A Greening Glossary: Quick Reference

Just what is sustainability? What is "organic"? Do I have a carbon footprint? And what exactly does it mean to be green? The Green Glossary is a compilation of environment-related words and phrases and their definitions. View the Affiliates & Organizations page to learn more about the URJ, RAC, COEJL and other organizations referred to throughout this website.

Alternative Energy: Usually environmentally friendly, this is energy from uncommon sources such as wind power or solar energy, not fossil fuels.

Alternative Fuel: Any fuel with a non-petroleum source, such as hydrogen, ethanol, and vegetable oil.

Annual Consumption: Refers to the amount of electricity used by a consumer in one year and is typically measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). This information is available on your electricity bill or by contacting your energy provider.

Bal Tashchit: This concept teaches us we should not be wasteful in our consumption and we should consider the value of even the tiniest insect as it is one of God’s creations. (See the Jewish Text Quotes page for a complete explanation of bal tashchit.)

Biodegradable: Substances which, when left alone, break down and are absorbed into the eco-system 

Biodiesel: Diesel made with vegetable oil or animal fat. There are various blends: B20 is made with 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel, and usually requires no engine modifications.

Biofuels: Fuels made from organic materials, as opposed to those derived from oil and coal sources. The most common biofuel in the U.S. is corn-based ethanol. Unfortunately, corn based ethanol takes a large amount of energy to produce, and much of that energy comes from the burning of coal. Other biofuels, like cellulosic ethanol – made from switchgrass or other non-food crops — are more environmentally friendly. Sugar based ethanol, for example has eight times the energy potential of corn ethanol.

Bioware: A replacement for traditional plastic disposable utensils made from corn; it is biodegradable and compostable.

Birkat HaHammah: Literally “blessing of the sun”, Birkat HaHammah is observed by the Jewish community every 28 years to celebrate the return of the sun to its original place in the heavens at the precise time and day of its creation. Visit the website devoted entirely to the holiday and learn more today!

Carbon Dioxide (CO2): An atmospheric gas, composed of carbon and oxygen, that is a major component of the carbon cycle. Although produced through natural processes, carbon dioxide is also released through human activities, such as the combustion of fossil fuels to produce electricity. Carbon dioxide is the predominate gas contributing to the greenhouse effect, and as such is known to contribute to climate change.

Carbon Footprint: A measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. For an individual, the footprint can be calculated in a number of ways and takes into account various daily activities, such as travel, eating habits and household energy use. For an event, like the Union for Reform JudaismNorth American Biennial, for example, the footprint includes attendee travel, ground transportation, energy use at the venues and other items related to the production of the Biennial. To calculate your carbon footprint check out the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) calculator.

Carbon Monoxide: A colorless, odorless, and highly toxic gas commonly created during combustion

Carbon Neutral: A company, person or action either not producing any carbon emissions or, if it does, having been offset elsewhere

Certified Organic: Household products and food can be certified by the USDA to not contain chemicals at any stage of their processing. Pesticide-free food is generally the major concern with fruits and vegetables. For foods, the farmland on which they grow must have been free from chemicals for at least three years. (See also “organic matter”)

Climate Change: Any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate changes may result from natural factors, such as changes in the sun’s intensity or slow changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun; natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation); and/or human activities that change the atmosphere’s composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): (From the USDA) In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL): A type of lighting designed to replace incandescent bulbs. A CFL uses far less energy and lasts 8 to 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs. In the United States a CFL can save over $30 in electricity costs over the bulb’s lifetime compared to an incandescent bulb and save 2000 times their own weight in greenhouse gases.  Learn more about CFLs in our FAQ section.

Composting: A process whereby organic wastes, including food and paper, decompose naturally, resulting in produce rich in minerals and ideal for gardening and farming as a soil conditioner, mulch, resurfacing material or landfill cover.

Conservation: Preserving and renewing, when possible, human and natural resources. 

Energy Star: A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to increase energy efficiency. It provides Energy Star labels for electronic appliances that meet specific requirements for low energy use. Visit the Energy Star website to learn more. In addition, Energy Star Congregations can assist you in finding a certified Energy Auditor in your area.

Ethanol: Ethyl alcohol is the chemical compound commonly known as ethanol and is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is easy to manufacture and process and can be made from very common materials, such as sugar cane or corn. E85 is a fuel composed of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, used in vehicles with modified engines. It is one of many proposed methods of curbing the United States' dependence on foreign oil.

Fossil Fuels: Fossil fuels are the nation’s principal source of electricity. The popularity of these fuels is largely due to their low costs. Fossil fuels come in three major forms – coal, oil and natural gas. Because fossil fuels are a finite resource and cannot be replenished once they are extracted and burned, they are not considered renewable.

Greenhouse Effect: The process that raises the temperature of air in the lower atmosphere due to heat trapped by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons and ozone.

