A known human carcinogen caused by the infestation of molds, most commonly seen on legumes, including peanuts. The toxin has been found in peanuts and peanut butter as well as corn, rice, wheat, soy beans and sorghum. The USDA is responsible for testing peanuts and peanut products to insure that they do not exceed acceptable levels of aflatoxin. While new methods for eliminating these molds are being implemented, there is still some concern over the long-term effects of ingesting low levels of aflatoxin.

Alkylphenol Ethoxylates

A common surfactant found in laundry detergents. APEs can damage the immune system, and they are a suspected hormone disruptor, which means they can mimic hormones in the body that regulate reproduction and development. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also warned that ethoxylated alcohol surfactants, such as APEs, may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane, which penetrates skin. Tests conducted in 1997 by the Washington Toxics Coalition found that supermarket or drugstore labels are more likely to contain APEs than name brands.

Algal Bloom

A rapid increase in the algae populations in a particular aquatic region, often the result of excess nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers that run off into rivers and streams. Algae blooms deprive waterways of oxygen and kill off aquatic life. Such an algal bloom has created a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.

Ammoniacal Copper Quaternary
A less-toxic wood preservative made of copper, which is a fungicide, and the insecticide quaternary ammonium. Though the preservative is a healthier option than Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), its environmental effects are unknown.

A metal found in the Earth’s crust used in lead batteries and pipes. Antimony oxide is added to plastics, textiles, paints, metals and glass to prevent objects from catching fire. Large amounts of exposure to antimony can lead to adverse health effects including lung, heart, liver and kidney damage.

German certifier BDIH's "Certified Natural Cosmetic" seal requires the use of organically grown or "wild harvested" plant-based ingredients whenever possible, and it bans petroleum-based ingredients, synthetic dyes and synthetic fragrances. Animal testing isn't allowed, and manufacturers are encouraged to source fair-trade ingredients and use eco-friendly manufacturing processes. It doesn't specify certain percentages for organic or plant-based ingredients.

Benzimidazole Carbamate
A broad-spectrum fungicide used on fruit, nuts, lawns and ornamental plants. Inhalation and oral exposure has reduced sperm activity in lab animals.

Found in sunscreens to help prevent the breakdown of other ingredients that might be affected by UV rays. In sunscreens, it may cause photoallergic reactions and hives. Not only is it toxic to humans (if ingested), but it is also toxic to the environment—according to the National Toxicology Program, benzophenone has been found in surface water and groundwater, as well as soil and air, and may affect the liver and bone marrow of animals ingesting large amounts of the water.

A diesel-equivalent processed fuel made from biological sources that can be used in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles. It’s a renewable fuel that can be manufactured from algae, vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases.


Certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria and certain minerals. Biopesticides fall into three major classes including Microbial Pesticides, Plant-Incorporated-Protectants (PIPs) and Biochemical Pesticides. See Pesticides, Biocides


Blacksurfing is surfing search engine results using an inverted palette, with white text on a black body. Shifting a high traffic website, like Google, from a white background to a black background can save substantial energy. An all-white web page uses about 74 watts to display on a CRT monitor as compared to an all-black page that uses only 59 watts. See an energy-saving search engine that uses Google's custom search. The efficacy of this practice is hotly debated, so be sure to consult Mark Ontkush's post on the topic before you suggest using it.

Used in the manufacturing process of computers and computer components, cadmium is a highly toxic heavy metal and a probable human carcinogen that can cause kidney and liver damage.

Common bacteria that lives in the intestines of poultry and is rampant on both large and small farming operations. Campylobacter is the most commonly recognized cause of bacterial diarrhea in the U.S.

Cap-and-Trade System
A cap-and-trade system is a market-based approach to controlling pollution that allows corporations or national governments to trade emissions allowances under an overall cap, or limit, on those emissions.


Pesticides often used in flea powders, including the active ingredients carbaryl and propoxur, that work by disrupting the nervous systems of insects, and unfortunately, they have the same effect on birds—the Audubon Society reports that carbamates have poisoned over 100 bird species—and fish. They also interfere with pet and human nervous systems. Young children are particularly susceptible, since they crawl around on carpeting that traps pesticide residues, and have a propensity for hugging family pets then putting their hands in their mouths (carbamates are more hazardous if ingested orally than if absorbed through skin).

