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The only sustainability glossary you'll ever need for interior design

Language expands as fast as knowledge does. Catch up with the latest sustainability lingo in one place.

The only sustainability glossary you'll ever need for interior design
Clara Carlino de Paz
September 14, 2022

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Language expands as fast as knowledge does. Catch up with the latest sustainability lingo in one place. 

The rise of internet communities has quickly accelerated the development of language. In every nook and corner of the web, you’ll find words you’ve never seen and concepts you’re yet to uncover.

When it comes to sustainability, the field is very much in a state of flux and development. As our science on the topic of climate change improves, so do the words referring to the solutions and measurements necessary to change our current trajectory. 

In this article, we’ll go through some of the basic words you should have in your arsenal, and why they’re important to your career as a designer. If we missed any words, let us know and we’ll include them in this ever growing list.  

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is the overall amount of greenhouse gases (such as CO2 or methane) that are created by our everyday actions. To figure out your carbon footprint, you can search online for free calculators which can measure your impact as a business and an individual.

Thermal conductivity

Thermal conductivity refers to how efficiently a material can conduct heat. For interior designers looking to insulate homes appropriately and so reduce energy consumption, you’ll want to look for materials with low thermal conductivity. 


Greenwashing is a term used to describe a false and deliberately misleading PR or marketing campaign that aims to convince consumers that a brand is improving the environmental outcomes of their products and services. An example of this could be a timber company calling themselves “sustainable” because their product is inherently renewable, but not taking any actions to ensure their trees are responsibly harvested.

Building Envelope

A building envelope refers to the separation of the outside environment from the interior one via insulation and physical barriers. Having a solid building envelope, where heat can be easily trapped and then released when needed, will ensure a stable interior climate and lower electricity usage. 

FSC Certified

The Forest Stewardship Council has a certification that guarantees manufacturers, business owners and architects are using or creating products that use responsibly sourced wood. As an interior designer or architect, this will be a useful certification to look out for when sourcing materials. 

B Corp

A B Corp Certification verifies that a business meets high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors that range from team benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.


The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) defines the requirements necessary to ensure the organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling. If you’re looking for drapes, rugs, carpets and other textiles for your next project, make sure to check they comply with the GOTS. 

Low VOCs 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) refer to the large range of chemicals that release gases and other off-shoot molecules into their surroundings. The volatility of such compounds can be increased with time, heat and humidity levels. Many of our household products are VOCs, and so being “Low VOCS” refers to creating a product that is shelf stable and better for the environment. 

Net zero

Net zero means reducing greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. This can be achieved by lowering highly contaminating activities, and also offsetting the necessary ones with CO2 absorbing activities, such as planting forests or taking better care of our seas and coral reefs. 

Renewable energy

Renewable energy refers to the types of energy that can be produced faster than consumed, and can be replenished within a human timescale. Examples of renewable energy include sunlight, water movement, wood burning, wind and geothermal heat. It is important to note that a source of energy might be renewable but not sustainable, like burning wood without replanting an equal or larger amount of trees that respect the ecosystem to which they belong to.

Lower-emission alternative

While all products release greenhouse emissions to some degree, there are options of certain products that release less. Choosing lower emission alternatives can help you reduce your carbon footprint. Interior designers can do this easily by requesting environmental information from their suppliers and choosing products and materials carefully.

Circular Economy

Currently, our economy functions linearly. We source materials, turn them into products for purchase, and after a given and often short period of time we discard them as waste to be burned or disposed of. The circular economy model attempts to eliminate waste and give new leases of life to goods and services for as long as possible. This is important to interior designers, as construction waste is prevalent and often discarded without further consideration.


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