Glossary of Sustainability Terms
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. STARS was developed by AASHE with broad participation from the higher education community.
Alternative fuel vehicles are an umbrella term for vehicles that don’t run on gasoline. The most popular alternative fuels are ethanol (such as E85), biodiesel, natural gas, propane, and hydrogen, but UNC uses mostly ethanol. Electric cars are typically not considered alternative fuel vehicles because ultimately their fuel comes from the power plant.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is an international technical society that publishes a series of HVAC standards & guidelines. ASHRAE is such a well-respected organization that its standards are referenced in building codes and most construction professionals use them as the rule of thumb. They’re not regulations, but commonly accepted standards of the engineering community.
Generally, biomass is a name for fuels that come from organic material. Biomass can be condensed to form biofuel (see alternative fuels), but it can also be burned, and used in a similar way to coal.
Compact Fluorescent lights (CFLs) are another alternative to incandescent, and they work by sending a current through the bulb, which is filled with argon gas. The argon produces UV light, which is converted to visible light by the coating on the outside of the bulb. CFLs are about 4x as energy efficient as incandescent, and last about 5 times as long, but the mercury in the bulb means they must be disposed of carefully.
Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or a medium to grow plants. It’s created by combining organic wastes with other organic materials and letting the material break down, stabilize, and mature. The result is fertile organic matter that can be used as a natural fertilizer.
Oftentimes, industrial process release gases into the air that are not carbon dioxide, but still contribute to the greenhouse effect. Depending on the gas, it may have a more or less powerful effect than carbon dioxide, but in order to understand it more easily, the CO2 equivalent represents how much CO2 gas would have to be released to equal the actual released gas’s addition to the greenhouse effect.
The planning of a structure such that natural lighting during the day is maximized. Daylighting saves energy and is easier on the eye than artificial lighting.
The percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfilling or incineration to be instead recycled, composted, or re-used.
Environment, Health and Safety at UNC is a number of committees and engineers responsible for ‘providing a safe and healthful environment for all persons associated with the University, including faculty, staff, students, visitors, and members of the Chapel Hill community.’ The department heads up health inspections and education for the public, and makes sure the University complies fully with State & Federal regulations and University safety policies and procedures.
Energy Star is a joint program of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy that aims to help protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Energy Star certifies products that are energy efficient enough to meet their qualifications, and also recognizes top performing buildings with the Energy Star.
The Environmental Protection Agency is the federal executive agency responsible for implementing the United States’ environmental legislation, including the Clean Water & Clean Air acts. They also provide grants to various institutions and study environmental issues.
The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a tool developed by the EPA to determine the environmental impact of electronic products over their lifetime, including disposal. EPEAT maintains a database of EPEAT-registered products, which must meet an environmental performance standard for electronic products.
Fair trade represents a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It aims to better the rights & conditions of producers and workers, especially in poor rural regions of the world.
A gas in the atmosphere that absorbs infrared radiation, keeping thermal energy from leaving the earth and instead radiating it back down, contributing to a rise in global temperatures. The most prevalent greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane, but others include nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3 ), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
A green roof is a layer of vegetation on a rooftop instead of the typical gravel layers. The green roof can act as natural insulation and act to slow stormwater runoff, allowing it to be collected with less stress on the system. They can also filter pollutants from rainwater.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) refers to the technology of indoor environmental comfort and temperature comtrol. HVAC systems in buildings are typically the biggest users of energy, and leaps in technology over the past few years means that HVAC systems can become outdated quickly.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are semiconductor light sources that have been used in electronic applications since the 60s, but are currently becoming the most energy-efficient source of indoor lighting. Typical LED lights are 10 times more efficient than their incandescent counterparts and can last up to 20 times as long. They also produce very little heat, unlike the incandescent variety.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an environmentally recognized framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance solutions. Developed by the US Green Building Council in 2000, the LEED rating systems are developed through an open, consensus-based process led by LEED committees.
One megawatt, which is a thousand kilowatts, a measure of power. Most electricity & heating facilities are measured in power capacity—the maximum power they can put out at any given time. Often, energy is given in kilowatt-hours, so if a 1 MW (1000 kW facility) runs at maximum capacity for 1 hour, it has produced 1 megawatt-hour, or 1000 kilowatt-hours.
Organic foods are those that ‘foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.’ Generally this means that organic foods aren’t genetically modified and don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. In the United States of America, a farm must be certified organic before it can use the label on its packaging. The National Organic Program is responsible for setting organic standards.
The Orange county Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) is a public, non-profit agency providing water, sewer and reclaimed water services to the Carrboro-Chapel Hill area. Because UNC approximates about 30% of the utility’s total demand, UNC and OWASA have a close relationship.
A photovoltaic panel is a solar panel which converts sunlight directly into electricity, as opposed to using it for heating water. Photovoltaic panels can be plugged into a building’s electricity system, thereby reducing the amount of energy bought from the utility company. Although photovoltaics in the past have been prohibitively expensive, cost and efficiency values continue to rapidly improve.
Water pure enough to be consumed or used with very low risk of immediate or long term harm. Water must meet water quality standards and practices in order to be considered potable.
Reclaimed water is water that’s already been used by a facility, but is re-purified to potable standards again and used in potable and non-potable applications. It’s different than gray water in that it is purified before reuse. In many cases, reclaimed water may have less risks than existing water supplies.
Renewable energy sources are sources of energy that continue to replenish themselves over time, such as solar and wind energy. Nonrenewable fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas, are finite resources that replenish at a trivially small rate compared to their consumption, and will eventually dwindle, while renewable energy sources won’t run out.
The Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee is a committee of UNC students whose role is to ‘increase the use of renewable energy and sustainable practices through funding of renewable energy, energy efficiency, maintenance, and energy education projects on campus.’ They serve to administer the Renewable Energy Fee of $4 per student per semester.
Stormwater is the blanket term for water harvested from precipitation or runoff. Because of leaching chemicals or sediments, stormwater must be purified to be potable, but still has a number of applications, from air conditioning to toilet flushing.
Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that exist in gas form at room temperature. Although VOCs are naturally emitted, they’re also put off by VOC-heavy paints, photocopiers, and other new applicances. In high concentrations, VOCs can negatively affect indoor air quality. They’re also a component in smog.