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Glossary of Environmental Terms

The use of these terms and definitions varies largely from one author to another. The list below relies on definitions used by internationally recognized organizations (e.g. ISO, SCC, SETAC), environmental agencies (e.g. Environmental Protection Agency of the USA) or research reports of large groups of scientists and projects etc.
Abiotic Resources
Resources which are considered abiotic and therefore not renewable. Zinc ore and crude oil are examples of abiotic resources.

Ancillary Material
Material that is not used directly in the formation of a product or service.

See environmental management system audit.

Biotic Resources
Resources which are considered biotic and therefore renewable. The rainforests and tigers are examples of biotic resources.

A useful and marketable product or service that is not the primary product or service being produced. See also co-product.

The procedure by which third party gives written assurance that a product, process, or service conforms to specific requirements. See also registration.

Characterization aggregates classified environmental interventions/aspects within an environmental impact category. This step results in environmental performance indicators.

Characterization Factor
A factor that describes the relative harmfulness of an environmental intervention within one environmental impact category. A factor is a result of modeling environmental effects/problems.

Classification attributes are environmental interventions/aspects listed in an environmental inventory/environmental effects register according to environmental impact categories.

Close-loop Recycling
A recycling system in which a product made from one type of material is recycled into a different type of product (e.g. used newspapers into toilet paper). The product receiving recycled material itself may or may not be recycled. See also open-loop recycling.

A marketable by-product from a process that can technically not be avoided. This includes materials that may be traditionally defined as waste such as industrial scrap that is subsequently used as a raw material in a different manufacturing process.

Continuous Improvement
The process of enhancing an environmental management system to achieve improvements in overall environmental performance in line with an organization's environmental policy.

A deterioration in the quality of the environment not directly attributable to depletion or pollution.

The result of the extraction of abiotic resources (non-renewable) from the environment or the extraction of biotic resources (renewable) faster than they can be renewed.

See recycling.

The relationship between economic output (product, service, activity) and environmental impact added caused by production, consumption and disposal.

One or more substances released to the water, air or soil in the natural environment. See also environmental release, pollution and environmental intervention.

Surroundings in which an organization operates, including air, water, land, natural resources, flora, fauna, humans, and their interrelations. This definition extends the view from a company focus to the global system.

Environmental Aspects
Elements of an organization's activities, products or services which can interact with the environment (ISO 14004). A significant environmental aspect is an environmental aspect which has or can have a significant environmental impact. See also environmental interventions, environmental problem.

Environmental Effect
Any direct or indirect impingement of activities, products and services of an organization upon the environment, whether adverse or beneficial. An environmental effect is the consequence of an environmental intervention in an environmental system. See also environmental impact, environmental problem.

Environmental Effects Evaluation
A documented evaluation of the environmental significance of the effect of an organization's activities, products and services (existing and planned) upon the environment.

Environmental Effects Register
A list of significant environmental effects, known or suspected, of an organization's activities, products and services upon the environment. Also see environmental inventory.

Environmental Impact
Any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organization's activities, products or services. An environmental impact addresses an environmental problem. Also see environmental effect.

Environmental Impact Added
The total of all environmental interventions of a product or production system evaluated (weighted) according to the harmfulness of each intervention to the environment.

Environmental Intervention
Exchange between the economy and the environment including resource extraction, emissions to the air, water, or soil, and aspects of land use. If resource extraction is excluded, the term used in this case is environmental release. See also emission and pollution.

Environmental Inventory
An environmental inventory identifies and quantifies - where appropriate - all environmental aspects of an organization's activities, products and services. Also see environmental effects register.

Environmental Issue
A point or matter of discussion, debate, or dispute of an organization's environmental aspects.

Environmental Management
Those aspects of an overall management function (including planning) that determine and lead to implementation of an environmental policy. See also environmental management system.

Environmental Management Audit
A systematic evaluation to determine whether an environmental management system and environmental performance comply with planned arrangements, and whether a system is implemented effectively, and is suitable to fulfill an organization's environmental policy.

Environmental Management Manual
The documentation describing the procedures for implementing an organization's environmental management program.

Environmental Management Program
A description of the means of achieving environmental objectives and targets.

