ArchDaily's Sustainability Glossary : A-B-C

It is expected that within the next couple of decades, Earth will have absolutely nothing left to offer whoever/whatever is capable of surviving on it. Although the human race is solely responsible for the damages done to the planet, a thin silver lining can still be seen if radical changes were to be done to the way we live on Earth and how we sustain it. 

Since architects and designers carry a responsibility of building a substantial future, we have put together an A-Z list of every sustainability term that you might come across. Every week, a new set of letters will be published, helping you stay well-rounded on everything related to sustainable architecture and design. Here are the terms that start with letters A, B, and C.

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© Andrea Vasquez


Abandoned Well: A secured well that can no longer produce natural gas or oil due to plugs installed into the structure, stopping any flow between permeable geological formations from/to its surface.

Abiotic: The term abiotic is used in biology and ecology to define physical and chemical factors that are not derived from living organisms. Usually, any word that includes the prefix ‘geo-’ is abiotic.

Absorption Pit: A large hole dug into porous ground, filled with granular material and covered with soil, which allows collected water to be soaked into the ground.

Acclimation: The evolution and adaptation process of an organism with its changing environment.

Acid Mine Drainage: The discharge of acidic water from metal or coal mines.

Acoustic Comfort: The condition of well being perceived by an individual inside a space, characterized by the absence of unwanted sounds and the quality of sounds individuals want to hear.

Acoustic Insulation: Implementing insulation materials and techniques onto a space to filter unwanted sounds and provide acoustic comfort.

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© Saint Gobain / Building Science Handbook

Active Systems: Building/structural systems, infrastructures, or designs that use or produce electricity (ex. Solar panels, wind turbines…)

Admittance Flow: The amount or air, heat, sunlight, or sound is permitted into the space. In electrical engineering, however, the measure of how an electrical circuit or device will allow a current to flow.

Aerobic: The decomposition process which requires or involves the use of oxygen or air.

Aerosols: Liquid or solid particles suspended in the atmosphere

Afforestation: Planting new forests on uncultivated lands.

Agriculture: The study or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil and crops, and the rearing of animals to provide food and wool.

Agroforestry (Sustainability): Planting trees in farms to increase environmental, social, and economic benefits for the land users and its ecology.

Air-to-fuel Ratio: The amount of air mixed with fuel-gas needed for an engine to operate properly.

Air Chamber: In plumbing, it is a compartment or cavity containing air, which by its elasticity, equalizes the flow of a liquid in a pump or other hydraulic machine. In architecture, the air chamber is a central compartment which receives and redistributes fresh air into spaces.

Air Diffuser / Air Diffusion: Technically speaking, air diffusers are used to slow the fluid's velocity while increasing its static pressure. However, air diffusers are commonly known as devices that recycle the air within a space, removing humidity and bacteria, and release purified air instead.

Air Emissions: The discharge of pollutants and toxic material into the air.

Air Source Heat Pump: An air source heat pump is a building system which transfers heat from outside a building to its inside, or vice versa, using a refrigerant system. A compressor and a condenser are usually installed to absorb heat in one place and release it to another.

Air Permeability: The accessibility of air from one material to another due to porous qualities of the materials’ surfaces.

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Courtesy of Kengo Kuma Associates

Air Pollution: The presence of toxic and harmful chemicals in the air we breathe.

Air Quality Index: The AQI is a study or diagram, usually used by governments and public health organizations, which indicates the amount of pollution found in the air, and can forecast how polluted it might become in the following months or years.

Airtightness: The control or elimination of inward or outward air leakage, which are often released through unintentional leakage points or cracked areas in the building’s envelope (caused by wind or stacking pressure).

Albedo: The ratio of light received by the sun, that is reflected onto Earth’s surface. Areas of high albedo include large spans of snow or ice, whereas areas with low albedo consist of dense forests.

Algal Bloom: Excessive growth of algae on surfaces.