Carbon Footprint

The calculation of an individual’s, factory’s, or other entity’s impact on the environment, measured as the total amount of carbon dioxide. See Greenhouse gases.

Carbon Offsetting
The act of mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions you produce from your activities, from transportation to energy use, through payment of a fee to fund projects that reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.
A carbon offset is a credit that an individual or organization can purchase to negate a carbon footprint, thereby achieving carbon neutrality. Revenue generated from the purchase of offsets is typically invested in environmentally friendly projects. The purchase of carbon offsets is a fast-growing industry in the wake of compliance legislation and the development of cap and trade systems.

Carbon Neutral

To be carbon neutral is to balance the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a particular activity, like flying, driving or operating a data center, with an equal amount of carbon sequestration or carbon offsets from a third party. To be considered carbon neutral, an individual or organization must reduce its carbon footprint to zero.

A CGO is a Chief Green Officer. A CGO is tasked with all aspects of making an organization greener, including energy-efficient construction, e-cycling and e-waste mitigation, recycling, LEED compliance, OSHA standards and clean production, if applicable.

Clean Computing

Clean computing is when an organization's manufacture, use and disposal of IT equipment does not produce any harmful waste at any stage. Non-hazardous materials are used in chip construction and packaging.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)
A CFL is a fluorescent light bulb that has been compressed into the size of a standard-issue incandescent light bulb. Modern CFLs typically last at least six times as long and use at most a quarter of the power of an equivalent incandescent bulb. According to Arthur Rosenfeld, a physicist and member of the California Energy Commission, "If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), the energy saved would prevent greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to taking more than 1 million cars off the road."


A common household and agricultural herbicide, Dicambra can cause loss of appetite, loss of weight, vomiting, depressions, general tenseness and muscular weakness. It is an irritant to skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Airplane application increases the potential for exposure to humans, livestock, and wildlife due to air drift.

Diethanolamine (DEA)

Found in sunscreens, cosmetics, car washes and hand soap. DEA is a possible endocrine disruptor, has shown limited evidence of carcinogenicity, and depletes the body of choline, needed for in utero brain development. DEA can also show up as a contaminant in products containing its related chemicals such as cocamide DEA.
Commonly found in citrus-based cleaners, d-Limonene is a high-odor volatile organic compound (VOC) that irritates skin and eyes. It's also been found to cause tumors in laboratory animals.

Persistent organic pollutants and known carcinogens that work their way up the food chain, posing a threat both to wildlife and to people. Dioxins can be formed during the manufacture or incineration of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), in the process of chlorine-bleaching paper and as a byproduct of herbicide manufacturing. Dioxins are also endocrine disruptors, substances that can interfere with the body's natural hormone signals, and they can damage the immune system and may affect reproduction and childhood development. Furthermore, dioxins build up in animal fat, and we may be exposed to them when eating fatty meats, whole milk or full-fat yogurt. See Organochlorines

Data center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCIE
DCIE is a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a data center. Like power usage effectiveness (PUE), the reciprocal of DCIE, the metric is calculated by dividing the amount of power entering a facility to the amount of power used by the equipment within it. Unlike PUE, DCIE is expressed as a percentage. A data center's DCIE therefore improves as it approaches 100%. The metric was created by members of The Green Grid

Dot Green
Dot green is a shorthand way of describing the online green computing movement, including both hype and real innovation. The dot-green movement is considered to follow the dot-com boom model, with the same bubble of speculators profiting from the buzz.


E-cycling is the practice of reusing, or distributing for reuse, electronic equipment and components rather than discarding them at the end of their life cycle. Often, even non-functioning devices can be refurbished and resold or donated. Organizations such as Students Recycling Used Technology (StRUT), the National Cristina Foundation, and the Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) collect and refurbish donated computer equipment for redistribution to schools and charities around the world.

E-waste is any refuse created by discarded electronic devices and components as well as substances involved in their manufacture or use. The disposal of electronics is a growing problem because electronic equipment frequently contains hazardous substances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than four million tons of e-waste go to U.S. landfills each year. See WEEE

This French cosmetics certification program provides two degrees of labeling. Its "Eco" label requires that 95 percent of a product's ingredients are natural or from natural origin, that a minimum of 50 percent of the vegetable ingredients are certified organic and that at least 5 percent of the ingredients in the finished product are certified organic. Ecocert's more rigorous "Bio" Label requires the same 95 percent of ingredients to be natural or from natural origin, that 95 percent of the vegetable ingredients are certified organic and that at least 10 percent of the ingredients in the finished product are certified organic. Both labels disallow mineral oils, silicone, parabens or animal products, and the agency also analyzes a producer's manufacturing process, from the transportation and storage of ingredients and products to energy use and waste disposal.


