A Glossary to Live By

There’s a lot of terminology flying around out there.

We decided it was time to cut through the noise to separate the buzzwords from the BS and break it all down to the essential facts that matter most.

(p.s. – looking for a glossary of better ingredients? we got you.)

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A

Animal byproducts
Animal byproducts are any materials or ingredients that are in some way derived from an animal. Animal byproducts are not exclusively obtained through to the death of an animal (leather, meat etc) and include elements which are extracted or otherwise removed/taken from another non-human being (things like wool, beeswax etc)

Animal testing
The remit of animal testing is wide and the practice spans many industries under different names (animal research, animal experimentation, in vivo testing etc), however the unifying definition is that is that animal testing is the use of non-human animals in experiments and scientific tests.

Anthropocene
The current epoch we are living in is marked out as the geological era in which the planet has been shaped by human activity.

Some theorise that this epoch began with the dawn of the agricultural revolution or in relatively recent times, marked by the first testing of nuclear weapons.

The Anthropocene is often used to frame the conversation around human-caused and exacerbated environmental planetary issues and issues of ecological importance and sustainability such as biodiversity loss, resource extraction, and climate change.

B

Bee friendly

Being a friend to the bees ultimately means not using any products derived from bees such as honey or beeswax, supporting bees in a tangible way, and using organic products.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of plastics and resins, the most common of which is polycarbonate, a rigid, transparent and durable plastic.

Biodiversity

Biodiversity (literally, biological diversity) is the term used to refer to the variability and variety of life on Earth from animals and plants, to fungi and bacteria. Biodiversity may be referenced in a local context in a specific area, or used to describe the variety of life on the planet as a whole. 

Biomass

There are two meanings for the word biomass. In the field of ecology, the term refers to the mass of all living biological organisms within an ecosystem or specific area including plants, animals, and microorganisms. 

The second use of the term relates to the burning of any animal or plant material for the production of energy. Throughout history, this may have been as simple as burning wood in the hearth to more modern applications where biomass is burned at scale to generate heat and electricity.

Biome

A community of plants and wildlife that share characteristics adapted to the climate in which they live is known as a biome. The largest biotic type when considered geographically, a biome typically falls within one of five major categories: desert, forest, grasslands, tundra, and aquatic (with sub-divisions existing within each i.e. freshwater, tropical rainforest etc).

Biosphere

The biosphere refers to the areas of the planet and its atmosphere with the capacity to support life. 

C

Carbon count

The term ‘carbon count’ refers to the measure of how much carbon dioxide (CO2) we individually produce on a regular basis. This could be in the form of travel, using electrical goods in our homes, and even less obvious areas that have a hidden carbon footprint.

Carbon emissions

When you hear about carbon emissions these days, it’s often in the context of climate change. This is effectively referring to the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere by the burning of things as oil, coal and gas.

The emissions from burning these substances ultimately come from things like industrial activity and manufacturing, transportation (air travel, shipping and land-based vehicles), and from heating and powering our homes, towns and cities.

Carbon footprint

Carbon footprint is used to measure the effect or ‘impact’ that we each have on the environment.

Often used in reference to the impact of our activities on climate change, carbon footprint is often given in the amount of carbon dioxide we produce across a period of time (measured in tonnes or kg).

Carbon neutral

If the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere is equal to the amount removed (for example, by plants) or saved (for example, through renewable energy), the net resulting balance point is considered to be carbon neutral.

Circular economy

The main idea behind the concept of the circular economy is to achieve an economic system in which waste and continual resource use is ultimately eliminated.

Circular economic thinking places emphasis not only on the recycling and reuse of resources, but also on sharing as well as extending the longevity of resource use in the system through actions such as repairing. 

Circular fashion

Building on the concepts of circular economic thinking, the idea behind the circular fashion philosophy is to design pollution and waste out of clothing, increasing the life of the things we wear and creating them in such a way that they ‘give back’ and contribute to the regeneration of natural systems at end of life.

Cruelty-free

The commonly used definition of cruelty-free is that products have been sourced, developed, and manufactured without any experimentation or testing on animals. In general, this is the definition used when a company is certified as ‘cruelty-free’. 

There is some confusion over the difference between cruelty-free and vegan – the latter is defined as being free from animal products or by-products. Some argue that for a product to truly be ‘free from cruelty’ it must also be vegan and therefore never be tested on animals and also not include any animal products or by-products. This is an important distinction to consider, as for some, this is the definition that truly represents the concept of something being free from cruelty.

Here at Live By, we consider all three of these view points separately (see also vegan and free from cruelty) and use the common definition for cruelty-free as outlined above.

