A Glossary of Sustainability

We decode green lingo, from “upcycling” to “LOHAS.”


triple bottom line (a.k.a. people, planet, profit): accounting that goes beyond revenue to factor in social and environmental costs

feebate: surcharge on wasteful products, plus incentive for alternatives. Example: Starting in 2011, California’s Clean Car Discount program will slap up to $2,500 onto the price of gas-guzzlers, and fund cash rewards for fuel-efficient vehicles.

dinosaur wine: petroleum

energy return on investment: the ratio of energy provided to the energy used to produce the fuel. Corn ethanol has an eroi of 1.5:1; sugarcane ethanol’s is 8:1.

lohas: Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability; marketing jargon for ecoconscious consumers, an estimated 1 in 5 adult Americans

basic browns: the anti-lohas crowd, now dubbed “apathetics”

light/dark/bright green: Light greens focus on lifestyle changes; dark greens focus on macro policy shifts; bright greens want to overhaul everything.

conspicuous conservation: $109K electric Tesla Roadster; Whole Foods’ $50 organic cotton T-shirt. Related: checkbook environmentalism.

practicavore: grows own food to save money

food desert: area devoid of fresh food, flush with liquor stores

walkshed: area conveniently reached on foot from your house

slow design: think slow food

freedom lawn: native plants and grasses

cradle-to-cradle: reuse or recycling of everything used to make a product

upcycling: sewing old T-shirts into area rugs

biomimicry: imitating natural designs to improve efficiency, e.g. finding way to store vaccines without refrigeration by studying how plants hibernate

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  • Elizabeth Gettelman is a former managing editor and public affairs director at Mother Jones. To follow her on Twitter, click here.