Alternative energy/Renewable energy

Substitutes for petroleum products that generate and store electrical power, such as wind, solar, hydropower, and others.


Contaminated wastewater, such as water collected from toilets and kitchen sinks.


The combination of all the strengths, attributes, and resources available to an individual, community, society, or organization, which can be used to achieve established goals. (IPCC)

Carbon footprint

The greenhouse gas emissions (carbon equivalent) from an individual or organization.

Carbon neutral

Individuals, companies, or buildings that achieve net -zero carbon emissions.

Carbon offset

A way reduce carbon emissions by purchasing credits or using carbon trading schemes.

Carbon sequestration

The process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change. (USGS)

Cascading consequences

Events that occur as a direct or indirect result of an initial event. For example, if a flash flood disrupts electricity to an area and, because of the electrical failure, a serious traffic accident involving a hazardous materials spill occurs, the traffic accident is a cascading event. (FEMA)

Circularity/Circular economy

A circular economy reduces material use;, redesigns materials, products, and services to be less resource intensive;, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products. (EPA)

Climate action and climate justice

Engagement, advocacy, planning, and design that draws down emissions; builds resilience and capacity; supports human, cultural, and ecological health; and protects all communities in the context of climate change.

Climate change adaptation

The adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. (IPCC)

Climate change mitigation

The built environment accounts for the majority of human-caused carbon emissions globally; mitigation focuses on ways to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  

Climate justice

Engagement, advocacy, planning, and design that  draws down emissions; builds resilience and capacity; supports human, cultural, and ecological health; and protects all communities in the context of climate change. (COTE)

Design-basis event

An event scenario used to establish the acceptable performance requirements of the structures, systems, and components, such that they can withstand the event and not endanger the health or safety of the occupants or the wider public. (Adapted from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Ecological footprint

The impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated. (World Wildlife Fund)


A community or group of living organisms that live and interact with each other in a specific environment.

Embodied carbon

The greenhouse gas emissions from the from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment

A framework that helps stakeholders understand how an organization is managing risks and opportunities related to environmental, social, and governance criteria.


A level and impartial condition. Building equity involves acknowledging that many aspects of our society are built on an uneven playing field and recognizing the inherent power differentials that have resulted in disparate treatment based on identity. (AIA Guides for Equitable Practice)


The presence of people; livelihoods; environmental services and resources; infrastructure; or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected. (IPCC)

Functional recovery time/recovery objective

The functional recovery time is the time needed to resume essential activities at a site. The recovery time objective is the prioritized time frame for resuming disrupted activities at a specified minimum acceptable capacity. The time frame should be less than the maximum tolerable period of disruption. (AIA Architects Guide to Business Continuity)


Marketing tactics that inaccurately portray products or buildings as green or eco-friendly to increase sales.


Domestic wastewater that does not contain toxic chemicals or fecal contaminants; it may be collected for secondary uses.

Grid harmonization

A demand response program with infrastructure in place to take advantage of future demand response programs or dynamic, real-time pricing programs.


A potential source of danger caused by a naturally occurring or human-induced process or event with the potential to create loss.  

Hazard mitigation

The lessening of the potential adverse impacts of physical hazards through actions that reduce hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. (IPCC)

Healthy products

Products that support and foster life throughout their life cycles and seek to eliminate the use of hazardous substances. (AIA Materials Pledge)

Heat waves

Prolonged periods of excessive heat associated with atmosphere-related heat stress. In 2019, extreme heat was the most common cause of death among all weather-related disasters in the US.  


Creating an environment in which everyone is welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. (AIA Guides for Equitable Practice)


A combination of economic measures referring to income and wealth that is inseparable from social disparities of other kinds, such as access to education, housing, and opportunity.  

Integrated design

An approach that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction. (AIA)

Natural capital

The natural resources and environmental features regarded as having economic value or providing a service to humankind.

Net zero energy

A building that creates as much energy on-site as it uses through renewable sources (typically photovoltaic or wind) over the course of a year.

Net zero water

A water-neutral building where the amount of alternative water used and water returned to the original water source is equal to the building's total water consumption. (DOE)

Operational carbon

The greenhouse gas emissions due to building energy consumption.

Rainwater harvesting

The collection and storage of rainwater in a tank, cistern, reservoir, or aquifer.


The ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions. (IPCC)


The potential for an unwanted outcome resulting from an incident, event, or occurrence, as determined by its likelihood and the associated consequences. (IPCC)

Risk category

Established by the International Code Council (ICC) for different types of buildings and the nature of occupancy. For example, Risk Category III includes “Buildings and other structures that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of failure.” Consult the ICC code: Table 1604.5 for current information.


Sudden-onset events that impact the vulnerability of the system and its components.  

Social enterprise

An organization whose main goal is promoting social or environmental welfare rather than making or maximizing profits.


Chronic, long-term trends that undermine communities and impact their ability to respond to a shock.  


The degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects. (IPCC)

Vulnerable populations

Groups and communities at a higher risk for poor health as a result of the barriers they experience to social, economic, political, and environmental resources, as well as limitations due to illness or disability.

Water security

Reliable access to a sufficient quantity of clean water.

Zero carbon

The total carbon emission footprint, comprised of both operational and embodied carbon, balanced with emission reductions, resulting in zero net carbon released into the atmosphere.  

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