Know the Lingo: Green Home Building & Design Terms

Want to be more eco-friendly, starting with your home? Brush up on your lingo and become well-versed on "green" buzzwords.   

It’s apparent that many people selling green or eco-friendly home building materials and products have no clue as to what constitutes GREEN, eco-friendly, organic and sustainability. Here are definitions of some of the big buzzwords in the green movement, to help you make better buying decisions for your next home building, remodeling or design project.


Of or relating to foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or hormones; e.g., organic eggs, organic vegetables, and organic chicken. The term is also used to describe something simple, healthful and close to nature, as in an organic lifestyle. You’ll find organic fibres used in furniture and fabrics, like organic silk.

Cruelty Free

A product that doesn’t contain any part of an animal, eliminating material obtained from an animal by means of cruelty and/or anything made with child labor or in a sweatshop anywhere in the world. Examples include veal or any other food obtained from animals raised or kept on factory farms, or any products made in a Third World sweatshop.


A product that is not derived from an animal and/or animal by-product. A vegan is someone who eats and wears nothing derived from animals; this includes any dairy, meat, seafood, leather, silk, honey. Examples of vegan products include faux leather and cotton fabrics for furnishings, and soy and palm wax candles. The Couchoid chairs (left) feature vegan upholstery, a "cow-friendly" leather look-alike fabric.

Socially Responsible

Products made in facilities that practice fair trade and are environmentally responsible. Products can also include those made from a labour force that is “disadvantaged,” i.e. women, the mentally challenged, or workers in war-torn areas.

/ Sustainable

A product capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. This is key in all aspects of the life cycle of any product. Examples include anything (building materials, furniture, fabrics, upholstery, etc.) made from bamboo, cork, soy or organic cotton. The Cork Family tables by Jasper Morrison pictured here are great examples of sustainable furniture, as the cork bark stripped from trees will grow back.

Life Cycle

This refers to the notion of a fair, holistic assessment of a product from all perspectives, including taking into consideration the raw materials used in its production, all manufacturing processes, all distribution (including all intervening transportation steps necessary or caused by the product’s existence), its use, and its disposal. The sum of all those steps, or phases, is the life cycle of the product.

An example of this holistic look at a product is the planting of soy beans, the subsequent care and harvesting of the soy, the transportation to the factory for processing (and all other transportation steps to get the product to warehouses and retailers and even shipping to a customer’s home), and then the final processing procedure to make the soy beans into whatever the chosen product is; and then, how the product is or can be used, disposed of, or recycled and reused.


This is the FULL life cycle assessment from manufacture (the cradle) to use phase and disposal phase (grave). This philosophy and focus of manufacturing on the environment has been focused on by designer/author William McDonough. Look for his books!

An example of this is a tree helps to produce paper, which is then recycled into low-energy production cellulose (fiberised paper) insulation, then the insulation is used as an energy-saving device in the ceiling of a home for 40 years, saving 2,000 times the fossil-fuel energy used in its production. After the 40 years of the insulation’s use, the cellulose fibers are replaced and the old fibers are disposed of, possibly incinerated.


This is an assessment of a PARTIAL product life cycle from manufacture (cradle) to the factory gate (before it’s transported to the consumer). The use and disposal phase of the product is omitted. CTG assessments are usually the basis for environmental product declarations in the products most people purchase for their homes.

/Fair Trade

Certified company and/or product the incorporates policies and standards that include a fair living wage for all factory employees, ample breaks, no obligation to work overtime without compensation, and a safe work environment with emergency protocols in place. Examples include factories in many Third World countries.


This is a specific assessment where the end-of-life disposal step for the product is a recycling process. From the recycling process originates a new, identical product or a completely different product. Examples include glass bottles recycled to make more glass bottles, old blue jeans recycled into insulation, plastic milk jugs recycled into carpeting, and old rubber flip flops recycled into welcome mats.

Green Washing

This is the dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image. Green washing is running rampant now as everyone is trying to jump on the green and environmentally-friendly product bandwagon. Do your homework, don’t be fooled, and buy green for your home.

DeAnna Radaj, owner of Bante Design LLC and its production division Eden Place Productions, is a designer who specializes in Integrative Lifestyle Design (the fusion of Eastern and Western interior design philosophies incorporating feng shui and healthy home principles).

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