited quantities, suppliers and access.

D

Decoupling

Breaking the link between economic growth and natural resource consumption.

Dematerialization

Delivering a product using a percentage or none of the mass compared to the conventional product.

Depletion time

The time remaining before a natural resource is completely extracted.

Depolymerization

The process of converting polymers back into monomer(s).

Design for disassembly

Design principle that calls for the end-of-life options of how the product, components and materials can be deconstructed.

Design for durability

Design principle that calls for maximization of a product or service's useful life. Planned obsolescence directly contrasts this design principle.

Design for environment

Design principle that calls for the minimization of negative environmental impacts across a product or service's life cycle.

Design for flexibility

Design principle (most commonly applied in building design and construction) that calls for use of interstitial space, programmed soft space, shell space, expansion capacity, demountable partitions and mobile or modular furnishings.

Design for recyclability

Design principle that calls for the end-of-life accounting of how the product will be collected and recycled.

Design for repairability

Design principle that calls for products to be manufactured using fasteners, materials and processes that allow them to be easily be fixed.

Design for sustainability

Design principle that calls for the optimization of environmental and social benefits across a product or service's life cycle.

Digitization

Conversion of analog or physical products to digital resources.

Dissipative product

A product that cannot be retrieved due to how it was dispersed during use (i.e. paint, fertilizer).

Downcycling

Use of secondary materials that results in a lower economic value of that material that cannot be recovered.

Durability

Product characteristic that determines the length of time over which it maintains its value or functionality.

E

Eco-design

Design principle that calls for the minimization of negative environmental and health impacts across a product or service's life cycle.

Eco-efficiency

The economic value of a product or service compared to its natural capital costs.

Electronic waste (E-waste)

Disposed electronic and electrical products. These products typically contain hazardous materials and require certified handling and recycling.

Embedded impacts

The environmental and social impacts of a product, from material extraction through the use phase.

End-of-life

The life cycle stage during which a product no longer has value to its original owner and is then disposed of.

Extended producer responsibility

A policy in which financial or physical liability for end-or-life handling is placed on the producer.

F

Feedstock

A material or substance that is used as an input to a product or process.

Feedstock

A material or substance that is used as an input to a product or process.

Feedstock recycling

Feedstock recycling, also known as “chemical recycling,” is the process of breaking down collected plastics into monomers and other basic chemical elements (“depolymerization”).

Footprint

The impact of a product or service across its life cycle. One can calculate a product's carbon, water, energy and material footprints, for example. This is similar to an LCA except that footprints typically only evaluate one environmental issue.

G

Gasification

Creating syngas from char using extremely high temperatures and minimal oxygen.

Green chemistry

Designing chemical products and processes that minimize or eliminate hazardous substances.

Green engineering

Designing products and processes to minimize environmental impacts and protect human health without compromising economic value.

Green public procurement

A policy in which governments commit to buying products and services with environmentally-preferable characteristics.

H

Hazardous materials

A material or substance that has the potential to harm humans, animals or the environment.

Horizontal recycling

Material recycling that allows for reuse in a comparable function.

Hydrogenation

Chemical reaction using hydrogen, pressure, heat and a catalyst to create syncrude (liquid and gaseous).

I

Impact analysis

The second phase of an LCA in which environmental impacts are determined.

Improvement analysis

The third stage of an LCA in which solutions are evaluated for mitigating environmental impacts.

Industrial ecology

The study of material, energy and water flows through an industrial system and their effect on the environment, economy and society.

Industrial metabolism

The physical and chemical processes taking place in an industrial system.

Industrial symbiosis

The mutually beneficial exchange of waste and by-products between three or more parties.

Informal recycling sector

Small businesses and self-employed persons providing material recycling services with little or no legal recognition and low capital investments.

Integrated design

Design approach that convenes different disciplines across the value chain, building on diverse viewpoints early in the process.

Integrated waste management

Managing solid waste from the point of consumer disposal through collection, sorting, reuse and recycling.

Inventory analysis

The first stage of an LCA in which the inputs and outputs (materials, energy, water, economic value, etc.) of the system are identified.

J

Jidoka (autonomation)

A Japanese manufacturing strategy that uses autonomation to increase output while minimizing errors.

Just-in-time manufacturing

Manufacturing strategy to reduce wasted time and resources by providing products or services as they are needed by the next step in the production process.

K

Kaizen

A Japanese continuous improvement strategy that rests on the following principles: good processes bring good results, learn by seeing, speak with data, manage by facts, identify and correct root causes of problems and work as a team.

L

Landfilling

The disposal and burying of solid waste. The degradation of the waste results in the creation of local air and water pollution.

Lean manufacturing

A manufacturing strategy that aims to minimize all waste (i.e. time, money, resources) through high quality processes.

Leasing

A service model in which the customer pays for continuous access to a product over an agreed period of time.

Life cycle

All of the stages that a product goes through in its lifetime: raw material extraction, processing, manufacturing, use, end-of-life and transportation.

Life cycle assessment

A method to evaluate the environmental impacts of a product or system over its life cycle. An LCA is typically done in three parts: (1) Inventory Analysis, (2) Impact Assessment, (3) Improvement Analysis.

Life cycle cost

A method to evaluate the financial impacts of a product or system over its life cycle.

Life cycle management

The integration of life cycle thinking into decision-making.

Life cycle thinking

Approach of accounting for economic, environmental and social impacts across all stages of a product or services life cycle.

Lifetime extension

Product characteristics that lengthen the time over which that product continues to serve its originally intended function.

Linear risk

The risk a company faces when depending on the conventional "take-make-dispose" economic model.

Local materials

Materials that are extracted and processed within the same region they are being purchased. Specific distances depend on the material, process and objectives.