Alternative Fuels: Fuels that produce fewer emissions than regular fossil fuels (ex. Compressed natural gasses, ethanol…)

Ambient Air Monitoring: Active or Passive monitoring systems used to measure the concentration of air pollutants in a space or open air.

Anaerobic Digestion: A biological degeneration of organic materials (without oxygen) to produce methane gas and stabilize organic residues.

Anaerobic Respiration: Decomposition process that does not require oxygen.

Anoxic: Unnaturally low levels of oxygen.

Anthropogenic: Unnatural, man-made.

Application Efficiency (Sustainability): The capability of watering after loss (caused by evaporation, wind, leaching, runoff…)

Appropriated Carrying Capacity: Also known as the Ecological Footprint, it is mostly used in reference to the imported ecological capacity of goods from abroad.

Aquaculture: The cultivation of organisms living in water bodies, under controlled conditions.

Aquifer: A layer or underground geological formation (rocks, rock fractures, etc…) capable of receiving, storing, and transmitting large quantities of water.

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© Espacio Colectivo Arquitectos + Estacion Espacial Arquitectos

Arable Land (also known as Biologically Productive Land): A land suitable for growing crops.

Aromatic Garden: A garden infused with herbs and flora, which provides physical and emotional well-being.

Arcologies: A set of architectural design principles, made widely popular by architect Paolo Soleri, which relate to enormous habitats of extremely high population densities.

ATi / ATe Ratio: Average Technical Inefficiency /  Average Technical Efficiency (Lee-Tyler Measure); Concentration ratio of efficiency measures in the agriculture sector.

Atmosphere: The generic word that combines all the layers of gases surrounding Earth. Earth’s atmosphere includes 7 layers of different gases.

Autotroph: An organism that produces complex organic compounds (such as proteins, carbohydrates, etc…) from simple inorganic molecules found in its surroundings. The process is usually done using energy from light (photosynthesis) or inorganic chemical reactions (chemosynthesis).

Auxiliary Energy Sources / Auxiliary Power: An electric power that is provided by a different source, which serves as backup for the primary power source at the main station, ensuring a continuous energy supply.

Available Water Capacity: The quantity of soil water that can be easily absorbed by plant roots.

Avoidance (Sustainability): The first step or action of waste prevention, mostly indicating when waste generation is avoided.

Awning: Also known as overhangs, it is a sheet of canvas (or any other fabric) attached to the exterior wall of a building, over a window, doorway, or deck, to protect from rain or direct sunlight.

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© Andrea Vasquez


Baffle (Landscape Design): A blockage to trap waste in drainage water

Bagasse: The fibrous leftovers of sugarcane milling. Many use bagasse as fuel to produce steam in sugar mills.

Barrel of Oil Equivalent (BOE): A measuring unit that converts petroleum products like natural gas to an oil equivalence based on heating value. In other words, it is a unit of energy based on the approximate quantity of energy released by burning one barrel of crude oil.

Baseload Power: As a term, baseload means basic and fundamental capacity. Oftentimes, companies in charge of providing energy are urged with higher demand, known as “peak-load”. To be able to comply immediately, they resort to using steady material that ensure a continuous supply of energy with minimumpower generation requirements, also known as baseload power. Examples of baseload power plants include coal-fired and geothermal power plants.

Batters: In architecture, batter means an inward inclination or slope of a wall or structure. Some architects choose this design to provide structural strength while others choose it for decorative purposes.

Baseline Assessment: Before any construction action takes place, extensive studies are conducted to evaluate the existing conditions of the project and site. This detailed preliminary research is called baseline assessment.

Baseline Emissions: A calculation, or performance profile, that indicates how much is being emitted by the project before it is constructed. The system is part of the Kyoto Protocol, and is used to compare and measure any changes in the amount of emissions produced by a project in a specific period of time (usually 1-5 years), and can provide architects with a clear guideline as to how they should move forward with their project.

