Skip to main content

Do you know how to read 'green'?

  • Story Highlights
  • If you're trying to be eco-friendly, it helps to know what the terms mean
  • Energy Star identifies energy-efficient products that meet federal standards
  • Energy Vampires: products that use energy even when turned off
  • Low/Zero VOC latex paints that emit fewer harmful volatile organic compounds
  • Next Article in Living »
By Stephanie Naman
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(MyHomeIdeas) -- These days, you can't read a product label or menu without coming across the latest eco-friendly buzzword. Find out which ones impart real information and which should be lost in translation.

It's not always easy to figure out what a product is saying about itself.

But before you can walk the walk, you have to be able to talk the talk, so here's a green-speak cheat sheet for saving the planet on your own terms.

Adaptive Reuse: the process of adapting or redeveloping old structures for new uses to reduce sprawl, preserve historically significant architecture, and save resources.

Carbon Footprint: a measure of the greenhouse gasses your activities produce and how it impacts global warming. Factors include the kind of car you drive, the length of your commute, and your energy consumption. Calculate your personal carbon footprint at

Certified Organic: a designation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that food is at least 95 percent organic, meaning it's produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and eco- friendly farming techniques. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): an economic partnership between consumers who want safe, locally grown foods and small commercial farmers and gardeners looking for stable markets for their goods. As a member, shareholder, or subscriber of the CSA, you're helping ensure the farm's survival while also gaining access to your town's freshest foods year-round. To find a CSA in your zip code, visit Local Harvest.

Energy Star: a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that helps identify energy-efficient products and practices. By choosing appliance and products with the Energy Star seal, Americans saved enough energy in 2007 alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 27 million cars -- all while saving $16 billion on their utility bills. MyHomeIdeas: Energy saving appliances

Fair Trade: a movement to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainability by ensuring that exports from developing countries are sold at a fair price, the workers are paid fair wages, that manufacturers engage in environmentally sustainable practices, and that business owners promote healthy working conditions.

Forest Stewardship Council: a non-profit organization that sets high standards for the environmental, social, and economic management of the world's forests. FSC-certified products must meet or exceed these standards. MyHomeIdeas: Sustainable furniture

Freecycling: the act of giving at no cost (often through mailing lists) usable but unneeded items instead of throwing them in a landfill.

Green Label: a designation by the Carpet and Rug Institute that carpet, cushions, and adhesives meet high standards for low VOC emissions. The very lowest emitting products on the market are labeled Green Label Plus.

Greenwash: the act of misleading consumers in order to create a pro-environmental image regarding environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product or service, often to undo damaging publicity.

Hybrid: an increasingly common type of automobile that uses a mixture of power or fuel sources.

LEED-Certified: a designation by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System"! that states a building, architect, or material meets sustainable green building and development standards.

Low/Zero VOC Paint: water-based latex paints that emit fewer harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than regular latex paint. To be considered low VOC, flat paint levels can't exceed 100 grams per liter and non-flat paint (semi-gloss, gloss, eggshell, or satin) can't exceed 150 grams per liter.

Organic Cotton/Wool: eco-friendly bedding choices for sheets and mattresses. Be sure to look for the "Certified Organic" seal. Cotton can be treated with toxic dyes and synthetic chemicals in the finishing process and still be labeled organic. Another smart bedding choice: super soft bamboo sheets. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that is cultivated without pesticides and requires less water than cotton.

Natural Latex: a type of mold- and mildew-resistant latex used in mattresses that contains no toxic substances and emits neither fumes nor ozone-depleting gases. Its hypoallergenic nature makes it a good choice for allergy sufferers.

Passive Solar Heating and Cooling: a design strategy for using the sun's energy to heat and cool living spaces by taking advantage of natural energy characteristics in materials and air created by exposure to the sun. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, passive solar design strategies, like a large wraparound porch or a big overhang that blocks the sun, can cut heating bills by as much as 50 percent. MyHomeIdeas: Passive solar energy

Phantom Load/Energy Vampires: any appliance or electronic item that uses energy even when turned off. The average home has about 20 vampires that add about $200 to your annual energy bill and can use the equivalent of seven electrical generating plants. To lighten your load, unplug rarely used appliances and unused chargers, unplug electronics while on vacation, and use power strips so you can turn off several appliances at once.

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio): a rating by the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute for efficiency of air conditioners or heat pumps. By federal law, every central split cooling system manufactured or sold in the U.S. today must have a seasonal energy efficiency ratio of at least 13.

Slow Food Movement: a non-profit movement to preserve local food traditions, which are threatened by our fast-paced, fast-food lifestyle. The movement emphasizes home cooking with fresh, locally grown foods. Currently, the movement has 80,000 members worldwide.

Sustainability: a characteristic of certain products or practices that don't harm the environment throughout their life cycle. Sustainable products are produced with a minimal amount of energy and packaging and may be repaired or recycled after use.

Enter to win a monthly Room Makeover Giveaway from

Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print