An economizer is a mechanical device used to reduce energy consumption. Economizers are commonly used in data centers to complement or replace cooling devices like computer room air conditioners (CRACs) or chillers. Economizers can save money data center operators money by taking advantage of cooler outside temperatures to cool IT equipment inside a facility. According to, economization has the potential to reduce annual cooling energy consumption costs by more than 60 percent. Unfortunately, economizers are only useful for data centers located in cooler climates.

Endocrine Disruptor

Any substance that, when inhaled or consumed, behaves like hormones in the endocrine system and can interfere with reproductive processes, development, and other processes mediated by hormones. See Hormone Disrupting Compounds

Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)

A rating system for air conditioners that indicates how much heat is removed per hour for each watt of energy used. Heat is measured in British thermal units (Btu) and the rating is expressed in Btu per hour per watt.

Emergy-C is a low-wattage palette used by Mark Ontkush, a Boston-area blogger who frequently posts about green computing and sustainable IT.

Energy Star
Energy Star is a government-backed labeling program that helps people and organizations save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by identifying factories, office equipment, home appliances and electronics that have superior energy efficiency. The EPA estimates that if every U.S. household and business replaced old computers with new Energy Star-qualified models, more than $1.8 billion in energy costs would be saved over the next five years, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than those produced by 2.7 million cars.

EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool)

EPEAT is a ranking system that helps purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.

Fair Trade

In the U.S., TransFairUSA is the only third-party verifier of fair trade claims and certifies that agricultural commodities are purchased at above-market rates from farmers who have eliminated agrochemicals and pay workers fairly. The industry-supported Fair Trade Federation accepts member companies based upon their commitment to, among other things, paying crafts producers at least the local minimum wage and protecting natural resources. Members must reapply annually and provide documentation about material sourcing and labor policies.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The FSC is an international nonprofit organization formed in 1993 to encourage better forestry practices. Governed by representatives of environmental organizations, the forest industry and social groups from over 60 countries around the world, it is widely viewed as the most independent and credible global forest certification system. The FSC accredits certifiers (such as the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program) who then send out auditors to inspect forests according to FSC's principles. The FSC certification principles cover environmental, social and economic criteria, with certain requirements tailored to the specific needs of each regional ecosystem. Those forest operations that meet the criteria are allowed to display the FSC label on their wood. Wood products, such as furniture, made with FSC-certified wood may also carry the FSC label.


Found in cosmetics, cleaning supplies, solvents used in wood finishes and in particle board, formaldehyde is classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. In its liquid state, formaldehyde, present in the ingredients DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15, can be absorbed through the skin and nails. As a volatile organic compound, or VOC, formaldehyde evaporates when the product is wet; levels drop sharply once it's dry.

Although this term implies that a product contains no fragrance, companies often add fragrances to cover up its chemical smell. Furthermore, the FDA has no definition for the term, and because fragrances are considered trade secrets, the government does not require companies to include them in product ingredient lists. Consequently, consumers may be unable to pinpoint the specific ingredient causing reactions.

Poisonous gases used for pest control. Phosphene gas and methyl bromide, the two most commonly used fumigants, are both extremely toxic.


Geoengineering is the deliberate modification of a planet's environment by the addition or subtraction of a resource or energy input on a massive scale. Proposed geoengineering projects, often introduced as a means of combating climate change, have included space mirrors, sulfur-spraying in the stratosphere, cloud seeding and oceanic carbon sequestration.

Green Collar
Green collar is any kind of employment that involves products or services that are environmentally friendly. Presidential candidates in the 2008 election cycle have endorsed the creation of green collar jobs to boost the economy, like "solar panel installation, weatherizing homes, brewing biofuels, building hybrid cars and erecting giant wind turbines."

Green Computing
Green computing is the environmentally responsible use of computers and related resources. Such practices include the implementation of energy-efficient central processing units (CPUs), servers and peripherals as well as reduced resource consumption and proper disposal of electronic waste (e-waste).