Benzene: Benzene is among the 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States, and is part of a group of organic substances called VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds. Benzene is a very harmful substance for the environment and human health, as it is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance). Unfortunately, the substance is widely used everywhere around us, in motor vehicles, industrial emissions, and in case of forest fires.

Bioaccumulation: The accumulation, or build-up, of substances in the tissues of a living organism.

Biocapacity: The amount of biological productivity in a specific area, which is often affected by cultivation, human inputs, and natural conditions.

Bioclimatic Diagrams: A chart used during the preliminary design phases, which helps architects develop structures that include the most efficient passive cooling and heating strategies based on the climate and location of the project.

Biodegradable: Any substance or material that can be decomposed by living organisms (usually, bacteria).

Biodiesel: Biodiesel is a healthier, more sustainable alternative of fossil fuels, which can be produced from vegetable oil, animal fats, and waste cooking oil.

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© Federico Cairoli

Biodiversity: The richness and variety of all living forms, species, and greenery in the ecosystem.

Biodiversity Offset: It is a conservation strategy or system used by governments, developers, and urban planners that ensures and improves biodiversity in a region, in a way that compensates the economic and industrial growth in that area.

Bioenergy: Another synonym for biofuel, which is energy derived from biological sources.

Biofuel: Fuel derived and produced by biological or chemical processing biomass. It can either be in solid form (charcoal), liquid (ethanol), or gas (methane).

Biogas: Also known as biomass gas, it is the sewage or landfill gas.

Biogeochemical Cycle: The path / movement in which a molecule or chemical moves through biotic and abiotic parts of the ecosystem (atmosphere, aquatic systems, soils…)

Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD): Oftentimes it is a chemical procedure which calculates and studies how fast biological organisms consume oxygen in a water body.

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© Nico Saieh

Biological Productivity: In brief, it is the capacity of an area to produce biomass. Biological productivity is determined by dividing the total biological production (the amount of flora and fauna in the region) by the total area.

Biomass: Biomass can have two interpretations. It can represent forests, crops, wood, animal waste, livestock… any material that is derived from photosynthesis, and it can also stand for the quantity of organic material, which can be used as fuel, present in a unit area.

Biome: A group of animals and plants that share similar characteristics due to the impact of the environment they are living in.

Bioremediation: The growth or introduction of microorganisms which target and breakdown the pollutants of a contaminated area, as a means of cleaning the site.  

Biosolids: Organic matter recovered from sewage, used abundantly in agriculture due to its richness in nutrients.

Bioswales (landscape): Landscape / Urban design element which constitutes of a drainage course and gently sloped sides, aiming to remove debris and pollutants out of the surface runoff water (stormwater, meltwater, rainwater…). Bioswales are used extensively around parking lots, and in large surface areas whose sides are often piled with litter after a storm.

Biosphere: The combination of all ecosystems and the zone in which life on Earth occurs: land, surface rocks, water, and air.

Biotic: Produced by or related to living organisms (bio-).

Biotic Potential: Maximum reproductive capacity under the best environmental conditions.

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Courtesy of Idea-Tec

Bitumen: A sticky, viscous, black-colored , liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum which is used on streets, and is commonly known as asphalt.

Blackwater: Waste water released from toilets which contains solid waste.

Bluewater: Water collected from rainfall.

Blinds: A sun-protection screen, usually made out of fabric or plastic slats, installed on windows.

Boiler: A water-filled closed container used for providing hot water or central heating into the project.

Breeam: One of the world’s leading sustainability assessment methods developed by BRE (Building Research Establishment).

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© Jan Siefke

Brise-Soleil: The literal translation of brise-soleil from French is sun blocker. The term is used in architecture with the same interpretation, which is the implementation of an architectural feature that blocks the sunlight and reduces heat gain.

Building Thermal Parameters: The guidelines, restrictions, and framework of the thermal and heat conductivity in a building.

Busway: A road or part of a road set apart exclusively for buses, developed for aiding high-capacity bus transit systems. Busways became ideal for efficient, affordable, and sustainable public transport systems, and are gradually being implemented in areas related to other means of transportation.

