This glossary defines technical terminology relevant to Public Health, Green Building, and Climate Change. Please email suggested edits and additions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Public Health

Chronic Diseases are diseases that persist over a long period of time—generally defined as 3 or more months. As average longevity increased during the 20th century, the major disease burden (both in the U.S. and globally) shifted from acute, infectious diseases (such as smallpox) to chronic, non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes mellitus.

Co-Benefits refer to additional benefits associated with a policy, intervention, or design decision that are not directly related to its primary purpose. For example, policies incentivizing alternative transportation may have associated health co-benefits by increasing physical activity among users.

Environmental Health, or Environmental Public Health, is the branch of public health that studies the effect of the natural and built environment on human health. These effects may include land use configurations that promote or deter physical exercise, environmental exposure to toxic chemicals, and/or conditions in the natural environment that foster or prevent the breeding of disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes.

Environmental Public Health Indicators (EPHIs) are data sets that can be used to assess the relationship between human health and the environment in a particular population. They are often used in sets, combining indicators of environmental hazards, environmental exposure, health effects, and policies or interventions to paint a comprehensive picture of a population's health status in relation to a specific environmental hazard.

Epidemiology is the study of factors contributing to the prevalence of health and disease at the population level. It distinguishes between Association—the observation that two or more attributes appear to occur more often that would be expected due to chance alone—and Causation—the probability that there is a direct or indirect relationship between one or more attributes and the outcome under study.

GIS, or Geographic Information System, refers to a computing system that links databases of specific attributes (such as mortality rates, demographic information, and land use characteristics) with geographic locations. GIS allows users to assess the potential spatial associations of one or several conditions, such as the spatial distribution of the residences of and schools attended by asthmatic children relative to the location of heavily trafficked roadways.

Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) use a systematic methodology to assess the potential effects of a project or policy on the health of a population. HIAs should be conducted early in the project, so that their recommendations can inform the decision-making process.

Infectious Diseases, or Communicable Diseases, are transmitted through contact between a pathogen (such as a virus or bacteria) and a host.

Morbidity and Mortality Rates are commonly used quantitative measurements in public health. Morbidity refers to the relative incidence of a diseased condition in a population, whereas Mortality refers to the relative incidence of death in a population. Mortality rates may be specific to a disease or identified as "all cause."

Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic Chemicals (PBTs) are pollutants that, once having entered the environment, do not break down easily and have a tendency to bioaccumulate in the food chain. For example, pregnant women have been advised to avoid fish high up the food chain such as salmon and tuna in order to reduce the risk of exposing the developing fetus to mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

Public Health, or Community Health, is the practice of protecting health and preventing disease at the community, or population level. It emphasizes disease prevention through community-wide programs such as vaccination, water sanitation, and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Vector-Borne Diseases are infectious diseases that are transmitted by a third-party animal, usually an insect such as a mosquito or tick. Examples include West Nile Virus, Malaria, Dengue, and Lyme Disease.

Vulnerable Populations are individuals who are at higher risk of adverse health outcomes than the general population. Some populations, such as children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, are more vulnerable to most hazards. However, vulnerability may also be conditional. For example, a family living in a floodplain is more vulnerable to flooding than an elderly individual living on higher ground.

Waterborne Diseases are infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, Polio, Cholera, and Giardia that can be contracted by coming in contact with waterborne pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa, worms, and toxic chemicals.

Green Building

This website uses the terms Green Building, Environmental Sustainability, and Sustainable Development interchangeably to refer to an approach to decision-making, called Triple Bottom Line, that looks for equilibrium between the sometimes competing priorities of the natural environment, the local and national economy, and the need to strive for greater social equity.

Alternative Transportation refers to modes of transportation that use less fossil fuels than conventional single-occupancy vehicles and commercial air travel. Examples include: walking, cycling, public transit, telecommuting, carpooling, commuter and long-distance rail, etc.

Biomimicry is the study of translating biological phenomena in the natural world into sustainable solutions to engineering challenges.

Biophilia is the scientific hypothesis developed by E.O. Wilson that humans share an instinctive bond with the natural world.

Black Water is non-potable water that contains organic material, such as human waste.

Brownfields are sites that have been contaminated through industrial or commercial uses to such an extent that remediation is required before they can be reused. For more information, see the U.S. EPA website.

Building Commissioning refers to a quality assurance process that assesses how closely the building systems as installed meet design requirements. In green building projects, commissioning generally emphasizes energy efficiency and renewable energy installations. Commissioning the building envelope is an emerging topic, because of its assistance in reducing the risk of moisture build-up leading to mold growth.

Building Envelope is the outer skin of a building, protecting the interior environment from the effect of exterior elements such as rain, solar radiation, and wind. It may be formed by a combination of windows, exterior cladding such as brick veneer, insulation, waterproofing, etc.

A Charrette is a brainstorming session that is carried out during the design process that facilitates cooperation among design team members, often setting the stage for a long-term integrated design process.

Construction Waste Management is the practice of minimizing the amount of construction waste that is deposited in landfills.

Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) is a term developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart to reflect the need to produce products that can be endlessly recycled. In order to do this, they argue that products derived from the natural world should be separated from products derived from industry, so that each generation and regeneration cycle can function independently from the other.

Domestic Water is potable water that is used by building occupants, whether through consumption, food preparation, bathing, etc.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) refers to purchasing practices that prioritize local products, products with recycled or rapidly renewable content, products that do not contain toxic chemicals, and Source Reduction (e.g., products that minimize waste such as durable products and products that minimum packaging).