Greenhouse Gas: A gas which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Common ones include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These gases occur naturally, but large amounts emitted by human activities are adding to the climate crisis.Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halogenated fluorocarbons, ozone, perfluorinated carbons and hydrofluorocarbons.

Greening/Going Green: The activity of adding sustainability principles and considerations into the planning process of an event or organizational or personal lifestyle.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): The LEED Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development; water savings; energy efficiency; materials selection; and indoor environmental quality.

LED Lighting: LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs last more than 15 times longer, use less energy, are harder to damage and focus the light more than traditional incandescent bulbs.

Motion-sensor Lighting: Systems that turn lights on only when they detect movement in the area, thus saving energy by not lighting areas that are unoccupied. Bathrooms are typical places for such lights.

Non-toxic cleaners: Cleaning products that contain no toxic chemicals like chlorine, ammonia, butyl cellosolve and hydrochloric acid.

Offsets: A carbon offset is a carbon emission reduction project that helps decrease the amount of carbon dioxide that otherwise would be in the atmosphere. Verifiable carbon offsets are those certified by a third party for their methods of carbon reduction. The most common projects include investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation.

Organic Food: (From the USDA) Food produced without: antibiotics; growth hormones; most conventional pesticides; petroleum- based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. USDA certification is required before a product can be labeled "organic". Companies, including restaurants that handle or process organic food must be certified also. For more information about "green" eating options, view the FAQ section on this site as well as the EPA Organic Farming Guide.

Ozone Layer: In the upper atmosphere about 15 miles above sea level, it forms a protective layer which shields the earth from excessive ultraviolet radiation and occurs naturally.

Recycling: Taking a product or material at the end of its useful life and turning it into a usable raw material in order to make another product, thus diverting it from the waste stream or from ending up in a landfill (see landfill definition).

Renewable Energy: Energy supplied from natural, relatively inexhaustible sources including the wind, sunlight, geothermal heat, the tide, plant products or biomass.

Re-purpose: To convert an item from one form to another or to use in another format or product.

Resource Recovery system: A process that converts a previously consumed material into a new, useful product.

Reused Materials: Goods used multiple times for the same function.

Shomrei Adamah: Meaning guardians of the earth, this phrase captures the Jewish belief that we are charged with the task of protection and renewal of the earth.

Single Stream Recycling: Recycling that allows consumers to put all recyclable products into one disposal bin. Waste such as plastic, paper, glass, metal and electronics is later sorted by machines at the main recycling center and recycled for further use as another product.

Solar Energy: Solar energy uses semiconductor material to convert sunlight into electric currents. Although solar energy only provides 0.15% of the world’s power and less than 1% of U.S. energy, experts believe that sunlight has the potential to supply 5,000 times as much energy as the world currently consumes. Solar energy is clean and developing techniques for capture and storage will ensure that energy can be provided even on sunless days.

Solar-powered Lighting: Lighting powered off of solar energy harnessed from solar panels, or solar arrays, mounted on a nearby structure.

Sustainable: Systems that are sustainable focus on human economic systems that last longer and have less impact on the environment, particularly relating to concern over major global problems like the climate crisis and oil depletion. Sustainable goods can be used indefinitely without the possibility of depletion, and therefore complement ecological systems and ensure inter-generational equity.

Tikkun Olam: As the Jewish teaching that we are to repair the world in partnership with God, this is the phrase most commonly used when speaking about the Jewish obligation to care for the environment.

Tu BiSh’vat: As one of the four new years in Jewish tradition, the fifteenth (tu) of Shv’at marks the new year for the trees. Today, the holiday is widely considered to be the Jewish Arbor Day or Earth Day and is celebrated by planting trees, as they do in Israel, and championing environmental responsibility. Visit our Holiday page for more information about how to celebrate Tu BiSh’vat in eco-friendly ways.

VOC Paints and Products: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are found in many paints and other products. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain room temperature solids and liquids. These VOCs release toxins at low levels for years after application, in the case of paint, and are linked to many health problems. Durable low VOC and zero VOC paints have been developed by many manufacturers and are often identified by Green Seal certification. VOC contaminants can also be found in manufactured wood products and finishes, adhesives and upholstery. ReadBuilding Health and Personal Well-Being from URJ's publication Rejoice in Your Handiwork, Part Two, for more information about VOCs.

Waste Diversion: The process of diverting waste from ending up in a landfill through recycling and composting efforts.

Wind Power: Electricity generated from wind turbines, which produce no pollution from operation. Currently, about 1% of world electricity comes from wind energy, but it is the fastest growing form of renewable energy.

Yarok: The Hebrew word for the color green

Many of these definitions are adapted from glossaries produced by theEnvironmental Protection AgencyEnergy Star and the United States Department of Agriculture