Green Data Center

A green data center is a repository for the storage, management, and dissemination of data in which the mechanical, lighting, electrical and computer systems are designed for maximum energy efficiency and minimum environmental impact. The construction and operation of a green data center includes advanced technologies and strategies. Building and certifying a green data center or other facility can be expensive up front, but long-term cost savings can be realized on operations and maintenance.

Heavy Metals

Toxic metals or metal compounds that negatively affect health and the environment. Some heavy metals include: cadmium, lead and mercury. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters: Used in vacuum cleaners and air handling systems in order to clean the air in residential and work settings. They are designed to trap particles as small as 0.3 micron.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
A modified form of regular corn syrup containing increased amounts of the sugar fructose. HFCS is made when cornstarch is treated with acids or enzymes, breaking down the starch into sugars, thus enhancing sweetness and making a syrup that dissolves at lower temperatures.

Hormone Disrupting Compounds
Chemical compounds such as parabens and phthalates which create a disturbance in hormones that control the nervous system, reproduction and development.

Hypoallergenic (also "dermatologist tested," "allergy tested," "sensitivity tested" or "non-irritating")
For consumers with sensitive skin, moisturizers with any of these labels may seem like the least irritating option, but claims that these products produce fewer allergic reactions are unfounded. The FDA warns, "there are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term 'hypoallergenic.' The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean." There are no organizations behind these claims, and manufacturers are not required to provide evidence that these products do, in fact, produce fewer allergic reactions. The FDA also cautions that nearly all cosmetic products will cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive individuals.

Naturally occurring or synthetic compound in most foods including milk, meat, fish and eggs. An example of a synthetic hormone, rBST, is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production. Health effects of this hormone in humans are an increase in the presence of insulin-like growth factors. Naturally occurring hormones, however, are unable to be processed away.

A chemical used for insect, specifically roach, control. It is most common in the form of baits and gels. Hydramethylnon is listed as a possible human carcinogen and a reproductive toxin.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)

Currently used as refrigerants, HCFCs deplete the ozone layer and are being phased out in the United States. The UN Environment Programme estimates that exposure to the additional UV-B radiation resulting from 10 percent loss of global ozone could lead to 300,000 additional cases of squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer and 4,500-9,000 additional cases of potentially fatal melanoma worldwide each year. Increased exposure to UV-B rays also poses a significant threat to animal and plant life and consequently many of the earth's food chains.


A synthetic biochemical known as an insect growth regulator, which attacks the reproductive system of insects, preventing them from multiplying. It is of low-toxicity, but is believed to cause reactions in humans, fish and other animals.

This process uses electron beams or radioactive substances to kill pathogens, retard sprouting or spoiling, and otherwise prolong transit time and shelf life in meat, eggs, grain, produce, and spices.


Also referred to as isopropyl alcohol and rubbing alcohol, isopropanol is a potent central nervous system depressant that can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and eye, nose and throat irritation.

Lead acetate
A probable human carcinogen and neurotoxin.

Leaping Bunny
A label applied to cosmetic products that have been produced in accordance with the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals. This standard was developed by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, a coalition of eight animal protection groups, including the American Humane Association and The Humane Society of the United States. Companies with this logo pledge not to conduct or commission animal testing on either their products or the ingredients used in those products. For a complete list of certified companies, see


Used as an insecticide and in prescription medications for head and body lice, lindane is a known hormone disruptor.


Engineered facilities located, maintained and designed to assure compliance with federal waste disposal laws. Solid waste landfills are located away from eco-sensitive environments to protect them from contaminants in water, land and air. Often, they collect hazardous waste and gas emissions to be converted into alternative energy sources.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
Energy-efficient lights that consume 80 percent less energy than conventional, incandescent bulbs. Common in digital clocks, remote controls, watches and appliances, they are now being produced in bulb form as a home lighting alternative.

Monoethanolamine (MEA) (also ethanolamine and 2-aminoethanol)

Contact with MEA causes severe eye and skin burns, and inhalation irritates eyes, skin and respiratory systems and may cause asthma. Ingestion can cause central nervous system depression, increased blood pressure, sedation, coma, and death.
A greenhouse gas which stays in the atmosphere for nine to 15 years. It is efficient in trapping heat and is one of the primary sources of natural gas. It serves as a primary energy source. Methane is emitted by humans mainly through fossil fuel production and waste management.