Green Cleaning procedures reduce the risk of poor indoor air quality associated with conventional cleaning products by substituting non-toxic, low odor products and cleaning protocols that are targeted to specific areas of the building. Green cleaning programs often work hand in hand with IPM programs.

Greywater is non-potable water that does not contain organic material.

Integrated (or Integrative) Design and Operations refers to new construction and/or facilities operations projects that maximize synergies among disparate disciplines by enhancing cross-discipline communication and cooperation. Integrated Operations teams are often known as Green Teams.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) refers to the practice of controlling pests without (or with minimal use of) toxic chemicals. Instead, it uses building maintenance procedures, green cleaning techniques, and behavioral shifts (such as isolating food consumption in certain areas of the building) to prevent access to pests and remove food sources that may attract them. IPM programs often work hand in hand with green cleaning programs.

LEED®, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a third-party, green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and administered by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). An array of LEED rating systems have been developed, tailored to different building types, scales and phases of the building lifecycle addressing, for example, new construction projects, renovations and additions, facilities operations, and neighborhood developments. In order to achieve LEED certification, projects must achieve all Prerequisites and a minimum number of voluntary Credits.

Light Pollution refers to excess night lighting that causes sky glow and disturbs nocturnal ecosystems.

Native and Adaptive Landscaping refers to planting materials that are drought-tolerant, not invasive, and appropriate to the building site. These plantings can be used to restore biodiversity and reduce the fragmentation of natural landscapes that often occurs in suburban and extra-urban areas.

Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is a methodology for assessing the operational benefits of a new construction or facilities operations sustainability project. POEs often are conducted 12 months or more after completion of construction.

Potable Water refers to water whose quality meets the requirements of the U.S. EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act.

Process Water is water that is used by building systems, such as water-cooled HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Process water may be either potable or non-potable (depending on local health regulations).

Rapidly Renewable content refers to materials that were manufactured from natural products with a growing cycle of 10 year or less.

Recycled Content is divided into two categories: pre-consumer (or post-industrial) recycled content and post-consumer recycled content. Pre-Consumer Recycled Content refers to materials that are considered waste in one industrial process but can be used as a source material for another industrial process. Post-Consumer Recycled Content refers to materials that are recycled by general consumers.

Regenerative Design seeks to move beyond doing less harm to the natural environment (i.e., focusing on efficiency) to produce positive benefits. For example, a regenerative building might not only restore native habitat and serve as a source of local produce but also re-introduce water captured and purified on-site to replenish the local aquifer.

Salvaged Materials are building materials from one building project that are used in another project. For example, reusing wood from a historic barn in a newly constructed building.

Stormwater Mitigation refers to best management practices (BMPs) that filter pollutants out of stormwater and retain the majority of it on-site, either by allowing it to filter down into underground aquifers or by reusing it onsite for irrigation or inside the building.

Urban Heat Island (UHI) refers to the tendency for areas with a high percentage of dark, impervious surfaces (such as asphalt) to absorb solar energy and reradiate it to its surroundings. UHI mitigation strategies work to minimize the increased surface and air temperatures associated with the UHI by increasing the percentage of pervious surfaces, shading, and reflective surfaces.

A Vegetated or Green Roof is a planted roof. Its benefits include, increased insulation, UHI mitigation, protecting the roofing membrane from solar radiation, slowing the flow of stormwater off of the roof, and providing an additional useable space for reflection, recreation, and/or cultivation of edible plants.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) refer to chemical compounds containing carbon that convert to gas at room temperatures and are potentially dangerous to human health. While some VOCs pose less risk to health, others such as formaldehyde have been identified as known or suspected carcinogens.

Climate Change

Climate Change, or Global Warming, is the term describing the accumulation of Greenhouse Gases (such as Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane) in the Earth's atmosphere, which traps solar radiation and results in an overall increase in global ambient temperature.

Cap-and-Trade, or Emissions Trading, is an administrative approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Total allowable emissions are capped at a certain level and lowered over a period of time. Low emitting industries and industries sequestering carbon can trade their carbon credits to high emitting industries, allowing these companies additional time to lower their net emissions.

Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience, or Preparedness activities attempt to prepare structures, communities, and regions for the environmental, economic, and health impacts of a changing climate.

Climate Change Mitigation activities attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change Modeling refers to mathematical models of the global climate, extrapolating historical data to develop scenarios of future climatic changes.

Climate Action (or Protection) Plan identifies the major challenges posed by climate change in a locality or region and sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and/or preparing for the impacts of a changing climate (adaptation).

Extreme Weather Events, or Natural Disasters, are defined as events falling within 5% probability of occurrence. They can include extreme flooding events, heat waves, severe hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body established by the United Nations to assess climate change science. Thousands of scientists contribute to IPCC reports. For additional information, visit the IPCC website.

kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a unit of energy equalling 3.6 megajoules. It is used as the primary unit of measurement by many electric utilities for billing purposes.

Kyoto Protocol of 1997 is the international agreement that set binding greenhouse gas emissions reductions for industrialized countries. For additional information, visit the Kyoto Protocol website.

Renewable Energy is generated from natural sources that can be replenished, such as solar, wind, tidal, wave, and geothermal.

Zero Net Energy and Zero Net Water refer to green building goals to achieve high enough levels of energy and/or water efficiency that the building can supplement the remaining requirements using on-site sources.



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