Lock-in

Situation in which an established design or manufacturing process discourages innovation.

M

Material flow

The quantity and rate at which materials move through a system (i.e. city, company, etc.)

Material flow analysis (MFA)

A method to evaluate the material flows into and out of a system.

Metabolic analysis

A study of the physical and chemical processes within an industrial system.

Mineral

An inorganic physical material with a specific chemical make-up.

Misconsumption

Consumption that is not in the best interest of the consumer.

Modular design

Design principle that calls for products to be manufactured using a set of components that can be individually replaced, preventing entire products from becoming useless.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

Waste that is generated by households, schools, hospitals and businesses in a given city or region.

N

Natural capital

The stock of renewable and non-renewable resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people.

O

Open loop recycling

Recycling product A and manufacturing it into product B.

Ore

Naturally found earth that contains economically valuable minerals.

P

Packaging (Primary)

Packaging in contact with the product (plastic sack holding cereal).

Packaging (Secondary)

Packaging that contains one or more primary packages (cereal boxes).

Packaging (Tertiary)

Packaging that contains one or more secondary packages (plastic wrap for a palette of cereal boxes).

Pay for performance

Service model in which payment is tied to the quantity or quality of service the customer receives. 

Planetary boundaries

The environmental limits within which humans can safely live.

Planned obsolescence

Business strategy to shorten the consumer's ownership period in order to increase sales volume. This is accomplished through poor quality manufacturing, an accelerated product succession timeline or compelling marketing campaigns.

Poka-Yoke (error proofing)

A Japanese manufacturing strategy of error-proofing through controls to prevent, detect and abate.

Prefabrication

Practice of manufacturing building components and assemblies in a factory and transporting the product to the construction site for installation.

Pyrolysis

Chemical decomposition of organic materials through the application of heat in the absence of oxygen, creating syngas and liquid fuels.

R

Rare earth metals

A group of 17 metals that are economically difficult to extract due to low concentrations in nature.

Raw materials

Crude or virgin materials that are used in product manufacturing or processing.

Reclaimed materials

Discarded materials that are recovered and used in another process or product, requiring only minor alterations and or refinishing. 

Recovery

Process of extracting material, energy or water from the waste stream for reuse or recycling.

Recyclable materials

Materials that can be recycled.

Recycled content

The portion of a product that is made from recovered and recycled materials.

Recycling

The collection, sorting and processing of disposed materials for use in another manufacturing process.

Refurbished materials

Discarded materials or products that are topically repaired, refinished and sanitized to serve their original function.

Regenerative design

A design principle that calls for products or services to contribute to ecosystem health.

Regenerative economy

A scenario in which products and services replenish their own sources of energy, water and materials in a closed-loop system.

Remanufacturing

Process of recovery, disassembly, repair and sanitizing components or parts for resale and reuse.

Renewable resources

Materials, energy and water sources that replenish themselves after human extraction within a finite amount of time.

Resource efficiency

A percentage of the total resources consumed that make up the final product or service.

Resource productivity

The economic value created per unit of resource.

Resource value optimization

Maximizing the economic value that is created per unit of resource, over multiple lifetimes.

Reuse

Using a product or material again, either for the same or an alternative function.

Reverse logistics

Process of collecting and aggregating products, components or materials at the end-of-life for reuse, recycling and returns.

S

Secondary materials marketplace

Store that facilitates the exchange of secondary raw materials.

Secondary raw materials

Waste materials that are recovered, recycled and reprocessed for use as raw materials.

Sharing model

Business model based on the sharing of under-used assets as a service.

Social life cycle assessment

A method to assess the social and sociological impacts of a product or service across its entire life cycle.

Standardization

Establishing uniformity across manufacturing processes to minimize errors and save costs.

Stock (reservoir)

The total volume or mass of material in a system (i.e. industrial, municipal, organizational, etc.).

Streamlined life cycle assessment

A simplified version of an LCA that focuses on the most significant environmental impacts of a product or system.

Subtractive manufacturing

The manufacturing of an object by removing mass from the original form. Sculpting from a stone block is an example of subtractive manufacturing.

Sustainable consumption

The use of goods and services that address the requirements of today's population without compromising the needs of future generations to meet theirs.

Sustainable materials management

Management approach that calls for the the reduction of environmental impacts without compromising economic productivity or social equity.

Sustainably sourced bio-materials

The procurement of forestry and agricultural products from suppliers that minimize environmental impacts and protect and enhance nature and biodiversity.

Syncrude

Short for "synthetic crude," syncrude is an oil substance produced via hydrogenation and hydrotreating.

Syngas

Short for "synthesis gas," syngas is gas mixture produced via gasification of a fuel containing carbon.

Systems thinking

An approach that accounts for the interdependence and evolution of system elements.

T

Take-back program

An initiative to collect used products or materials from consumers and reintroduce them to the original processing and manufacturing cycle.

Technical nutrients

Man-made materials designed to be long-lasting and reused.

U

Upcycle

Use of secondary products, components or materials that results a higher economic value of that material.

Urban mining

Process of extracting useful materials from city waste stocks.

W

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)

See "Electronic waste"

Waste hierarchy

The priority order available for managing wastes, ranked in descending order of preference, based on the best environmental outcome across the lifecycle of the material. (1) Prevention, (2) Reduce, (3) Reuse, (4) Recycle, (5) Incineration, (6) Landfill.

Waste to energy

Process of treating waste that creates energy in the form of electricity, heat or fuel.

Wastewater

Spent or used water that contains dissolved or suspended solids.

Z

Zero waste

Program to divert all (at least 95%) waste from landfill. The scope of zero waste may or may not include incineration depending on reference.