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© Andrea Vasquez


Capillary Action: The ability of water to flow in tight media without the use of an external force. The action usually happens when the adhesion to the walls is more powerful than the cohesive forces between the liquid molecules.

Carpooling: Also known as car-sharing; it is one of the means of transportation that decreases the amount of fuel emissions, traffic, and number of car accidents happening daily. Carpooling is having more than one person share a car ride to travel to a specific destination or nearby places (and is, in general, more fun than being stuck in traffic alone).

Carbon Budget: The measurement of carbon input and output of a particular object or activity

Carbon Credit: A business / marketing strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by offering the supplier or agent a financial commission if he/she manages to decrease the amount of gas being emitted by the project.

Carbon Cycle: The cycle in which carbon is being exchanged in Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere.

Carbon Dioxide: CO2. Fossil Fuels’ most abundantly-emitted greenhouse gas.

Carbon Footprint: The amount of carbon being emitted over a full cycle of a product’s lifespan.

Carbon Labelling: A “stamp” on a product that indicates the amount of CO2 emitted during the manufacturing, transporting, or disposing process.

Carbon-Neutral: It is when an activity inputs and outputs the same amount of carbon, resulting in a net zero carbon footprint.

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© ArchiBlox

Carbon Offset: A decrease in emissions of carbon dioxide for the sake of compensating for other emissions made elsewhere.

Carbon Pool: A reservoir of carbon.

Carbon Sink: Any type of carbon reservoir that causes an elimination of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Carbon Source: The exact opposite of carbon sink; it is the net source of carbon for the atmosphere.

Carbon Stocks: The quantity of carbon available in a carbon pool during a specific duration.

Carbon Taxes: An additional fee applied on fossil fuels, that aims to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions

Catchment Area: In geology and urban planning, it the area from which rainfall flows into a river, lake, or reservoir (usually referred to as the main source of water supply)

CFC: Chlorofluorocarbons are effective greenhouse gases not regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, but are covered by Montreal Protocol.

Chillers: A cooling machine that removes heat from a liquid via a vapor-compression. The liquid is then be circulated through a heat exchanger to cool equipment.

Circular Metabolism: The system in which water and other materials are recycled and reused.

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© Edmund Sumner

Cistern: A water tank or waterproof container for holding water, which most of the time, is installed on roofs or underground to provide water for bathrooms and kitchens.

Class A pan (Water Management): A standard reference used to measure water evaporation.

Clearcutting: The process in which forest trees are chopped down.

Climate: The “average weather” over a region, examined over a long period of time.

Climate Change: An unexpected or unusual change in climate over a period of time and region (usually due to the effects of global warming).

Climatic comfort: The level of comfort or satisfaction of an individual (or animal) achieved by proper environmental conditions.

Cloud cover: A dense mass of clouds that obscures the sky. Its measuring units is Okta.

Cogeneration: The production of both electricity and heat by combusting the same fuel source.

Cohousing: Multiple adjacent houses with shared spaces (kitchens, dining halls, bathrooms, terraces…)

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Oosterwold Co-living Complex / bureau SLA. . Image © Filip Dujardin

Coil radiators: Items found inside internal combustion engines where engine coolants circulate.

Cold storage: A reservoir or container which has and maintains low temperatures.

Commingled Materials (Waste Management): Plastics, glass, and metal containers mixed together.

Comparative Risk Assessment: A case study, or methodology, which uses economic analysis, policy, and science, to identify regions with great environmental risk.

Compensation Point: The amount of energy produced by photosynthesis is equivalent to the amount of energy released by respiration.

Composting: The decomposition of organic matter.

Communal Kitchen: Shared kitchen (often found in cohousing)

Computational Fluid Dynamics: CFD’s are a “branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical analysis and data structures to analyze and solve problems that involve fluid flows”.

Confined Aquifer: An aquifer, bit situated below the land surface and is saturated with water.