D

Decoupling

Refers to the ability of an economy to maintain growth without subsequently increasing pressure on the environment – for example in the form of increased emissions or raw material extraction.

Deforestation

The permanent destruction or removal of forest areas for resource extraction (unsustainable logging) or to clear land for other uses such as urban expansion or agricultural uses.

Deforestation is an incredibly serious issue and is a leading cause of habitat and biodiversity loss as well as promoting and exacerbating soil erosion.

One of the most obvious issues with deforestations is that it removes trees and other plant life found in forests, drastically reducing the amount of carbon sequestration in the area (absorption of carbon dioxide from the air by plants). 

Dynamic equilibrium

This term refers to the state in which continuing or ongoing processes are kept balanced.

E

Ecosystem

Ecosystems are, by their very nature, incredibly complex but in simple terms, they can be thought of as any spatial area in which living organisms (plants, animals and others) inhabit and interact with each other. Beyond this basic level of life, these interactions also extend to other elements present in the system such as the local landscape and the weather conditions of the geographical area in question.

Ultimately, it is the combination of the biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components within an ecosystem and the interconnected nature of these individual communities and elements taken together that constitute an ecosystem and the delicate balance that often exists within each. 

Ecosystems can be based on land (terrestrial) or in the water (aquatic and marine) and in all such systems, energy flows through the system. 

Ecosystem services

Ecosystems provide a ton of positive benefits to humans ranging from mitigating weather to supporting natural pollination processes and of course, providing benefits to our physical and mental health. These positive effects are collectively referred to as ecosystem services and can be either directly or indirectly beneficial.

Endangered species

The term ‘endangered species’ typically applies to any species living in the wild that is at a very high risk of extinction. While usually familiar in the context of animals, plant species at risk of extinction are also classified within this term. Species may fall under the endangered category if a sudden loss of a critical habitat or a rapidly decreasing population puts it at risk of extinction. The causes for these situations can vary greatly and can range from manmade to natural factors.

F

Fair
Fair is a highly subjective term but is generally used in reference to equity and the practice of ensuring others are treated equally. Some argue that this extends to all living beings beyond humans. In the context of commerce, fair is often used as a measure of ensuring fair treatment and pay for growers and manufacturers with certifications of ‘fairness’ such as Fair Trade looking to evaluate and endorse this.

Fast fashion
Fast fashion is used to describe the approach of mass-produced, low cost (both production and price tag) clothing and fashion items that are within the current stage of the fashion cycle.

This kind of model is based around the idea that fashion, trends, and fads move fast and that clothing supply made to meet this rapidly changing demand should be produced quickly and cheaply.

It goes without saying that the fast fashion model is  incredibly unsustainable and contributes negatively across almost all metrics from environmental damage to workers rights, fueling mass consumption and ‘throwaway culture’ with the industry playing a major role as a significant polluter.

G

Genetically modified organisms (GMO, GM)
Genetically modified organism (GMO or GM) refers to any plant, animal, or other organism whose genetic makeup has been altered or modified in order to give it a new property.

Glyphosate
This chemical compound is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world and is an active ingredient in many weed killers.

Greenhouse gas
The collective term ‘greenhouse gasses’ is used to refer to gases that trap heat within the planet’s atmosphere. A greenhouse gas (GHG) can be any that absorbs heat radiated from the Earth’s surface and reflects it back down again, however the most prominent are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

Greenwashing
The word greenwashing describes the tendency of some brands to market their products, services, policies and/or values as being more environmentally friendly or ethically responsible than they actually are.

With so many companies and organizations looking to ‘get on the bandwagon’ as concerns about sustainability and environmental degradation grow, it is of little surprise that the marketing push responsible for much of the greenwashing that exists has gone into overdrive in recent years.

Knowing how to spot greenwashing and differentiate from genuinely impactful initiatives is an increasingly useful skill when navigating the commercial space and can make the difference between supporting brands that care, and simply increasing the bottom line profits of those that don’t.

H

Habitat

A habitat refers to any area that is inhabited by a species or community of plants or animals. 

Habitats can be as varied as the types of life (or the conditions that support life) on the planet and can range from marine habitats to deserts and forests.

I

J

K

Kyoto Protocol / Kyoto agreement

This international agreement was attached to the UN Framework Convetion on Climate Change and was signed by multiple countries in 1997. The agreement aimed to commit signatories to lower their greenhouse gas emissions between 2008-2012.

L

M

Microbeads

The term microbead refers to a type of microplastic (think, super small manufactured pieces of plastic) that are often used in the manufacturing of skincare products such as exfoliators and body scrubs. The reason these plastic particles are such bad news is that once they wash doewn the drain, they bypass typical wastewater treatment systems and as a result, end up in oceans, rivers, and other water bodies where they cause damage to marine life and the environment as well as entering the food chain and ultimately, negatively effecting human health.

