USM Environmental Sustainability and

Climate Change Initiative

Climate Change Definitions

Carbon footprint: a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and other green house gases (GHGs) associated with a particular activity. A carbon footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon dioxide or tons of carbon emitted, usually on a yearly basis. There are many versions of calculators available to obtain a carbon footprint. 

Carbon neutrality: The process of offsetting carbon-producing activities with those that either reduce or capture carbon in order to credibly neutralize the net amount of carbon released in the atmosphere from a particular activity.

Carbon emissions trading (Cap- and- Trade Program): An administrative approach to control emissions by setting an emissions cap for larger electric generating facilities while creating a market with other participating states to trade emissions permits (allowances.)  The State of Maryland recently joined nine other states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic by signing on to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort to design a regional cap-and trade program. The RGGI multi-state cap-and-trade program will start in 2009 and include coal-fired, oil-fired and gas-fired electric generating units with a capacity of at least 25 MW.

USM Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change Initiative

Greenhouse Gas (GHG): the primary gases (both naturally existing and man-made) that contribute to global warming by trapping more energy in the earth's atmosphere than would occur in their absence. GHGs covered by the Kyoto Protocol are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. The other powerful GHGs are chlorofluorocarbons which are regulated separately due to ozone depletion and water vapor, which cannot be directly influenced by humans.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GGI): an accounting of the amounts and sources of emissions of greenhouse gases that are attributable to the existence and operations of an institution. This term is often used interchangeably with carbon dioxide footprint or carbon footprint. The major emission source categories are on-campus energy production, purchased electricity, transportation (fleet vehicles, business air travel and faculty, staff and student commuting), waste, agriculture and refrigerants.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED):  a nationally accepted benchmark developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.  LEED includes design criteria for new buildings and existing building renovations.

Offsetting: A way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon dioxide saving. An example of this is the purchase of carbon offset credits from emission reduction projects somewhere in the world.     

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs): Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are a commodity created by an environmentally friendly power generating facility, above and beyond the power produced. Producers of "green" power can sell a REC to another party who requires the credit for reasons ranging from improving corporate image to satisfying regulatory compliance.  When RECs are traded, the entity purchasing the REC gains the right to claim the environmental benefits.

Sustainability:  the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the plant and providing a high quality of life for its people. (U.S. EPA). Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland, 1987.)

Sustainability (university): the development of a process or management system that helps to create a vibrant campus economy and high quality of life while respecting the need to sustain natural resources and protect the environment. Sustainable programs are those that result from an institution's commitment to environmental, social and economic health, or the "triple bottom line." Sustainability has institutional and individual applicability, and is usually a balancing act.  (Vanderbilt University, 2007)

Sustainable: using methods, systems and materials that won't deplete resources or harm natural cycles. (Rosenbaum, 1993)

Sustainable development: applies to many disciplines, including environment, economic development, food production, energy and social organization. (The Dantes Project)

Please send your ideas and comments regarding campus sustainability to

Prepared by the University of Maryland College Park Sustainability Office, 10/9/07