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A guide to green terminology

Property of SeaFood Business magazine

November 01, 2008

Sustainability is the successful meeting of present social, economic and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The terminology associated 
with sustainable development can sometimes seem complex to those without a scientific degree. But as we've shown in the glossary below, keeping abreast of the terminology is important because the number 
of key terms increases along with the growing awareness of the importance of sustainability.

Antibiotic free

Antibiotic free refers to animals raised without the use of antibiotics. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not allow use of the label "antibiotic free" on meat products, the USDA does allow the claims "no antibiotics administered" or "raised without antibiotics." Since the mid-1940s, antibiotics have been routinely mixed into many livestock feed products to promote growth and prevent sickness. This practice is referred to as non-therapeutic or sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.

Best Management Practice (BMP)

BMPs are an effective, innovative solution, process or procedure that demonstrates a business' dedication to making progress in environmental and corporate social responsibility; sometimes shared with collaborators and competitors to shape standards for an industry. BMPs were developed and implemented as a requirement of the 1977 amendments to the Clean Water Act.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is a measure of total environmental impact, measured in units of carbon dioxide emitted. A person's carbon footprint would include the amount of CO2 emissions that result from home energy consumption and transportation, as well as emissions generated by the production, distribution and eventual waste breakdown of the products a person uses. In the food industry, many businesses are using the carbon footprint measure as a tool for understanding and maximizing the potential for supply-chain efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency and similar international agencies offer "emissions calculators" for quantifying carbon footprints.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

COOL requires large food retailers to label where products come from, including beef, lamb, pork, seafood, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and peanuts. Although signed into law several years ago, only seafood has been compliant since 2005; other proteins listed above became compliant in September. COOL does not require that value-added and processed foods be labeled. COOL is intended to increase food product traceability.


Eco-labeling is a method of identifying products that cause less damage to the environment than other products (such as Fair Trade, organic, Food Alliance certified, raised without antibiotics, etc.). There exists a wide selection of eco-labels with different criteria and varying degrees of legitimacy. While some labels indicate that food was produced according to strict guidelines enforced and verified by third-party food-certifying agencies, other labels are self-awarded by food producers. For additional information about eco-labels, visit the Consumers Union Guide to Environmental Labels at www.eco-labels.org.


The term eco-friendly refers to a product, practice or process that is "green" or good for the environment, creating no unnecessary 
or hazardous waste and minimizing use of non-renewable, natur-al resources.

Ecological footprint

Similar to a carbon footprint, an ecological footprint is the total amount of land, food, water and other resources used by, or the total ecological impact of, a person's subsistence or an organization's operations; usually measured in acres or hectares of productive land.

Environmental impact

Environmental impact refers to any change that would affect the environment, good or bad, wholly or partially from industrial/manufacturing activities, products or services.

Ethical sourcing

Ethical sourcing, sometimes called ethical trade, is an approach to food-chain management and generally refers to a company's strategy for taking responsibility for social, environmental and labor practices across its supply chain. Most often, the company setting the standards implements and audits adherences to these standards. In some cases, multiple stakeholders work together as stewards of a company's ethical sourcing standards.

Food miles

Food miles refers to the distance food travels from farm or harvest to consumer. Food miles translate into carbon dioxide emissions, but the food miles measure does not take into account carbon emissions from food production (agricultural or processing) or the varying amounts of carbon emissions in air and ground transportation. There is currently no certifying or labeling agency for food miles claims.

Green building

A comprehensive process of design and construction that employs techniques to minimize adverse environmental impacts and reduce the energy consumption of a building, while contributing to the health and productivity of its occupants; a common metric for evaluating green buildings is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. LEED is sponsored by the United States Green Building Council that creates standards for developing high performance, sustainable buildings.

Organization (NGO)

A NGO is a private, nonprofit organization independent of business and government that works toward some specific social, environmental or economic goal through research, activism, training, promotion, advocacy, lobbying, community service, etc.


A term signifying the absence of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers and other potentially toxic materials in the cultivation of agricultural products; 'organic' is also a food labeling term that denotes the product was produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act.

Sustainable seafood

Sustainable seafood refers to fish or shellfish caught or farmed in a manner that does not risk the species' future or harm the environment. Factors that influence seafood sustainability include overfishing, bycatch and the environmentally destructive impacts of trawl nets, fish farming pollution and the escape of genetically altered species from controlled farms into the wild.


A measure of increased accountability and decreased corruption in which a business reports on its ethics and performance results through accessible publication of the business' practices and behavior; there is a strong movement to increase the transparency of business processes via independently verified corporate responsibility reporting.

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