Green Chemistry Vocabulary | October 2014 | Translation Journal

October 2014 Issue

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Green Chemistry Vocabulary



Over the course of the last decade, the media has coined seemingly countless expressions using green as an adjective. The following vocabulary will clarify some common misconceptions, adequately explain several technical concepts, and provide a unique reference for green chemistry terminology.


Key words: Carbon, environment, green chemistry, sustainability, stewardship


In the decade of the 1990’s, the notion of green chemistry was born out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to prevent pollution. The United States Government, many industries, and many universities continued to work on the initiative until John Warner and Paul Anastas published their 12 Principles of Green Chemistry in 1998 (Anastas and Warner 1998). These principles have been the cornerstone of virtually all green chemistry endeavors worldwide.

Although the color green is often associated with the environment, throughout the millennia the color green has been associated with life, renewal, well-being, and even prosperity in some cultures.

The US Environmental Protection Agency, on its website, defines Green Chemistry, also known as “sustainable chemistry,” as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generations of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.” (Green Chemistry 2013).

This glossary of green chemistry vocabulary was developed from a chemist’s point of view to be a desktop companion for everyone active in the field. While there are seemingly countless words to choose from, the vocabulary contains 70 commonly used terms, including specialized words pertaining to green chemical applications and processes.

Glossary of Green Chemistry Terminology


The environmental benefit realized from a particular project in comparison to the absence of the same project and its benefits.


The portion of the environment made or modified by man for human activities.

Benign solvent

An innocuous liquid utilized in chemical reactions or processes.


The increase in the concentration of a substance within an organism over time. Biofuel An energy source derived from renewable plant and/or animal organic matter.


A novel process, product, or implementable idea contributing to sustainability or even a sustainable development.


The sum of all living, non-living and other organic matter in a given area.

Black water

Waste water containing fecal matter and urine.

Carbon capture

Trapping carbon dioxide gas from its source for subsequent storage or other usage.

Carbon credit

A voluntary or compulsory credit purchase signifying that a company will offset or reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one ton.

Carbon footprint

All greenhouse gases emitted by processes, products, persons, and factories into the atmosphere. 

Carbon neutral

An activity or process which does not generate atmospheric carbon dioxide and may be achieved by a variety of means, i.e., sequestrating and offsetting.

Carbon offsetting

Employing renewable energy projects, technological enhancements in production, and sequestration to counter balance carbon emissions in a given area.

Carbon pool

A reservoir for carbon storage including forests, soils, layers of the atmosphere, biomasses, or marine zones.

Carbon rationing

A credit system (mainly personal) for carbon-based activities whose goal is to reduce one’s carbon footprint. In concept, credits can be bought, sold, redeemed, or traded.

Carbon sequestration

Literally, carbon removal from the atmosphere, i.e., carbon dioxide.

Carbon sink

A natural carbon storage depot, e.g., an ocean or forest.

Carbon tax

A tax on fossil fuel usage that emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Carrying capacity

The maximum number of organisms a given ecosystem can support indefinitely.

Climatic relevance

The importance and interaction of emissions within the earth’s different atmospheric layers.

Cradle to cradle, C2C

An approach aimed at keeping materials, products, and systems in a continuous, waste-free loop by reutilizing and monitoring final materials, plus modifying the ongoing process.

Cradle to gate

A partial-product life cycle which begins with raw materials and ends in a pre-consumer product requiring final fabrication. Examples: wood products, certain metals (jewelry), or polymers for plastics.

Cradle to grave

A product life cycle leading to final waste disposal with little or no material recycling.


The extreme, rapid burning of a material without detonation which is often important in waste storage facilities.


An active or even passive process in which a product or material is broken down into usable components.


Producing a product or material, as well as running a process, with fewer resources, while not compromising the outcome in terms of quality, performance, appeal, or functionality.


Reclaiming a material for reuse in another product of lesser value, however, the original product cannot be remanufactured.

Ecological assessment

An evaluation done to examine the condition of life forms in a given area, and the human activities which influence the ecology of the area under consideration.


A product, building, process, factory, etc. having a minimal environmental impact.


Electromagnetic radiation over various frequency ranges resulting from wireless technologies.

Embodied energy

The sum of all energies required for a process or product in a cradle to grave scenario. Does not include a reference to the molecular nature of product or material. 

Environmental impact factor, E Factor

A calculation done for chemical processes where the E Factor equals the mass of the waste(s) divided by the mass of the product(s). Water is excluded in the calculations done in kilograms. An ideal E Factor is zero, and typical values range from 1 to 100. The calculation dates back some 15 years and does not consider waste toxicity.


Raw materials used in manufacturing processes, chiefly petroleum products.

Flue gas

A gas rising into the atmosphere from a flue stack.

