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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sustainable School Buildings: Glossary

A guide for making school buildings more environmentally friendly.


This section defines some of the terms commonly used in both sustainability and pollution prevention for the person involved in the process of designing a sustainable school.Some terms, where referred to in the text, have links to outside sources that will help the reader understand the reference.

Word or phrase Definition
Commissioning A quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meet defined objectives and criteria. The commissioning process begins at project inception (during the pre-design phase) and continues for the life of the facility through the occupancy and operation phase. Commissioning includes specific tasks to be conducted during each phase in order to verify that design, construction, and training meets the owner's project requirements.
Green building

A building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment. Features of green buildings include:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy
  • Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of re-use and recycling
  • Good indoor environmental air quality
  • Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable
  • Consideration of the environment in design, construction and operation
  • Consideration of the quality of life of occupants in design, construction and operation
  • A design that enables adaptation to a changing environment

Also called sustainable building.

High performance schools A school that is energy, water and material efficient, well-lit, thermally comfortable, acoustically sound, safe, healthy, and easy to operate.
Integrated pest management (IPM) An approach to maintaining insect, mite, disease, nematode, weed, or vertebrate pests at tolerable levels by using biological knowledge of pests and pest behavior to implement long-term, least-risk solutions. Pests and pest damage are monitored and action taken only when necessary to prevent damage from exceeding tolerable levels. Actions are selected with the least risk to humans, non-pest organisms and the environment, and are carefully timed for maximum effectiveness. Strategies are implemented to resolve factors that contribute to pest problems, avoiding the need to take action in the future. 
Life cycle Consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation of natural resources to the final disposal.
Life cycle assessment A cradle-to-grave approach for assessing industrial systems that evaluates all stages of a product's life. It provides a comprehensive view of the environmental aspects of the product or process.
Life cycle costing

A method used to calculate and compare different designs to identify the best investment. Districts can use it to assess the total cost of ownership for a facility over time. All of the building expenses that can be calculated are included in the analysis;

  • initial costs (design and construction),
  • operating costs (energy, water, other utilities, and personnel), and
  • maintenance, repair, and replacement costs.

The values are adjusted for the time-value of money to represent the true value of the investment. Predicted costs for alternative design approaches can then be compared, allowing the district to select the design that provides the lowest overall cost of ownership consistent with the desired quality level.

Pollution prevention (P2) Any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. It the ounce-of-prevention approach to waste management. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of. Less pollution means fewer hazards posed to public health and the environment. Also called source reduction.
Product stewardship A principle that directs all participants involved in the life cycle of a product to take shared responsibility for the impacts to human health and the natural environment that result from the production, use, and end-of-life management of the product.
Source reduction Any practice which reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal and reduces hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants. Also called pollution prevention (P2).
Sustainable building See Green building
Sustainable development Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development encompasses economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social well being. 
Waste management hierarchy Indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste, and is usually presented diagrammatically in the form of a pyramid. The hierarchy captures the progression of a material or product through successive stages of waste management, and represents the latter part of the life-cycle for each product. 
The preferred order for waste management is prevention > minimization > reuse > recycling >  energy recovery > disposal.
Zero waste The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health. Includes pollution prevention/source reduction.