Conduction: The transfer of heat via direct contact of object (molecular collision)

Construction and Demolition (Waste Management): All waste retrieved from residential, civil, commercial, and construction demolition activities (but not construction waste found in the municipal waste system, and commercial/industrial waste stream).

Consumption (Ecology): The inflow and degradation of energy used for system activity.

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Courtesy of Cave.Tool

Controlled ventilation system: Also referred to as Demand Control Ventilation (DCV), is a ventilation system that is automatically adjusted to the user’s specific needs and preference.

Controlled Burning: The intentional burning of forest trees, farm lands, and prairies, done under surveillance of ecologists. These fires are usually conducted during the cooler months of the year to prevent fuel buildup and potential fires in hotter periods.  

Contour Ploughing: The process of ploughing along the outline of the land to minimize soil deterioration and erosion.

Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species: CITES is an international agreement of 167 governments that aims to ensure that cross-border trade of plants and wild animals does not threaten their survival.

Cooling load: The amount of heat needed to be removed from the space to maintain an acceptable temperature, taking into account: the space’s construction, insulation, and glazing.

Cooling system: A system installed in engines that uses either air or liquid to remove the waste heat.

Cradle-to-cradle: A design code that makes use of a wasted object. When the object reaches the end of its “lifespan”, it is recycled into another object of similar qualities and components, instead of being completely disposed.

Cradle-to-gate: A life cycle assessment of a product from the moment it’s been extracted (cradle) until it reaches the factory “gate”.   

Cradle-to-grave: An expansion of cradle-to-gate, cradle-to-grave is a life cycle assessment of a product from the moment it has been extracted from its natural source, until its disposal.

Cross-ventilation: A method of cooling that relies only natural sources. It is basically the cool breeze you get from opening windows, louvers…

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© Adrien Buchet

Crop Coefficient (Water Management): A variable used to predict the amount of evapotranspiration of a plants. To be more precise, its coefficient is Kc and it’s the ratio of ET (evapotranspiration) of crops, over the reference crop's most active growth, over a specific period of time.

Crop Evapotranspiration (Water Management): A function of both climate (ET) and the growth stage of plants. The ratio between ET and crop ET is the crop coefficient, which changes according to the climate changes every season and its impact of the physiological condition of plants.

Crop Rotation: Briefly, it is having one limited space, but planting different types of crops on it each season. Farmers choose to do so for various reasons and benefits, one of them being to avoid the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occur when one species are continuously cropped.

Crude Oil: Mixture of hydrocarbons which have occured under normal temperatures and pressure. In a less scientific terminology, it is unrefined petroleum, found beneath the Earth’s surface in a dark yellow - black color.

Cullet: Recyclable crushed glass.

Cultural Eutrophication: Eutrophication is when a body of water becomes excessively enriched with minerals and nutrients, increasing the growth of plants and algae. During the process of constructing buildings and cities, the amount of land runoff increases and more nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates are discharged into lakes and rivers. Cultural eutrophication is when man-made activities speed-up eutrophication in these water bodies.

Culvert: A large pipe-like drainage system which passes under a road or pathway and transports water from one side to another. Culverts are often large pipes, but can also be constructed with reinforced concrete, soil, etc…

Cut and Fill: While creating railways and canals, construction workers would create cut slopes (like a mini valley) to install the railways. The soil that’s been moved, the fills, would subsequently create adjacent embankments, minimizing the labor. The approach is now frequently used on construction sites of any size.

Cyclone (Meteorology): A large rotating scale air mass (atmospheric circulations - clockwise in the southern hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere), often associated with damaging weather conditions, strong winds, rainfalls… Cyclones are often called “hurricanes” in the northern hemisphere and can cause grave damage in coastal areas.

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Cite: Dima Stouhi. "ArchDaily's Sustainability Glossary : A-B-C " 30 Apr 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Courtesy of ArchDaily

建筑可持续发展词汇总结 (A-B-C)

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