Fuel cell

A device generating electricity using hydrogen, or hydrocarbons, and oxygen via chemical reactions.

Gold standard

A global certification standard for carbon mitigation projects incorporating mandatory, demonstrable achievements in energy efficiencies, additionality, carbon offsets, and renewable energy.

Gray or Grey water

Waste water free of fecal and urine contamination which may be used for irrigating fields, laundering clothes, or flushing toilet bowls. Note, although gray is used for the color gray in standard American English both gray and grey are often used interchangeably (Gerba et al 1995; Surendran S. and Wheatley 1998). Green design. 

Although initially an architectural term referring to construction having a minimal environment impact, it can also refer to objects produced from sustainable materials, made from non-hazardous materials, or fabricated in a more energy efficient way.

Green project

One adhering to the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and the concept of green design.

Green water

Precipitation, which remains within the soil for crop and plant growth, i.e., the water does not run off, or is not channeled away for any purpose.


The processes a corporation or company utilizes to become chemically green.


Individuals gathering human consumable products from the environment while observing the principles of sustainability.


A compound consisting only of carbon and hydrogen atoms in various proportions.

LEED program [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]

Rates commercial and residential developments on a scale to achieve LEED Certification, which signifies compliance with many green initiatives, such as, stewardship, carbon footprint reduction, waste reduction, and energy efficiency.

Life cycle assessment

The evaluation and investigation of a product life-cycle from raw materials to ultimate disposal done from both an environmental and health perspective.

Low carbon project

A project in which there is a planned, purposeful reduction in greenhouse gases on a corporate scale.


The molecular-scale development of systems capable of performing specific tasks.

Non-renewable resources

Oil, natural gas, coal, and some radioactive materials collected in nature which are unable to be replenished.

Organic chemistry

A branch of chemistry dealing with compounds containing carbon as their framework or base.

Persistent substance

A substance which remains in a given area or environment in spite of removal efforts, time, treatment, or other suitable measures.

Post-consumer waste 

Generally paper and plastics recovered from the consumer waste stream that are then recycled.

Potable water

Water suitable for human consumption.


Spent material able to be collected, processed, and purified into other usable raw materials or products.

Regenerative design

Broadly known as cradle to cradle design, however, also includes important concepts of nature as a model and biomimicry. Regenerative design has its own 12 strategies for compliance and adherence to its philosophy.

Renewable resources

Fully reusable and generally free environmental resources, e.g., biomass, water.

Responsible care

Begun in Canada in 1985, now a global initiative by chemical manufacturers who comply with the movements’ own ethic and principles for sustainability.


Typically refers to capturing carbon dioxide from industrial processes, then storing the CO2 in sinks, reservoirs, or aquifers.


Maintaining, protecting, safeguarding, and managing environmental resources. Includes all those interacting with nature and the environment.


Synonymous with gray water, primarily generated from households and human activities.

Supercritical fluid

A substance forced to exist as a liquid, beyond its critical temperature and critical pressure, used for industrial extraction and purification.


Meeting current needs of all kinds without compromising, endangering, or impairing the needs of future generations of mankind.

Sustainable chemistry

Innovating chemical processes and products leading to the reduction and/or elimination of using hazardous materials [a life cycle approach]. Green chemistry is synonymous with sustainable chemistry.

Sustainable solutions

Those methodologies providing relief from past practices of unchecked waste disposal, the rapid consumption of non-renewable resources and pollution control.

Symbiotic approach

A mutually benefiting, shared-value methodology aimed at sustainability.


A toxicological term indicating the effect two chemicals have together, which is greater than either chemical considered alone.

Technical nutrients

Materials that are not able to be broken down in the natural environment yet are stable and essential to a particular industry who then retrieves and reuses them in a closed-loop cycle.

Toxic release inventory

An EPA report citing the release of designated toxic substances in the air, water, and land.

VOC, volatile organic compound

A compound, which easily evaporates into the air causing pollution directly, or indirectly by chemical and/or photochemical reactions that produce secondary pollutants.

Waste stream

The output of problematic substances from manufacturing processes, construction, farming, commerce, and households into the environment.

Zero waste process

One in which traditional waste is considered a resource and is reused or recycled back into the marketplace or environment for suitable usage.



Anastas, P. T. and Warner, J. C. 1998. Green chemistry: Theory and practice, Oxford University Press: New York, p. 30.

Green Chemistry, September 2013.

Gerba, C. P., Straub, T. M., Rose, J. B., Karpiscak, M. M., Foster, K. E. and Brittain, R. G. 1995. Quality study of gray water treatment systems. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 31: 109–116.

Surendran, S. and Wheatley, A. D. 1998. Grey-water reclamation for non-potable re-use. Water and Environment Journal, 12: 406–413.

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