Mineral based

If a product label states that it is mineral based, it typically has a formula containing more than a certain percentage (although this proportion may vary greatly by manufacturer) of mineral ingredients.

N

Natural

Natural is one of those terms that often gets thrown around and overused by organizations and a reliable definition can therefore be difficult to settle on. 

Ultimately, natural basically means ‘of nature’ in simplest terms, that is, something that exists within or is derived from the natural world. 

The term natural is also often used in relation to products such as skincare and other cosmetics and here, the true definition outlined above becomes murkier. A good rule of thumb to think of in terms of products advertised as ‘natural’ (and the definition we use here at Live By in this context) is

Natural Ingredients

Natural ingredients is typically used to refer to any unadulterated water, mineral, animal, and plants with little to no further processing, keeping them as close to their original form as possible.

Be aware of the difference with naturally derived ingredients – a term brands often like to throw in for good measure when describing a product. In these instances, while the starting substance or element may have been one of those natural ingredients outlined above, the finished ingredient has likely been adapted, modified, or otherwise enhanced in some way.

Natural Resources

Natural resources are any of the raw elements or materials which can be found in nature and that we or other animals utilize to our benefit or advantage.

These resources can be thought of as being broken down into non-renewable resources (fossil fuels, minerals etc), renewable resources (clean air, water, soil, forests etc), and perpetual resources (wind, solar, and tidal energy). 

O

Ocean acidification

When oceans uptake the extra carbon dioxide produced by human activity, one result is an increase in acidity of the seawater.

Ocean acidification has been rising since the industrial revolution and the process is damaging to marine life that form shells or similar hard body structures.

Organic

Organic has two meaning and is most commonly associated by many as a label applied to food or materials that have been grown or produced using minimal, if any, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones or other artificial chemicals.

The other definition for the term organic is in reference to any matter that derives from things that are living or were once living.

Organism

An organism is the word used to refer to any living thing from a virus or bacteria up to plants, animals, and of course, us humans.

Ozone layer

Somewhere between 10 and 50 km above the Earth’s surface lies a thin layer of protective gas known as the ozone layer.

This layer acts as something like a shield, filtering out harmful ultraviolet rays that are emitted from the sun and would (if not filtered out) cause harm to living creatures on the earth and have effects on the level of plant growth.

P

Palm oil

Palm oil is a very cheap and popular oil that is used in many different products, including deodorants, shampoo, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Unfortunately, palm oil is a major driver of deforestation and has had a devastating impact on already endangered species, most notably the orangutan.

Persistent Organic Pollutants

Sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because of the extremely long period of time that they remain in the environment, POPs are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and can accumulate in, and pass from, one species to the next through the food chain.

Pesticides

This is the generic term used to describe various chemicals that are used to kill any perceived ‘pests’ such as certain plants, fungi, and insects.

Planetary boundaries

In order to avoid severe environmental consequences, the concept of planetary boundaries outlines nine system processes on Earth and their associated boundaries which should not be crossed.

The processes which inform the nine planetary boundaries are biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and extinctions), climate change, land system use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading, freshwater use, stratospheric ozone depletion,  biogeochemical flows. and novel entities.

Staying within these planetary boundaries is key to ensuring our continued survival.

Planned obsolecence

Refers to ways in which some products are designed and manufactured not to last. With these products, once one reaches the end of it’s engineered lifespan and becomes obsolete (inoperable or breaks), the owner is forced to buy a replacement.

Plant based

You may see product labels stating that an item is ‘plant based’ and in these cases, a safe assumption is that somewhere around 50% (although this amount can vary by manufacturer) of the materials or formulation used for the product are from plant or plant-derived ingredient sources.

Pollinators

Pollinators are birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that move pollen from flower to flower

Pollinator conscious

Being pollinator conscious means recognizing the vital role that pollinators play in our ecosystems and promoting practices that are beneficial to their wellbeing.

Post consumer waste

This term is generally used to describe the unwanted waste that results from the disposal of things like packaging or wrappers from other items (like food or electrical items).

Q

R

Reclaimed

In the literal sense, if something is ‘reclaimed’ it is recovered, retrieved, or otherwise brought back into use from an often unusable form.

The term is often used to refer to waste materials that have been recovered or refurbished for a new use either in a product or material.

Recycling / Recycle

The recycling process actually refers to the breaking down of waste items (plastic items, cans, glass containers etc) into their constituent raw materials which can then be used once again to create the same (or new and different) items.