Environmental Management Review
A formal evaluation by management of the status and adequacy of systems and procedures in relation to environmental issues, policy and regulations as well as new objectives resulting from changing circumstances.

Environmental Management System
The part of an overall management system which includes structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procurements, processes and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing and maintaining an environmental policy.

Environmental Management System Audit
A systematic and documented verification process to objectively obtain and evaluate evidence to determine whether an organization's environmental management system conforms to the environmental management system audit criteria set by the organization, and communication of the results of this process to management.

Environmental Objectives
The overall environmental goal, arising from an environmental policy, that an organization sets itself to achieve, and which is quantified where practical.

Environmental Performance
Measurable results (see environmental performance indicators/index) of an environmental management system, related to the control of its environmental aspects. Assessment of environmental performance is based on environmental policy, environmental objectives and environmental targets.

Environmental Performance Index
A parameter describing environmental impact with a single figure. An index is usually calculated by weighting the actual impact level against a target level. Also see valuation.

Environmental Performance Indicators
Different parameters describing the potential impact of activities, products or services on the environment. These parameters are the result of characterizing classified environmental interventions/environmental aspects.

Environmental Policy
A statement by an organization of its intentions and principles in relation to its overall environmental performance. Environmental policy provides a framework for action and for the setting of its environmental objectives and target.

Environmental Problem
An environmental problem is a description of a known process within the environment or a state of the environment which has adverse effects on the sustainability of the environment including society. They include resource consumption and environmental impacts. See also environmental effects, environmental aspects.

Environmental Regulation Register
A list of regulations regarding environmental aspects of an organization. Also see environmental effects register and environmental inventory.

Environmental Release
See environmental interventions.

Environmental Target
A detailed performance requirement, quantified where practical, applicable to the organization or parts or combination thereof, that arises from environmental objectives and that must be set and met in order to achieve those environmental objectives.

Environmental Strategy
A plan of action intended to accomplish a specific environmental objective.

Interested Party
Individuals or groups concerned with or affected by the environmental performance of an organization. Interested groups include those exercising statutory environmental control over an organization, local residents, an organization's investors, insurers, employees, customers and consumers, environmental interest groups and the general public.

Open-loop Recycling
A recycling system in which a particular mass of material (possible after upgrading) is remanufactured into the same product (e.g. glass bottles into glass bottles). See also open-loop recycling.

A company, corporation, firm, enterprise or institution, or part or combination thereof, whether incorporated or not, public or private, that has its own functions and administration. For organizations with more than one operating unit, a single operating unit may be defined as an organization.

Residual discharges of emissions to the air or water following application of emission control devices (EPA 1993b). See also environmental release and environmental intervention.

Primary Product
The product or service which is the strategic focus of an organization. See also by-product and co-product.

Prevention of Pollution
The use of processes, practices, methods or products that avoid, reduce or control pollution. These may include reycling, treatment, process changes, control mechanisms, efficient use of resources and material substitution.

The process of re-using material for the production of new goods or services on the same quality level. If the quality of the goods and services produced with recycled material is lower, then the process is known as downcycling. See also close-loop recycling and open-loop recycling.

The procedure by which an organization indicates relevant characteristics of a product, process or service, or particulars of an organization or person, and then includes or registers the product, process, or service in an appropriate publicly available list. See also certification.

Materials found in the environment that can be extracted from the environment in an economic process. There are abiotic resources (non-renewable) and biotic resources (renewable).

The additional use of a component, part, or product after it has been removed from a clearly defined service cycle. Reuse does not include reformation. However, cleaning, repair, or refurbishing may be done between uses.

Solid Waste
Solid products or materials disposed of in landfills, incinerated or composted. See also waste.

A collection of operations that perform a desired function.

The process of weighting characterized environmental interventions against each other in a quantitative and/or qualitative way. This process results in an environmental performance index.

Verification Activities
All inspection, test and monitoring work related to environmental management.

An output with no marketable value that is discharged to the environment. Normally the term "waste" refers to solid or liquid materials.

Waterborne Waste
Discharge to water of pollutants.

View a flow-chart that interlinks the above terms

This glossary was prepared by Dr. Andreas Sturm - email: Dr. Sturm is currently with Ellipson Ltd.
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