Mad Cow Disease

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, is a fatal neurodegenerative disease in cattle that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. Consuming beef infected with BSE may transmit the disease to humans. In humans, the condition is known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.


A naturally occurring element from the Earth’s crust found in air, water and soil. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system of humans.

Mold lives in soils, plants, and moist matter. It produces allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins, known as mycotoxins, that may cause reactions in humans if exposure occurs. One known mycotoxin is flatoxin.

N,N-diethyl toluamide (DEET)
An insect repellant used widely since the 1950s. Although it is effective in repelling insects, it can be harmful if ingested, causing some neurological problems, including lethargy, confusion, disorientation, and mood swings. It is an eye irritant and may cause blisters, rashes, or other skin irritations. It has also been found in low quantities in tap water, evidence of pollution.

Mineral particles that have been fragmented to sizes below 100 nanometers; they are often used in sunscreens and mineral makeup products because they are less visible when applied to the skin.
Natural Products Association Certified
This certification is applied to products with 95 percent of the ingredients derived from natural sources (for instance, plants, milk, honey, beeswax, minerals); synthetic ingredients are allowed only when no viable natural alternative exists. Regardless of source, the ingredients must not pose any potential human health problem, and companies can't process natural ingredients in any way that could significantly alter their purity.

Toxins which attack the nervous system. They are especially hazardous to fetuses and children. High exposures can result in brain damage. The most commonly occurring and dangerous neurotoxins are lead, mercury, OPs and PCBs.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
Formed from nitrogen and oxide, it is a highly reactive gas. It is made when fuel is burned at high temperatures. The primary manmade sources for nitrogen dioxide are motor vehicles and electric utilities. It is a greenhouse gas which, along with other greenhouse gases, is causing a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature.

Power management
Power management is a feature included in many electrical appliances, like copiers, computers, monitors and printers, that turns off the power or switches the system to a standby mode when inactive. Power management features can save individuals and organizations substantial energy costs over time. Modern laptops and PCs have integrated power management control panels that allow a user to fine tune how quickly a screen turns off.

Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)

PUE is a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a data center. PUE is determined by dividing the amount of power entering a data center by the power used to run the computer infrastructure within it. PUE is therefore expressed as a ratio, with overall efficiency improving as the quotient decreases toward 1. DCIE is the reciprocal of PUE and is expressed as a percentage that improves as it approaches 100%. PUE was created by members of the Green Grid.

Renewable energy
Renewable energy is any energy source that is naturally replenished, like that derived from solar, wind, geothermal or hydroelectric action. Energy produced from the refining of biomass is also often classified as renewable. Coal, oil or natural gas, on the other hand, are finite sources.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances-
The RoHS is a set of criteria formulated by the European Union (EU) to regulate the use of toxic materials in electrical and electronic devices, systems, and toys. RoHS is often referred to as the "lead-free directive," although mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) are all restricted as well.

Silent Vampire

A silent vampire is any electronic or computing device that still draws power from an outlet through a charger, even if the device is turned off or disconnected. Adapters for iPods, cellphones, electric drills and other devices draw electricity even when not connected to the device. Use power strips for chargers so that you can make sure that they are all off;

Slush pile
A slush pile is a mound of mixed snow, ice and ice water -- aka "slush" -- placed outside of a data center. Chilled melt water is pulled through a filter and used to cool IT equipment, saving cooling costs.

Standby Power
Standby power is electrical power that a device consumes when not in present use, but plugged in to a source of power and ready to be used. Standby power consumption is the amount of such power that is used even though the power drainage is not apparent. The terms apply to appliances such as television sets, computers, computer peripherals, and various other devices, including those that use battery chargers.

Telecommuting is the use of telecommunication to work outside the traditional office or workplace, usually at home (SOHO) or in a mobile situation. Telecommuting can reduce greenhouse gases, save gasoline usage and associated purchase costs and reduce urban traffic congestion.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
An organic substance which can change to a gas form from either the liquid or solid state.

One of many petrochemical solvents commonly found in paint, like formaldehyde and toluene, which are classified as neurotoxins or carcinogens.

Zinc oxide
Found in makeup and sunscreen, zinc oxide is the preferable ingredient when looking to choose the proper sun protection.

A white metal insoluble in water, but soluble in acids. It is widely used as an astringent for mouthwashes. The ingestion of zinc salts can cause nausea and vomiting.

~Information provided by National Geographic's Green Guide.