Reef safe

Reef safe products are free from ingredients that are toxic or otherwise harmful to coral reefs and/or other marine life which exists in coral reef ecosystems.

Resilience

The capacity of a system to respond to disturbances, to resist the level of damage done by these pressures, and then restore itself to it’s initial state rather than one which is different.

In this context, resilience can take many forms based upon the system and types of disturbance in question, ranging from natural ones (for example flooding or wildfires) to human-caused disturbances (such as pollution or deforestation).

If a disturbance to a system is too severe for the level of resilience present in the system, a tipping point may be reached at which point conditions will often deteriorate. sometimes rapidly and with major consequences.

Reuse

When an item is used more than a single time for the same (and in the case or repurposing, different) uses.

Reusing helps preserve and save resources, energy, time, and money and may take several forms which ultimately reach the same goal.

Choosing items and products which are built to last is a tangible way to maximize lifespan and ensure the ability to reuse for prolonged periods of time.

Similarly, reusing an item that once had a different primary purpose (such as old jars) is an excellent way of repurposing items and reducing the pressures associated with resource extraction and manufacturing processes.

 

S

Soil erosion

Defined as the displacement or wearing away of the top level of soil on land, soil erosion is a type of soil degradation that can be caused by a number of factors. Soil erosion removes fertile topsoil layers and reduces overall soil fertility as a result. While soil erosion itself is ultimately caused by wind and water, there are many human activities which can lead to or exacerbate this such as deforestation and intensive agricultural practices.

Supports wildlife

Supporting wildlife means taking active steps to support wild animals, biodiversity, and/or natural ecosystems.

Sustainable development

This is generally used to outline of path for development that can be ‘sustained’ in such a way that uses land, resources, and energy in a way that meets the needs of people today without adversely affecting those of future generations.

Sustainable development goals

In 2015 the UN laid out 17 (SDG) goals aimed at focusing development on a number of different areas and issues considered crucial to both human development and sustainability.

T

Tipping points

When a system reaches a tipping point, if the inputs that caused this outcome proceed any further beyond this point, the system will change to a different state from which it will not be possible to return to it’s previous one regardless of stopping the initial cause or reversing the input.

Toxins

These are substances that are harmful or in some way poisonous to the body.

The term ecotoxin is also sometimes used to refer to similar detrimental effects caused by substances to the natural environment. 

U

Upcycling

Based on the Cradle to Cradle approach, upcycling looks to repurpose what would otherwise be considered waste, turning it into a reusable material (although of even better quality than the original).

The basic philosophy behind upcycling is that by repurposing old items to help create something new, and better, you effectively remove waste from the system in a way which is less energy intensive than conventional recycling processes.

V

Vegan

Vegan products are free from all animal products and/or by-products. With this in mind, unlike vegetarian products (in which an animal must not have died in sourcing a material or ingredient) vegan products must also not have extracted or removed materials or ingredients from an animal in any way. 

While some materials and ingredients are more obvious on the avoid list if you’re looking to source vegan, the remit for ingredients which are non-vegan is surprisingly wide. Some commonly found non-vegan ingredients to look out for if you’re unsure include beeswax, honey, lanolin, albumen, carmine, collagen, gelatin, and cholesterol.

Vegetarian

Vegetarian products do not include ingredients or materials which were obtained by killing an animal.

W

Waste

Waste can refer to two primary kinds of ‘unwanted’ elements leftover from processes. 

On the one hand, waste is used when describing the remaining surplus or unwanted materials from a manufacturing or production process.

The term waste also refers to the leftover disposable materials from animal or human habitation that are not or cannot be recycled (whereas refuse – another form of disposable materials) is typically differentiated in that it can be recycled.

Terms such as zero waste, are concerned with attempting to eliminate the flow of waste into landfill and ultimately, the natural environment.

X

Y

Z

Zero emissions

If an energy source does not release or otherwise produce any gasses which are in some way harmful or detrimental directly into the surrounding environment, it can be classified as having zero emissions.

It can be tempting to think of certain transport modes (like electric trains) as zero emissions although it is important to consider how the energy they utilize was generated at source (for example wind power vs coal or oil burning).

Zero waste

The idea of anything being zero waste is actually an impossibility and so it is perhaps more useful to think of minimal waste as a more viable alternative and realistic goal.

With this in mind, whenever the term ‘zero waste’ is used, it should be thought of as a set of systems, processes and values (often in the form of products) that are in some way looking to reduce the amount of waste reaching landfill, incinerators or the natural environment down to zero.

This of course is an area in which greenwashing is often commonplace and as such, it’s important to clearly understand and interrogate the claims made by brands whenever this term is used commercially.

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